A vitamin cure for sunburn

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” for a good reason…

When your skin absorbs UVB rays from the sun, it triggers a reaction in your body that allows your skin cells to create vitamin D. So the sun is literally supplying your body with the vitamin D it needs to stay healthy.

But there may be another reason for vitamin D’s sun-related nickname…

Not only does vitamin D come from the sun, it could be the antidote to too much sun…

Vitamin D douses sunburn-related inflammation

A recent double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial from researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center found that taking high doses of vitamin D one hour after a sunburn substantially reduces redness, swelling and inflammation.

Participants in the study took 50,000 IU, 100,000 IU or 200,000 IU of vitamin D one hour after receiving a sunburn from a small UV lamp. Researchers then checked in on participants’ sunburns 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours and one week after they received them. And participants who took the most vitamin D had the speediest healing — their skin was significantly less inflamed as little as 48 hours after the burn. Considering a bad sunburn can stay red and inflamed for weeks, that’s pretty amazing!

But do you know what’s even more amazing?

Not only did vitamin D suppress skin inflammation, it also activated genes that aid in skin repair. So its healing powers go more than skin deep. They go all the way down to your DNA!

“We hypothesize that vitamin D helps promote protective barriers in the skin by rapidly reducing inflammation,” said Kurt Lu, MD, senior author on the study and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. “What we did not expect was that at a certain dose, vitamin D not only was capable of suppressing inflammation, it was also activating skin repair genes.”

Daily D may do the trick…

Now, there is one important fact to remember here. These results appear promising, but it was a small study — only 20 people. So I’m not necessarily saying you should take a massive dose of vitamin D next time you get a sunburn.

But here’s the good news…

Researchers found that study participants with the highest blood levels of vitamin D had less redness and increased gene activity related to skin repair. So, hypothetically, even if you get your vitamin D in more moderate doses — Dr. Michael Cutler recommends 1,000 International Units (IU) daily or 5,000 IU twice weekly of vitamin D3 to boost and maintain your levels — it could keep your blood levels of D high enough to make your body better equipped to heal a sunburn.

In the meantime, there are other natural ways to speed up healing time on a nasty sunburn, most of which are topical applications like:

  • Aloe vera
  • Baking soda
  • Manuka honey
  • Coconut oil
  • Bentonite clay

And of course the best medicine for a sunburn is to never get one in the first place. Limit your time in the sun and, for extended excursions, make sure you’re using a natural sunscreen (like those recommended by the Environmental Working Group) to keep your skin safe in the intense summer sun.


  1. Time in the Sun: How Much Is Needed for Vitamin D?” — U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  2. Vitamin D may improve sunburn, according to new clinical trial.” — MedicalXpress. Retrieved July 13, 2017.
  3. F. Scott, et al. “Oral vitamin D rapidly attenuates inflammation from sunburn: an interventional study.” — Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2017.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.