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Condition - Love the Sun? Protect your skin inside and out

By Debbie Paddington Dip ION

A holiday tan might appear glamorous, but, according to Cancer Research UK, over the last 25 years, rates of skin cancer in Britain have risen faster than any other common cancer. Ultraviolet radiation may also cause sunburn, wrinkles, and age spots and can also suppress the immune system. So, with summer not too far away, protecting our skin from the sun, both inside and out, should be our top priority.

Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the thickest part of the skin, and UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays. Approximately 94% of ultraviolet light can be blocked by an SPF15 sun cream, but the rest of the light penetrates the skin and creates free radicals. Research at the University of Illinois has shown that the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, generates a tremendous number of free radicals when exposed to ultraviolet light. Free radicals are molecules that injure the skin’s cells, causing inflammation, increasing sun damage and possibly contributing to the development of skin cancer.

Antioxidant protection

Despite high UV radiations in the Mediterranean regions, the area has remarkably low levels of melanoma. Researchers have found that this may be due to a diet high in antioxidants in fruit and vegetables, which can reduce the harmful effects of free radicals and protect the skin from stress and damage. Additional supplementation with the following nutrients may also be beneficial.

Astaxanthin - This is a naturally occurring alga that is responsible for the pink colouring of flamingoes, shrimp and salmon. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant and has been shown in studies to help protect the skin against harmful UV light.

Beta caroteneThis is a member of the carotenoid family and gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their rich colours. Studies have shown beta carotene may help to decrease sensitivity to the sun, and that it’s not only beneficial in the treatment of sun ageing, but might play a role in protection by preventing UV-induced collagen breakdown.

Vitamin C - This is a water-soluble vitamin found in fruits and vegetables. It plays an essential role in the production of collagen and elastin and may help reverse the negative effects of UV radiation in the skin.

Vitamin E - This helps to protect cell membranes and is thought to play an important role in skin ageing because of its antioxidant properties. Research has shown that UV exposure can decrease levels of vitamin E and vitamin C in the skin. Good food sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables.

Selenium - This is an essential mineral found in trace amounts in the body and may help to reduce sun damage to the skin. Mackerel, tuna, lobster, wheatgerm, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts and wholegrains are good sources of selenium. Selenium levels can vary as the level of selenium in the soil where food is grown determines how much is actually in the food.

LycopeneTomatoes are the most concentrated source of the carotenoid lycopene, but it can also be found in apricots, guava, watermelon and pink grapefruit. Lycopene may offer protective effects to the skin and help to reduce sunburn.

Other ways to protect your skin

  • Find shade when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest, between 10am and 4pm.
  • Be very cautious near water, snow and sand, as they can reflect damaging UV rays and increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long trousers and long-sleeved shirts.
  • Wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV ray protection.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or greater to protect uncovered skin. Don’t forget to reapply every 11/2 to 2 hours, even on cloudy days and after swimming.
  • If, unfortunately, your skin does get sunburned, an Aloe vera gel would be very soothing and healing to use. 
  • Carefully examine all of your skin once a month. Early detection of melanoma can save your life.

What about vitamin D?

Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, is found in fish, eggs and fortified foods. The main function of vitamin D is to aid in the absorption of calcium and to ensure our blood contains the right amount of calcium and phosphorus. Recent research also suggests vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and several autoimmune diseases.

Vitamin D is also known as the “sunshine vitamin” because the main way our body manufactures vitamin D is by exposure to the sun. People are understandably concerned about how to get enough vitamin D without causing damage to the skin. As a rough guide, the time you need to spend in the sun without protection is less time than it takes for your skin to go red or burn; an average of 10-15 minutes will be enough for most people. Obviously, this is not possible during the winter months, and therefore, supplementation is advisable.


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