Sun Safety

June 1, 2009

By johnmac

Last fall I wrote about Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin. Now that we are heading into our sunny summer months (hard to imagine with all the rain we’ve been getting, but I am hopeful!), I am looking forward to getting more of my vitamin D from sun exposure.

Most of use will be out in the sun longer than the relatively short amount of time it takes to optimize our vitamin D levels, so it is important that we do what we can to protect ourselves from getting a sunburn. The best way to do this is to avoid staying out in the sun for too long.

I described how to safely expose yourself to the sun back in my November 2008 Tip (see ‘Tip of the Month Archive’). This month, I’d like to tell you about certain foods that can reduce your risk of sunburn and/or skin damage (e.g. dehydration, wrinkles, blemishes) due to excess sun exposure.

First, let’s start with an explanation of a sunburn. A sunburn is caused by excess exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays – UVA and UVB. Both cause damage.

UVB mostly affects the skin’s outer layers and is therefore primarily responsible for sunburn. UVA has a longer wavelength and primarily affects the skin’s deeper layers and can damage our skin cells’ DNA, leading to premature aging of the skin and more serious conditions such as melanoma.When skin is overexposed to the sun, the cells become ‘oxidized’ and suffer free radical damage which can affect the cells’ DNA. Research has shown that there are certain foods that provide nutrients with a strong anti-oxidant role to protect skin cells from damage. Olive oil and tomato paste.  A German study found that individuals who consumed 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) of olive oil and 40 grams (about 1/4 cup) of tomato paste daily for 10 weeks (in addition to a controlled diet) had 35% less reddening of the skin than those who were on the controlled diet only (e.g. did not consume olive oil and tomato paste). Although the results of this study did not show large amounts of skin protection from olive oil and tomato paste alone, the ability of these two foods to make a measurable difference in such a short period of time was significant. Vitamin C.  Supplement with vitamin C and/or eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as bell peppers, broccoli, papaya, Brussels sprouts, and strawberries. Vitamin E.  Supplement with vitamin E and/or eat foods rich in vitamin E, such as sunflower seeds, almonds, olives, and dark green leafy vegetables. Foods rich in selenium.  Supplement with selenium and/or eat foods rich in selenium, such as mushrooms and fish like cod, tuna, halibut, and salmon. (Note: it is likely the omega-3 in fish that prevents skin damage, so a good omega-3 supplement would also be good). Foods high in flavonoids/phytonutrients.  These substances have very strong anti-oxidant powers. Some of the best food sources include: raspberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, lemons, limes, persimmons, pomegranates, dark green leafy vegetables, dark orange vegetables, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, dark chocolate (in moderation – and it should have 70% or more cocoa content) and green tea. Green tea deserves special mention due to its high levels of epigallocatechins (EGC). EGC is a type of catechin (plant substances known for their strong anti-oxidant properties) and in studies involving human skin cells, it directly blocked DNA damage from UV light. EGC has numerous other impressive health benefits, so consider adding a couple of cups of green tea to your day. Coconut Oil. It is interesting to note that many sunscreens contain coconut oil or ingredients derived from coconut. While simply eating or applying coconut oil to the skin will not prevent sunburn, it does help to prevent free-radical formation, thereby helping to prevent damage caused by overexposure to the sun. Coconut oil is the only thing I use on my skin. As substances that we put on our skin are often easily absorbed into our bloodstream, I suggest that you put only the most natural substances on your skin. Personally, if I wouldn’t eat it, I avoid putting it on my skin. It is important to understand that while eating the above foods can help to protect the skin cells from damage due to sun exposure, it is not meant to be a substitute for safe sun exposure. If you are going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time you should wear a hat, good sunglasses and protective clothing, or use sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher and apply as per directions. Look for natural products with proven effectiveness. The following link offers some excellent guidance in selecting a good product: I hope you won’t have to use any of the information that follows, but should you happen to get a sunburn, here are some natural ways that can provide relief and promote healing (if the sunburn is severe, see your physician or health care practitioner):

  • Apply cool water to the area with a dampened washcloth or soak in a cool to lukewarm bath for up to 30 minutes. Adding a cup of baking soda or 6 cups of chamomile tea to the bathwater will help.
  • Apply aloe vera gel several times per day. It can be applied every hour if necessary. Using the gel/pulp from a fresh plant is best as commercial gels often contain mineral oils, paraffin waxes, alcohol and colouring – all of which should be avoided..
  • Apply a calendula-based skin cream. Calendula helps to heal burns.
  • Apply a vitamin E cream.
  • Dilute witch hazel 50:50 with cool water and apply to sunburn with a dampened cloth.
  • Cut open a cucumber and gently wipe it on the skin.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  • Don’t break blisters. This will interfere with the healing process and will increase the risk of infection.
  • Stay out of the sun until the sunburn is COMPLETELY healed.

Please be especially cautious with children. While getting a sunburn at any age increases the risk of developing skin cancer, getting a sunburn before the age of 18 increases it dramatically. Enjoy…with care! References:

  6. The Coconut Oil Miracle, Bruce Fife C.N., N.D., Avery, New York, 2004

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