It’s often alleged that Colorado sees 300 days of sunshine every year. While some will nitpick that number, we all know there is a splendid amount of sunshine in our beloved Centennial State.
But there’s a steep price to pay for all of that sunshine, including skin cancer and skin aging. The UVA and UVB rays are to blame, as they can cause the formation of free radicals, a term used to describe damaged cells that can be problematic.
“Sun is good,” said Judy Spindler, a nutrition health coach at Natural Grocers. “We need it for hormones and to feel well, but it does damage the skin.”
Spindler teaches classes at the store and conducts health coaching sessions and community outreach. One recent class was devoted to protecting the skin both on the outside and from the inside out. She believes most aren’t applying nearly enough SPF product, eating the right foods or paying attention to the difference between UVA rays and UVB rays.
“On an outing, use an ounce, about a fourth of a bottle,” she said. “After four hours and sweating, and depending on where people go, reapply. More for swimming and sweating. For a little family, you might go through three bottles in one outing.”
We all know to avoid the midday sun, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but many believe going for a walk in the off-hours might not require as much, if any, SPF protection. However, that’s the time of day when UVA rays are present, Spindler said, and lead to inflammation at a deeper level.
“You only notice UVB rays because they cause sunburn. UVA doesn’t cause sunburn but still causes damage.”
The problem, Spindler said, is most skin care products are aimed at UVB rays. A consumer needs to be diligent when buying products, and choose one with protection against the two rays and with antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, zinc, pycnogenol and green tea.
“Some good ones have minerals — they reflect the sunshine,” she said.
It’s not only about what you put on your skin. What you put in your mouth matters, too. Foods with a lot of beta- carotene, the antioxidant that makes fruit and vegetables orange and yellow, can help build our skin’s defenses against the sun. Think carrots, sweet potatoes, oranges, kale and collard greens, and cooked tomato products.
“Those nutrients are stored in the upper layer of your skin and neutralize free radicals,” Spindler said. “That’s the beauty of eating well. If you’re able to consume enough foods, you’ll notice it by the amount of wrinkles you have.”
Healthy fats, including olive and coconut oils and grass-fed beef, also can contribute internally, fighting inflammation in the body.
“Whenever you have damage from sunburn, that makes the body have to repair it, and that’s an inflammation response,” Spindler said. “People don’t realize your body has to work hard to repair things, and antioxidants are so supportive of your health and helping it repair. It takes the body energy to (repair itself).”
She also recommends a handful of supplements that can act as natural sunscreen and neutralize free radicals, including astaxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxathin.
Oh, and one more thing you already know, but won’t be happy to read: Eat less sugar.
“People overdo the sugars, and blood sugar really plays a role in how it affects your health,” she said. “Healthy blood sugar levels support your skin.”