As summer fast approaches and we spend more time outside we immediately begin to think about protecting our skin from that dangerous sun! Humans have been living with the sun since time began and it’s only in the last decade or two that we’ve been afraid of it. We need the sun to give our bodies Vitamin D but there are many things that can upset this efficient but delicate chemical reaction that happens on our skin. We desperately need this important ‘vitamin’ and scientists are now admitting that all that covering up and slapping on sunscreen we’ve been doing is a detriment to our health.
Optimal levels of Vitamin D in our body protect us from skin cancer. Anyone living north of California is going to be deficient in Vitamin D during most of the year. We cannot get enough Vitamin D through skin exposure to sunshine during the winter months which is why it’s a good idea to take a supplement. The amount of UV-B rays that reach us depends on the angle of the sun in the sky. In the winter when the sun is lower to the horizon we are not getting enough UVB light to make adequate amounts of Vitamin D because the sun’s rays have to travel through too much of the earth’s atmosphere before they reach us. We only get enough sunshine in the summer. The most effective time to make Vitamin D is during mid day between 10am – 2pm, which is when we have been typically avoiding it. To manufacture the same amount of Vitamin D in the winter months you would have to stay outside for 2 hours getting full sun exposure.
So the goal is to encourage optimal Vitamin D production and not get burned. It is only when our skin becomes damaged from the sun that it becomes a skin cancer risk. In the early summer when you initially start going out in the sun you have to make sure you only stay out for a few minutes. Gradually build up the amount of time until you can safely stay out 15- 20 minutes making sure to never burn. After that cover up or use a good quality natural sun screen that doesn’t use harsh chemicals. The chemicals themselves in most sunscreens are now being shown to do damage to our skin. In 15 minutes of optimal sun exposure your body will product anywhere from 3,000 – 20,000 IU of Vitamin D. It is impossible to get too much as your body will regulate how much it needs.
Vitamin D is made in conjunction with cholesterol and other oils on our skin, so one thing that most people don’t know is that showering with hot water or swimming in chlorinated water will remove these oils and strip away the vitamin D. We want to optimize our body’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D so it’s crucial to make sure you are getting healthy sources of fats and oils in our diets. Conversely trans fat in your diet will impair the liver from converting Vitamin D into its more active form.
Without adequate nutrition and antioxidants in our diet, our skin loses the ability to protect itself. If you are nutritionally deficient your skin won’t be as healthy. That’s a fact. Your skin will burn faster. Some of these nutrients are the B Vitamins, essential fatty acids (as mentioned above), antioxidants and of course Vitamin D. Our bodies ARE able to protect themselves from the sun, but only if we give them the right tools.
Antioxidants are found in many foods but especially brightly and darkly coloured foods. Taking these key nutrients in supplement form is an option too. Astaxanthin (from algae, krill and fish) can be taken in capsule form. Krill oil contains astaxanthin and so taking this will give you both your omega 3 and your antioxidants. Make sure you eat a wide range of antioxidant rich foods such as berries (all kinds), broccoli (and other cruciferous vegetables), garlic, green tea, beans, nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts), dark chocolate, figs, good quality olive oil and even some spices such as cinnamon, cloves and oregano.
Vitamin A is also an important nutrient for skin health. Vitamin A (preformed) is found in the liver of other animals. You can take cod liver oil or halibut liver oil as a good source of Vitamin A. Beta carotene can be converted by your body into Vitamin A but the conversion rate is not always optimal and can be inhibited by certain medications, poor digestion, low thyroid, diabetes and low fat diets. Beta carotene is an antioxidant in its own right and has been shown to offer fantastic skin protective properties. Make sure you eat a wide variety of brightly coloured yellow, orange, red and green vegetables.
It’s also important to stay hydrated. Drink enough water for your body size and keep your skin and the rest of your body working smoothly. Moisturizing when you come in from the sun is also a good idea. Make sure you use a good quality clean moisturizer or even better, just a plain oil such as coconut, almond, she butter or apricot kernel oil. It’s not the sun that is to blame ~ it’s our nutritional state and the health of our skin that protects us from sun damage.
poor nutrition = unhealthy skin + sun exposure = skin damage
By: Kira Neumann, RHN