Although my skin is fairly smooth, I have one problem zone: my neck. My wrinkles form a fine noose, a gift from the southern sun when I was 17. A blazing beach and two weeks of Factor 2 equalled lines for life. That was the decade of Dallas. 'Skincare: 2017' is a new world. There now exist natural sunscreens with high SPFs to shield our skin from the day star and sexy oils like rosehip, sea buckthorn and coconut to nourish our hides and cuff the hands of Time. Skincare is only one aspect of skin care, however. The old saying that 'beauty is skin deep is flawed'. The skin is our largest organ. What we feed it is as vital as what we spread on it.
Fresh raw fruits, veggies, leafy greens, juices, sprouts, nuts and seeds have a beautifying effect on skin. They contain vitamins, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals, antioxidants, essential fats, proteins, carbohydrates and water to hydrate the skin from the inside and boost its structure and function. But they do more than zap zits and erase fine lines: folks who eat lots of uncooked plant food also comment on their skin's growing resistance to sunlight. Former 'burn and peelers' start to tan and others find their sunny glow lasts longer.
Brightly coloured foods form the rainbow that leads to golden skin. Apricots, sweet potatoes, carrots, peppers and mangoes; melons and tomatoes; pomegranates, cherries, grapes and red, black and blueberries; green veggies, sprouts, leaves and algae; white tea, green tea, black tea and dark choccie (!); acai and wild red salmon... These foods contain antioxidants (alpha-lipoic acid, astaxanthin, carotenoids, chlorophyll, flavonoids, lutein, lycopene, minerals, resveratrol, vitamins A, C and E and others) that create an internal sunscreen, impart a healthy sheen and permit a protective tan to form without risking that leathery look.
The oils you eat are important too. A study (2010) from Tel Aviv University suggests a nutritional approach to sun protection to complement external strategies: 'Dietary antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in addition to n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, n-9 monounsaturated fatty acids, and low pro-inflammatory n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, have demonstrated protective properties.' Translation: eating lots of bright, fresh, local, organic fruits and veggies and omega-3-rich foods (e.g. chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, algae, krill oil, wild oily fish, grass-fed meat and purslane); some omega-9-rich foods (e.g. olives, olive oil, almonds and avocados); and cutting back on processed omega-6-rich foods (e.g. grain-fed meat, vegetable oils and junk foods) can help to protect your skin. Virgin coconut oil is also a protector. It can be eaten and/or used to nourish your pelt after a hard day's sunbathing. Just choose a mild-scented brand like Barlean's unless you yearn for the halcyon days of Hawaiian Tropic.
It takes a few weeks of abundant eating to build your internal sunscreen. Even better, eat these foods all year round. Uncooked is usually best: juicing, blending, sprouting and plain old chewin' the cud render the nutrients more available without the denaturing effects of heat. However, cooked tomatoes are loaded with lycopene too and some veggies just beg to be steamed or baked unless a raw yam and broccoli salad makes you drool, so follow your instincts while upping the raw component and check out the recipe section of Dale Pinnock's website. It's yummy over there!
Food contains goodies known and unknown, which is why supplements can never replace Nature's cornucopia. They can, however, complement it by plugging gaps in nutrition and supplying concentrated nutrients for specific purposes. The latest Wunderkind is astaxanthin, an antioxidant produced by marine algae in response to UV light exposure. Astaxanthin protects the algae from the sun's rays. It can shield us too when we take it in large enough quantities for several weeks. Many claims have been made for its skin-protecting, age-reversing and cute-i-fying qualities. Viridian's S.P.F. Skin Pro-Factors contains astaxanthin and other antioxidants to strengthen your skin against sun damage. Ask the Hopsack honeys for advice.
Why our skins should have 'issues' with the sun - such as burning, photo-ageing, sunspots and cancer - is an interesting question. Humans evolved under the sun, after all. Our hunter-gatherer lifestyle meant picking and plucking plants and fishin' and shootin' (OK, spearin') critters. We also evolved to make essential vitamin D through the interaction of sunlight on bare skin, which suggests that we developed to depend on our friendly local star. So is our adaptation to the sun not fully complete? Or are we doing something to skew the relationship? Rather than causing skin problems, one intriguing theory argues that the sun reveals our inner state by shining a light (ha!) on our dietary shortcomings. Yes, we evolved to live under the sun but we also evolved to eat natural foods: fruits, roots, shoots, leaves, nuts, seeds and animal foods - victuals teeming with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants to protect us against the harm of radiation, while letting us use it to make vitamin D. By eating a beige modern diet of cooked, processed foods, devoid of nutrients and heavy on oxidised oils, we fail to keep our side of the bargain. And we are no longer protected from free radical damage triggered by cosmic rays.
