Don't Sizzle in the Sun: Protect Your Skin From the Inside Out
by Heather Pratt, MNT
With summer in full swing, I sincerely hope that you are playing in the sun at any opportunity you get, be it hiking, biking, a water sport or even just good old gardening. For most of us that spend half the year bundled up in the cold, the sun offers an inexplicable draw. There are good reasons to love the sun too—exposure to it improves our moods, regulates our wake and sleep cycle and triggers the production of the all important vitamin D in our skin. But sun exposure is a double edged sword because it can also damage the structure of our skin, which leaves it dry, wrinkled and leathery-looking. Not to mention, excessive exposure to UV rays can damage our DNA which increases the risk of skin cancer.
It often seems we have only two choices when it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun. We can use a conventional sunscreen that protects us from getting burned, but also delivers onto the skin (and into the body) estrogen-mimicking chemicals that disrupt hormones and may increase our risk of breast cancer, reproductive problems and obesity. Or, we can NOT wear sunscreen and either avoid the sun (which is no fun) or run the risk of sunburn and skin cancer (no fun either). Luckily for us sun-lovers there is another option, protecting the skin from the inside out through our dietary choices.
When we expose our skin to too much sun, the UV rays create free radicals which damage the matrix that keeps our skin firm, the fatty acids that keep it moist and our DNA. Antioxidants fight free radicals and prevent this damage from occurring. There are lots of studies that have examined a variety of dietary and supplemental antioxidants to protect the skin from this UV damage. Of particular interest is the family of carotenoids, which contains over 600 different compounds, including beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin. The carotenes are found in brightly colored vegetables and fruits like mangos, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, watermelon and tomatoes and in some seafood such as pink shrimp and wild sockeye salmon. They are even in most dark green veggies like kale and spinach, but the chlorophyll covers up the red, yellow and orange hues that the carotenes provide. Other nutrients that have been studied to offer sun protection benefits include vitamin C (from fresh fruits and veggies), vitamin E (from sunflower seeds, almonds, leafy greens, olives and high quality olive oil), the compound EGCG (found in green tea), the antioxidant complex Pycnogenol® (which is available only as a supplement) and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (found in cold water fatty fish like sardines, anchovies, salmon, etc.).
In general people who consume a Mediterranean style diet that is high in fruits, veggies, fish and lean meat, and olive oil have less skin damage and fewer wrinkles than those that consume a more standard American style diet. A Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants while being low in inflammatory fats, refined flours and sugar. Another plus for a Mediterranean diet is the high intake of high-quality olive oil, which is full of antioxidants and healthy fats. The really good news about eating this way to protect your skin from the inside out is that these eating habits also improve overall health and wellness, protecting your whole body for the long haul.
A word of caution: While eating and supplementing to protect the skin from sun damage is an excellent option, it takes a little time for the nutrients to really kick in. Most studies have shown improvement after 8 to 10 weeks, so don’t have blueberries for breakfast and think you’re good to go for the rest of the day without sunscreen. Even after 8 to 10 weeks you might still need to use sunscreen if you’ll be out for an extended period of time or if you are very fair-skinned. And those interested in keeping their faces looking young as long as possible should still probably wear sunscreen every day. Luckily there are lots of good natural mineral based sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays without the chemicals and without leaving you life-guard white. Some even add extra antioxidants which help protect the skin from the outside in the same way dietary and supplemental antioxidants protect it from the inside.
So this summer get eating, get out there and enjoy the sun…without the sizzle!
If you need some ideas for delicious ways to eat your antioxidants check out these recipes:
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|Heather Pratt, MNT|
Heather Pratt is a natural born foodie with a passion for the medicinal effects of food. After several years in a field that just didn't 'feed' her she went back to school to become a Master Nutrition Therapist. She works part time for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage as a Nutrition Writer and regular contributor to the Natural Grocers Health Hotline Magazine, where she helps to educate staff and customers alike on how to use food and supplements to enhance their health. Uniting good food with good health is her passion and she loves to share it with others.