Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare’s latest product launch, Active Vitamin D Serum Oil ($65), is quite a unique offering. It’s the only product on the market, as far as I know, that claims to beautify using active vitamin D. Dr. Gross noticed that many of his patients had vitamin D deficiencies, an unfortunate consequence of following the doctor’s orders and avoiding the sun (I read his book). Vitamin D is essential for strong bones but requires sun exposure in order to synthesize the vitamin. As Marta noted during her own bout of vitamin D deficiency, New Yorkers aren’t exposed to sufficient sunlight to synthesize vitamin D (aka the sunshine vitamin). According to a Stanford University study, unless you live south of a line from Los Angeles to Columbia, S.C., there may not be enough sunlight year-round to produce the required amount of the vitamin.

However, vitamin D deficiency isn’t a condition borne of urban living or relegated to those residing in northern latitudes. Populations at high risk for deficiency include the elderly, adolescents, infants, strict vegetarians, people with dark skin, and those who are obese. Studies have found vitamin D deficiency has been linked to diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and even depression (another reason to view D as the sunshine vitamin). The benefits of vitamin D include strong bones; reduced acne, eczema and rosacea; hair growth; increased skin elasticity; and reduction of dark spots. It’s evident that Dr. Gross was really on to something.

The body obtains vitamin D by synthesizing it upon exposure to UVB rays, which, unfortunately, also causes skin cancer - quite a catch-22. Interestingly, data from the Women’s Health Initiative demonstrated that daily doses of 1,000 mg of calcium and 400 IU vitamin D reduced the risk of melanoma by 57%. Moreover, per the ADA, “the risk of developing skin cancer from UV radiation far outweighs the benefit of stimulating vitamin D production.” Vitamin D can also be sourced from certain foods, but there aren’t exactly many options. Vitamin D-rich foods include salmon, tuna and egg yolks. The conclusion that Stanford University researchers arrived at is that dermatologists need to recommend supplemental vitamin D while advising patients to avoid sun exposure. In Copley’s interview with Dr. Melanie Bone, the doctor targeted vitamin D as the single most important supplement to take.

So what if you live in the North, spend most of your time indoors, and don’t have time to cook? That would be me - along with the majority of New Yorkers. New York-based Dr. Gross understood this plight and spent the last few years researching the vitamin D skin connection and formulated a topical form of vitamin D. While he was at it, he threw in some other skincare ingredients, including vitamin E, ferulic acid, ubiquinone (CO-Q10), willow bark extract and retinol. So not only does the product deliver vitamin D, it addresses several skincare needs (he is a dermatologist after all). The topical is called a “serum-oil” as it is literally a blend of serum and oil. Per Dr. Gross, serums aren’t hydrating enough and oils moisturize but aren’t anti-aging; thus, he combined the two.

Vitamin D delivered topically is a novel approach but not without controversy within the dermatological community. In order for vitamin D to be effective, it has to pass through the liver and kidneys to become active. Vitamin D applied topically is not circulatory. However, Dr. Gross’s formula contains D2 or ergocalciferol, a plant-based source of vitamin D, which Dr. Gross argues is already an active form of vitamin D. Yet ergocalciferol is considered unstable as it’s affected by air and by light. Dr. Gross has compensated for this by packaging the product in a dark bottle with a dropper. Another point of contention is the efficacy of D2 (ergocalciferol) vs. D3 (cholecalciferol). Both forms are considered effective, but D3 is the kind the body makes. Some studies suggest that D3 can be up to three times more effective. However, Dr. Gross’s product is oil based, and there isn’t any comparative data on the stability of D3 vs. D2 in oil.

As for my consumption of vitamin D, I love salmon but don’t eat it as often as I should. My milk intake is from the small amount I put in my morning cup of Earl Grey. Since my diet is somewhat unpredictable, I make it a point to take supplements daily, including 1000 IU of vitamin D. When Dr. Gross’s office sent me the serum-oil, I held off on testing it right away, as I had my annual physical exam coming up and decided to have my vitamin D blood levels tested prior to using the product. After using the vitamin D topical for 30 days, I had my vitamin D blood levels checked again (more on that later).

I’ve never used a facial oil and the first time I used this oil during the day, I felt like there was an oil slick on my face. The instructions simply say to “apply two to three drops, more if needed.” I had used four hefty drops. While my skin tends to be dry, four drops was too heavy. I found that I couldn’t apply sunscreen over it, without it “pilling.” Upon inspection of the ingredients, I noted the retinol (albeit, a small amount) and decided it best to use the topical in the evening. I tried three drops the next night and found there was enough to apply on my face, neck and décolleté. I found it to be oily at first but the product absorbed within 20 minutes and was moisturizing enough that I could forgo my night cream.

I tried two drops the following night and found it was still enough to apply to face, neck and décolleté. I did use my night cream but waited about a half hour before applying it. The subsequent night I rubbed two drops between my hands and 'patted' it on. This method worked much better than trying to spread the oil around with my fingers. I discovered that application is key when it comes to facial oils. I also applied any oil residue left on my palms to the backs of my hands. After using the serum-oil for a little over a week, I found my skin had a slight glow. If I was going out in the evening, I would apply a drop to my neck and décolleté. It gave my skin a lovely sheen without looking shiny. I can picture applying it to bare arms on summer evenings.

So does the vitamin D topical work? During the month I used the product, my vitamin D levels jumped from 39 to 47 (the healthy range being 30 to 100). However, I admit to eating out more than usual during that period and I almost always order fish. I also made it a point to drink any milk in the refrigerator that was expiring the next day (I hate wasting it). I'm inclined to attribute my increased vitamin D levels to a combination of the above factors.

Overall, I like this serum-oil and will continue to use it. At $65, it’s a decent price point considering the bevy of ingredients it contains and in comparison to some luxury facial oils. Facial oils are quite the buzz these days and if you’re on the bandwagon, Dr. Gross’s serum-oil is definitely worth trying.

Ingredients: Squalane, Ergocalciferol (vitamin D), Tocopheryl Acetate, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Geranium Maculatum Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Retinol, Arbutin, Ferulic Acid, Ubiquinone, Sodium Hyaluronate, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Emblica Officinalis Fruit Powder, Linoleic Acid, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Biotin, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Tribehenin, Acrylates/Carbamate Copolymer, Silica, Bentonite, Corn Starch Modified, Sorbitan Isostearate, Cyclodextrin, Phytic Acid