So many of us love the look of a sun-kissed glow, though there’s no doubt excessive sun exposure can cause skin damage and accelerated aging. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your skin and even repair the damage from your bad sun habits of the past.
Safe sun guidelines for your skin
In reasonable doses, sunlight enables natural immunity, promotes skin growth and healing, stimulates our “happy” hormone (serotonin), and contributes to an overall sense of well-being. Getting some sunlight for 15 or 20 minutes a day enables the body to manufacture vitamin D and is responsible for the synthesis of the pigment melanin, the skin’s natural sunscreen.
The key is to be cautious while out in the sun and not block it out completely, unless you have a history of skin cancer or have another condition, such as an allergy, that requires you not be exposed to the sun. Gradually working up to an hour per day of exposure to the sun, outside of the prime hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and wearing a hat to protect your face, should be relatively safe precautions for most adults. Always use caution in the sun during peak hours by covering up with light clothing and if you do choose to use a sunscreen, select one that is broad-spectrum with a minimum SPF of 30. I prefer sunscreens that are mineral-based and free of harmful chemicals like parabens. I recommend my clients use Color Science or SkinCeuticals.
Nutrition to protect your skin
Certain dietary habits can improve the appearance of your skin. Reducing saturated fat found in meats and dairy products; increasing essential fatty acids through regular consumption of fish, nuts, avocados, and olive oil; and topping up your intake of red or orange vegetables and fruits rich in antioxidants (called flavonoids) may reduce skin cancer risk and improve the look of your skin. You should also aim to have a cup of berries per day.
Research has also found a link between skin aging and excess sugar and simple carbohydrates. These foods cause an elevation of blood sugar and insulin levels that cause inflammation and contribute to wrinkles and aging. Stable insulin levels can be maintained by eating a balance of healthy fats, lean protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates (oats, beans, sweet potato, green vegetables, or rye) with each meal and snack. A perfect lunch and dinner plate should have one-third salad (with an olive oil dressing), one-third grilled, steamed, baked or stir-fried vegetables and one-third lean protein (or a serving about the size and width of your palm).
Supplements for healthy skin
There are nutrient supplements that you can take to help keep your skin looking healthy and which also reduce the risk of skin cancer:
1. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and a component of collagen. Essential for tissue repair, healing and a healthy immune response, a typical dose is 500-3000 mg per day.
2. Zinc is an antioxidant essential for tissue repair and healing and is a component of collagen. Aim for 15-50 mg per day, but no more than 100 mg.
3. Vitamin E is another antioxidant that may help reduce the risk of skin cancers. A mixed vitamin E, one that contains all eight types of tocopherols, rather than just d-alpha-tocopherol, is the most beneficial. Avoid all synthetic sources of vitamin E as they can do more harm than good.
4. Vitamin A is being studied for it’s role in reducing the risk of skin cancer. A typical dose is 10,000 IU per day but if you’re pregnant, don’t take supplements containing vitamin A beyond the amount found in your prenatal vitamin.
5. Omega 3s are naturally anti-inflammatory and highly moisturizing to the skin. They’re also beneficial for the heart, brain and eyes. The perfect amount is 2-4 grams per day.
6. Selenium is yet another antioxidant that could have promise in reducing the incidence of skin and other types of cancer.
Topical treatments to reverse sun damage
1. Coenzyme Q10: A report in the March 2006 issue of the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology showed that CoQ10 may reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and an earlier study in Germany in 1999 found that it CoQ10 improved the skin’s resistance to the oxidative stress of UV radiation and when applied long-term, could reduce the appearance of crow’s feet.
2. Vitamin C: One of my must-have skincare products is a topical vitamin C serum. This can increase the production of collagen in the skin, produce skin cell growth and aid in regeneration. The results? Younger looking skin and improved firmness.
3. Vitamin A: Topical products containing natural forms of vitamin A (retinol, retinaldehyde) or vitamin A derivatives (called retinoids) are beneficial for sun-damaged skin. These products also slow down the signs of aging. The journal Dermatology Surgery reported reported that vitamin A was an effective and well-tolerated treatment for photodamaged facial skin, and reduced fine and large wrinkles, acne, liver spots and surface roughness. To avoid over-exfoliating the skin, I recommend using a vitamin A cream only one to two times per week, and it should not be applied before periods of sun exposure.
Don’t forget to drink water!
The most important component in your summer skin arsenal is reverse osmosis water — and lots of it. We can get dehydrated very quickly in the sun, which can cause us to look older, fast. Drink at least two litres of water each day, and even more if you’re exercising.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.