Vitamin D and skin physiology: a D-lightful story

J Bone Miner Res. 2007 Dec:22 Suppl 2:V28-33. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.07s211.


Throughout evolution, exposure to sunlight and the photosynthesis of vitamin D(3) in the skin has been critically important for the evolution of land vertebrates. During exposure to sunlight, the solar UVB photons with energies 290-315 nm are absorbed by 7-dehydrocholesterol in the skin and converted to previtamin D(3). Previtamin D(3) undergoes a rapid transformation within the plasma membrane to vitamin D(3). Excessive exposure to sunlight will not result in vitamin D intoxication because both previtamin D(3) and vitamin D(3) are photolyzed to several noncalcemic photoproducts. During the winter at latitudes above approximately 35 degrees , there is minimal, if any, previtamin D(3) production in the skin. Altitude also has a significant effect on vitamin D(3) production. At 27 degrees N in November, very little ( approximately 0.5%) previtamin D(3) synthesis was detected in Agra (169 m) and Katmandu (1400 m). There was an approximately 2- and 4-fold increase in previtamin D(3) production at approximately 3400 m and at Everest base camp (5300 m), respectively. Increased skin pigmentation, application of a sunscreen, aging, and clothing have a dramatic effect on previtamin D(3) production in the skin. It is estimated that exposure in a bathing suit to 1 minimal erythemal dose (MED) is equivalent to ingesting between 10,000 and 25,000 IU of vitamin D(2). The importance of sunlight for providing most humans with their vitamin D requirement is well documented by the seasonal variation in circulating levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D]. Vitamin D deficiency [i.e., 25(OH)D < 20 ng/ml] is common in both children and adults worldwide. Exposure to lamps that produce UVB radiation is an excellent source for producing vitamin D(3) in the skin and is especially efficacious in patients with fat malabsorption syndromes. The major cause of vitamin D deficiency globally is an underappreciation of sunlight's role in providing humans with their vitamin D(3) requirement. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and those that do have a very variable vitamin D content. Recently it was observed that wild caught salmon had between 75% and 90% more vitamin D(3) compared with farmed salmon. The associations regarding increased risk of common deadly cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and cardiovascular disease with living at higher latitudes and being prone to vitamin D deficiency should alert all health care professionals about the importance of vitamin D for overall health and well being.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Altitude
  • Boston
  • Cholecalciferol / biosynthesis
  • Dehydrocholesterols / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Seasons
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Sunlight
  • Time Factors
  • Vitamin D / analogs & derivatives
  • Vitamin D / blood
  • Vitamin D / metabolism*
  • Weather


  • Dehydrocholesterols
  • Vitamin D
  • Cholecalciferol
  • 25-hydroxyvitamin D
  • 7-dehydrocholesterol