MALADY MAKEOVER

Go For the Glow

Proper nutrition inside and out protects your skin from summer sun.

By Claire Sykes

July/August 2009


Summer is here: You’re wearing shorts, spending more time outside and planning your beach getaway—you’re so ready for the season! Or are you?

As much as you may love the sun you need to shield yourself from excess exposure. And sun damage is only one threat to your skin; add environmental pollutants plugging your pores, poison oak and ivy rashes, and mosquito and tick bites, and you may as well stay inside all summer. Fortunately, proper skincare habits can let you safely bask in the year’s brightest months.

Vitamin Sunshine

Sun exposure isn’t all bad. “Everyone blames the sun, as if it’s this scary, bad thing in the sky,” says Mona Morstein, ND, of the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona (www.scnm.edu). “Meanwhile many of us are deficient in vitamin D,” which the skin creates in the presence of sunshine. Twenty minutes of daily exposure from 10 a.m. to two p.m. (without sunscreen) can promote D formation. Recent studies on the sunshine vitamin’s far-ranging health benefits suggest that getting additional D through supplementation (as much as 5,000 IU) isn’t a bad idea.


Too much sun, though, burns your skin and can create free radicals. This can damage your cells, leaving you with wrinkles—and possibly even skin cancer.

Use a sunblock (with zinc oxide, a mineral compound) that immediately deflects ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays. (Sunscreen employs chemicals to absorb those rays, requiring you to wait an hour before it’s effective.) When shopping for either type of product, choose those with hydrating agents, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, and green tea, grape seed and pomegranate extracts.

“Use a minimum of SPF [sun protection factor] 15 for 15 to 30 minutes outside,” says Amy Bader, ND, adjunct professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon (www.ncnm.edu). “If you’re out longer than that, use SPF 30, 45 or higher.” Your specific SPF depends on the sun’s intensity and your skin color; the lighter your skin, the more sensitive you are, although having dark skin does not make you immune to sun damage.

Even on cloudy days, slather on sunscreen or sunblock frequently—on dry skin, not wet—and buy a fresh bottle or tube every year. Finally, slide a sunscreen balm across your lips, slip on some UV-blocking sunglasses and slap on a hat to match the light-colored, tightly woven clothing you should be wearing to further protect your skin.

No sun-barrier product can completely ward off sunburn, however. Bader says that topical vitamin E helps ease the pain. “Aloe vera (straight from the plant) and calendula, raw honey and coconut oil are all antimicrobials, which promote skin healing,” she adds. Jared Hanson, ND, LAc, of New York City (www.jaredhanson.com) recommends St. John’s wort oil and homeopathic preparations of stinging nettle (Urtica urens).

Internal Skincare

But just using topical treatments doesn’t mean you’re covered. “Your skin grows from the inside out, so what you eat is more important than anything external, except sunblock,” Hanson says.

Antioxidants are key, especially carotenoids, “because research shows how much they protect your skin.” These include foods with beta-carotene (orange and yellow produce), lycopene (tomatoes and other red fruits) and lutein (green leafy vegetables). Bader recommends “an anti-inflammatory diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, and minimizing sugar, caffeine and anything else that creates inflammation for you, such as wheat, dairy, peanuts and tomatoes.” Olive oil has been used both internally and topically for centuries by women seeking a more youthful look. Drinking water freely keeps your skin hydrated while green tea helps fight off inflammation.

Whatever you lack in meals or healthy sun exposure, take as supplements—from carotenoids and vitamins C, D and E to açaí to selenium, manganese, zinc and copper, all of which help reduce cell oxidation. Your body already makes an antioxidant called superoxide dismutase (SOD) that repairs cells damaged by superoxide, the most common free radical. (Supplemental SOD is available in combination with gliadin, which protects SOD from the digestive process.) Another supplement called N-acetyl-cysteine supplies the building blocks for glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, while MSM provides the sulfur needed for firm, supple skin. You also need essential fatty acids, as in flax seeds (ground or as oil) and fish oil with omega-3. “These healthy oils lubricate your cells, helping to keep your skin moist and pliant,” says Morstein.

Your basic regimen should include washing your face nightly with a gentle cleanser, exfoliating old cells, moisturizing daily and using mineral makeup, which provides an SPF of about 20. Follow a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of sleep, exercise and stress relief, along with regular skin cancer checks (see www.skincancer.org).

Safeguard yourself from the hazards of summer and make your good habits permanent—so you can enjoy the benefits of healthy skin all year long.

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