A diet rich in antioxidants and good fats protects us from free radicals on the rampage. Free radicals are caused by lots of things, including ultraviolet light. These molecules lack an electron, which makes them unstable. Desiring stability, they mug other molecules and rob their electrons, rendering the victims unstable in turn. This creates paths of destruction in the body if the process runs unopposed. The same action that causes iron to rust harms the skin. Except in rainy Oregon. Oregonians don't tan in the summer; they rust, according to a local. So, by taking a lettuce leaf from the raw foodies' Bumper Book of Greens and Other Hues, we colour ourselves beautiful from the inside out. Antioxidants stop the Free Rads in their tracks by kindly donating electrons without joining the free radical cause. It is important to eat a broad spectrum of foods and not to choose just one or two protectors, for different antioxidants protect different types of tissues. Likewise, replacing bad oxidised fats with good omegas and coconut oil lessens free radical activity.
Some foods and herbs can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and should be treated with caution: carrot tops, parsnips, celery, limes and figs and St John's Wort, chrysanthemum, dandelion, sunflower, dong quai, marigold and arnica can cause photosensitivity, as can saccharin and the painkiller ibuprofen.
Creating an internal sunscreen does not preclude using sunscreen on your skin: think complement, not replacement. In sunscreen land, be careful what you choose . The skin is a carrier, not a barrier. Chemicals can enter the bloodstream through the skin and many sunscreens are chock full of nasties. 'Natural' does not always mean natural either. Sunscreens containing inorganic zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are a better choice, as these minerals create a physical barrier that reflects UVA and UVB rays (though there is a question mark over whether titanium dioxide can be absorbed by the body). Although UVB rays burn your skin faster, they are essential for making vitamin D. UVA rays are more insidious. On the plus side, they trigger a quick tan (the skin's natural protective mechanism). On the minus side, they penetrate deeper, age the skin and encourage skin cancer. Your sunscreen needs to filter out both.
Visit The Hopsack and ask Cap'n Finn or the other Hopsackers for their counsel on the best choice for you. We have a sun-tastic range of suncare products.
Wearing a sunscreen at all times can indirectly promote skin cancer. You need some UVA exposure to spark a protective tan and some UVB exposure to create anti-cancer vitamin D, which means a short time every day sunbathing without sunscreen. Once you start to go pink or feel even slightly uncomfortable, however (a) your D-making is done for the day and (b) you need to put on sunscreen and/or clothes to avoid burning and photo-ageing.
If you do inadvertently burn, aloe vera gel is a wonderful soother. It reduces inflammation, hydrates, nourishes and soothes the skin and speeds tissue regeneration. Lavender essential oil is good for burns too but do not apply it neat or in a carrier oil, as oil on burnt skin can trap heat and make matters worse. Lavender gel is a better choice. Rosehip, sea buckthorn and coconut oils are top-class restoratives for sunkissed skin. Rosehip oil comes from pressing the seeds found in the hips (or fruits) of roses. It is high in vitamins A and C and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Rosehip oil is moisturising and antioxidant. Pai's Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil is special, however, because Pai press the rose hip (fruit) along with the seeds. The result is an oil that contains twice the regenerative sterols and five times the carotenoids of seed oils, hence its vivid orange colour. The carotenoids seek and destroy free radicals, while the oil softens and firms the skin. Thanks to its natural, bio-available vitamin A content, it can help to fade scars, stretch marks, fine lines and sun damage with daily use.
Sea buckthorn is also a friend to skin. It contains pro-vitamin A and vitamins C and E to neutralise free radicals and omega-7 fatty acids to feed and renew the skin. A high level of beta-carotene lends the oil a reddish hue. Even a small blob can enhance a tan. It also seems to absorb ultraviolet light. It is sometimes found in sunscreen products and is an excellent addition to your summer pharmacy. Russian cosmonauts use it to protect their skin against radiation burns in space, so it should withstand a road trip to Texas.
Virgin coconut oil is a healer inside and out. Conventional processing strips polyunsaturated oils of their natural antioxidants. Thus laid bare, they are highly prone to generating free radicals. When we apply oxidised vegetable oils in the form of commercial creams they generate free radicals too, damaging the connective tissues that keep our skin young and firm. Sunspots (liver spots) are also caused by the oxidation of polyunsaturated fats and protein. By eating and moisturising with coconut oil instead of refined rubbish, we slow down the process and may be able to repair some of the damage. Coconut oil is a good saturated fat and is not prone to oxidation. It sinks in and keeps tissues strong and supple. It feels almost dry when you put it on, as long as you don't apply too much at once. Little and often is good. It also makes your skin reflect the light, which looks damn fine.
So, by eating the rainbow, enjoying good fats, feeding your skin and junking the junk, you are on your way to a beautiful healthy glow. The sooner you start, the better protected your skin will be when you find your place in the sun.
N.B. Before you change your diet and/or take supplements, please consult with your doctor, especially if you are taking medication. Supplements and medicines can interact with adverse consequences and dietary changes can affect medications and dosages.