How Skin Color Affects Your Vitamin D Level
Skin pigmentation impacts your body’s ability to produce vitamin D in response to sun exposure. Darker skin contains more melanin—a natural pigment that determines skin color—than lighter skin tones.
While melanin acts as a natural sunscreen, it also significantly reduces the rate of vitamin D production in the skin, leaving darker skin types at increased risk of vitamin D deficiencies.
Learn how your skin tone may affect vitamin D status and what steps you can take to support healthy vitamin D levels.
Skin color and vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin produced when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation in sunlight.
How much vitamin D your skin produces in response to sunlight depends on the amount of melanin, a natural pigment that gives color to your skin, hair, and eyes.
While genetic factors predominantly influence skin pigmentation and melanin concentrations, consistent UV ray exposure can also stimulate melanin production, explaining why sun exposure results in tanned and darkened skin.
Darker skin contains higher concentrations of melanin, which acts as a natural sunscreen and blocks a large percentage of UVB rays from penetrating the skin. While this lowers the risk of sunburn and skin cancer, darker skin pigmentation also significantly reduces vitamin D synthesis.
Light skin can produce up to five times the amount of vitamin D compared to dark skin tones. However, light-skinned individuals have less melanin and are at a higher risk of sunburn and skin cancer.
Research investigating race and skin color regarding health status found that darker skin types require considerably more UVB radiation to synthesize sufficient vitamin D levels and are more likely to develop severe vitamin D deficiency than individuals with lighter skin.
Watch the video below to discover how your skin tone may impact vitamin D levels.
Signs you’re vitamin D deficient
Vitamin D is a crucial nutrient that plays an essential role in skeletal health, immune system function, and blood pressure regulation and may lower the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
Low vitamin D status can have detrimental effects on health. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, osteoporosis, and heart disease and increases the risk of auto-immune conditions, including multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.
Here are some common symptoms of vitamin D deficiency:
Disrupted sleep and insomnia
Skin color is a reliable predictor of vitamin D deficiency, and it's believed that 70 percent of African Americans are vitamin D deficient, adding to the already widespread health disparities between different races.
How to increase your vitamin D level
Whether your body can produce adequate vitamin D from UVB radiation to support healthy serum vitamin D levels depends not only on skin tone. Age, health status, average sun exposure, and corticosteroid use are all factors that can reduce vitamin D production in the skin.
In addition, geographical regions north of the equator don’t benefit from year-round UVB radiation, making it challenging to get enough vitamin D from sun exposure alone.
While there are some food sources of vitamin D, they typically contain only small amounts, and it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D from food to maintain an adequate vitamin D status.
Vitamin D supplementation is a convenient and effective way to raise and maintain healthy blood levels.
The correct dose of vitamin D supplements depends on your vitamin D status, skin tone, and sunlight exposure.
While general recommendations suggest 600 IU of vitamin D3 daily, there is evidence that a significantly higher intake of up to 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily may be necessary to support healthy vitamin D levels.
If you have a darker skin tone, don’t get adequate sunshine, or live north of the equator, it’s best to perform regular vitamin D tests to check your vitamin D status, which helps to guide your optimal vitamin D dosage.
Because melanin blocks UVB rays from penetrating the skin, more intense ultraviolet radiation exposure is needed to produce adequate amounts of vitamin D in darker skin.
This leaves populations with darker skin tones at risk of vitamin D deficiency and associated health issues, including depression, osteoporosis, and compromised immunity.
Determining optimal sun exposure to support healthy vitamin D status can be challenging, and vitamin D supplements are an effective and easy option to support healthy vitamin D levels in all skin types.
1. Does vitamin D influence skin color?
Vitamin D doesn’t influence skin color. However, UV radiation in sunlight can stimulate melanin production, the pigment that gives skin color, explaining why sun exposure causes tanned and darkened skin.
2. Do people with darker skin produce less vitamin D?
People with darker skin tones produce less vitamin D than light-skinned populations.
Dark skin contains more melanin, a pigment that determines skin color. Melanin blocks a large percentage of UVB rays needed to trigger vitamin D production, leaving individuals with darker skin at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
3. Do darker skin tones need more vitamin D?
Research suggests that skin pigmentation gene variants are predictors of vitamin D status, meaning that darker skin tones produce less vitamin D in response to UVB radiation than lighter skin tones.
People with darker skin tones require more intense ultraviolet radiation exposure to produce vitamin D in the skin and may need larger doses of vitamin D supplementation to support healthy vitamin D levels.
4. How can I get more vitamin D without increasing the risk of skin cancer?
To obtain adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sunlight without the risk of skin cancer, it’s important to avoid sunburn and ensure adequate intake of cancer-fighting nutrients to combat the carcinogenic effects of sunlight.
Folate, vitamins C and E, and magnesium are essential nutrients and antioxidants that protect skin cells and DNA from oxidative damage by UV rays linked to the development of skin cancer.
5. Does melanin reduce vitamin D production?
Yes, melanin is a pigment and acts as a natural sunscreen against UV rays. While this lowers skin cancer risk, it also significantly reduces vitamin D production and increases the risk of low vitamin D levels in individuals with darker skin tones.