Ah, Summer! The season that Aberdonians long for after a cold dark winter. While some receive the golden glow of the sun, others prepare to douse themselves with sunscreen to prevent the burn. In either case, though – the sun can take a toll on the skin.
First, the good news: The sun actually offers many benefits to the skin and overall health. The sun is a major source for Vitamin D, a crucial vitamin for healthy bones and teeth, but also may play an immune system role. People with autoimmune skin disorders like psoriasis, eczema, and chronic acne see a lessening of the effect of the disorder during the summer months. Finally, the sun can have a positive effect on our mood – the rays emitted from the sun have been shown to counteract the symptoms of varying types of depression. So avoidance of the sun is not advised in most cases.
Now, the bad news: The sun’s UV rays can have damaging effects on the skin and overall health. Skin can see enlarged pores, thickening, dark spots, and wrinkles. Sun exposure can also increase the risk of skin cancers.
The key is balance. Balancing your sun exposure with proper skin care can help you reap the benefits of sun exposure and minimize the risks.
- Hydrate We sweat more in the summer months, and because of that our water intake becomes important in preventing overall problems with the body due to overheating. Water acts like the body’s cooling system internally, and sweat evaporating from our body is our body’s cooling process. The more water you have in your system, the more capable you are of handling heat and preventing damage.
- Exfoliate regularly – but gently Exfoliation sloughs off the dead skin cells making your moisturizers absorb more successfully. However, your skin will be more delicate. When exposed to the harmful sun rays, exfoliate no more than twice weekly and only with very fine grain scrubs to prevent damage to healthy skin cells.
- Keep your skin moisturized Dehydrated skin is more prone to damage than hydrated skin. Choosing a quality moisturizer with good, non-toxic and non-comedogenic (doesn’t block pores) ingredients can help your skin defend itself against the sun. Many in the natural industry prefer lotions without preservatives and fillers, as many have deleterious effect on overall health. Choosing ingredients that are non-comedogenic is important because oils that do not absorb completely act like a plastic film on the skin and trap moisture, preventing evaporation. This actually has the later effect of dehydrating the skin. A good tip – if you still feel a little greasy after five minutes of applying an oil or lotion – the product’s components are too large for the skin surface and may cause damage.
- Be aware of sun-sensitive medicines and ingredients Certain ingredients in skin care can actually increase the possibility of damage to the skin. For example, Retinyl Palmitate (a derivative of Vitamin A) can increase the risk of skin cancer when it is present on skin that is exposed to the sun. Certain medicines you can take, like antibiotics and anti-depressants, can also increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Eat “Sun-Happy” foods Foods like raw vegetables and fruits can increase your body’s level of healthy anti-oxidants. Regular functions of the body like digestion and breathing create byproducts called free radicals. Free radicals form from sun exposure and can cause damage to the DNA of cells that can later lead to health problems, premature aging, and cancer. Antioxidants act like “catcher’s mitts” to free radicals and prevent them from doing damage.
- Sun protection Protect yourself from overexposure in the form of clothing or a hat, sun screen, or lip balm. If using a sun screen, use a good quality sunscreen that has the proper pH for your skin (this will show up as pH balanced on the label). Studies have shown that putting moisturizers or sunscreens on the skin that are out of the correct pH range can increase the risk of sun damage and premature aging. Next, check the ingredients and label for the SPF and protection you desire, then apply and, reapply, and reapply. If wearing clothing, make sure it covers your sensitive areas. Women especially should be wary of covering or applying lots of sunscreen or covering the chest area, as this area of skin has little structure underneath and is very prone to sun damage.
- Have a plan for if you overindulge It happens to a lot of people – you swam in a pool or a lake and the sun protection came off, or you didn’t realize how bad you were burning. Be prepared with a good after sun lotion that can help minimize the damage to the skin. These are usually rich in aloe and also need to be pH balanced so that the skin is not further damaged as it tries to correct its natural pH.
We only have a few months of summer – so embrace the sun, enjoy all of the wonderful activities that we cram into the summer – just protect your skin, and it will look great for years to come. // –Candace Briscoe