While I'm 100% in favor of eating a nutrient dense whole foods diet that is anti-inflammatory, low glycemic and rich in antioxidants to nourish the body and skin from the inside out, I am also 100% in favor of embracing a comprehensive approach to sun protection so that I can get all the benefits of the sun without the burn. While diet can play a role in boosting our sun protection, food alone is not sufficient to provide adequate protection.
I recently contributed to an article in INSIDER that speaks to this very topic, and admittedly I had to call it like I see it....nutrition plays an incredibly important role in our skin health and overall health, but when it comes to sun protection, don't believe the hype that food alone has got your back.
Spending time outdoors and getting sun exposure is a vital part of building resilient health. From helping to regulate our circadian rhythm, generating vitamin D and boosting our moods and immunity, spending time basking in the glow of the sun has its benefits, but the key is harnessing those benefits without the risks of sunburn, excessive oxidative damage and increasing the risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer worldwide. There are more cases of skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined. But here's the good news! There is plenty you can do to enjoy the sun's benefits and minimize your risks.
Here are some key sun savvy tips for staying sun-safe (my book the Skin Whisperer goes into these in more detail):
More is more. Sun damage to your exposed body parts is cumulative over your lifetime which continually adds to your risks of premature skin aging and skin cancer. Decrease your risk by covering up more of the skin you’re in with clothing, hats, sunglasses, seeking shade and wearing broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 and above.
Be true to you: When buying bathing suits, make sure you purchase the right size — overstretching the fabric will lower the UPF rating.
Read Your Labels: Look for garments with a UPF of at least 30 so that you know you’re getting effective sun protection.
Cover the skin you’re in. Choose garments that offer maximal coverage - a teeny weeny high-UPF bikini won’t do you much good. Instead, choose an on trend long sleeve one-piece or a rash guard made of lightweight, elastic material like spandex to protect your top, and throw on a UPF rated beach skirt or a sarong to cover your bottom apres pool. This one and this one are among my go to sources.
Accentuate Your Assets with accessories: Protect your head with wide-brimmed hats (at least 3” in diameter) that shade your face, neck and ears. Keep your eyes and eyelids covered (skin cancer can occur here too) with UV-filtering sunglasses.
Keep cool: Seek out shaded areas under umbrellas, awnings or trees and minimize your time in the direct sun.
Deter Double trouble: UV light can bounce off surfaces like water, snow and glass, hitting your skin twice and increasing the intensity of exposure so be aware of your environment and boost your protection when necessary.
Don’t be shy, apply and reapply: Use a zinc and/or titanium dioxide based sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on all exposed areas — 1 ounce to cover the body (neck down) and a 1 tsp for the face. Reapply after 2 hours or sooner if sweating or swimming because clothing can’t cover everything.
Eat the rainbow and get some zzz’s: Sun exposure causes oxidative stress and generates free radicals in the body which can lead to DNA damage and ultimately skin cancer. Eating foods rich in antioxidants and getting quality sleep which naturally boosts your body’s ability to produce its own antioxidants is an important sun safety strategy.
Supplement with supplements: (some companies contain some or all of these ingredients in one product like Bend Beauty and Heliocare for ease of use). A supplement is not a substitute for clothing or sunscreen. You need a comprehensive approach but these supplements are backed by research to be helpful adjuncts in the sun.
While I believe food trumps supplements all day long, our food sources may not offer the level of nutrients we need to maintain optimal wellness and skin health. The following are supplements that have been shown to be beneficial for keeping your skin looking younger as well as protected in the sun. Before taking any supplements, research for the best quality, and check in with your physician to make sure they are appropriate for you.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid and comes from microalgae in the Arctic marine environment. Considered to be the most potent carotenoid, it is 10 times as potent as beta-carotene and 100 times stronger than vitamin E in its anti-inflammatory capabilities. It has been shown to protect against UVA-induced DNA damage. Salmon, crab, lobster and shrimp get their red color from eating an astaxanthin-rich algae diet.
Vitamins E and C are abundant in food, so filling your plate is the optimal way to get your supply. That said, I recommend using these antioxidants topically on your skin every day to improve the tone and texture of your skin. This way you can ensure both your inside and outside are getting the nourishment you need. These antioxidants help prevent free radicals from forming during UV exposure, improve the skin’s protective barrier, and have anti-inflammatory effects. Vitamin C plays an important role in the synthesis of collagen and elastin, and vitamin E plays a role in preventing collagen breakdown.
Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenolic compound found in grapes, red wine, some berries, and peanuts. Although the benefits associated with resveratrol are significant — including anti-aging, sun protection, reducing inflammation and cancer prevention — a challenge with resveratrol is its bioavailability. It is rapidly metabolized meaning it disappears from the bloodstream very quickly. Although I am big fan of red wine, the best bang for your buck with this antioxidant is using it topically.
Vitamin D, is vital to our health with almost every cell in our body in possession of a vitamin D receptor. Celebrated for its bone-building and immune-boosting benefits, vitamin D is essential for normal skin cell metabolism, growth, repair and maintaining the barrier function of the skin. In fact, formulations of topical vitamin D are used to help manage skin conditions like psoriasis. Vitamin D boosts the skin’s immune system and helps destroy free radicals, highlighting its anti-aging benefit. Research on vitamin D supplementation for skin cancer prevention as well as supplemental therapy for managing melanoma makes understanding your current vitamin D levels a top priority. Ask your physician to check your levels to help you best determine what oral supplementation support you may need to optimize the health of your skin, bones and immune function. The daily recommendation is 600 IU but this is likely not enough for your individual needs.
Niacinamide, AKA nicotinamide, in both its oral and topical forms, is a type of vitamin B3 and has proven to have beneficial effects in acne, rosacea, atopic dermatitis and now skin cancer. When UV hits the skin, it can suppress the immune system and damage DNA. When DNA damage exceeds our skin’s ability to repair it, premature skin aging and skin cancers develop. By recharging the skin’s energy supplies when they are depleted from making these repairs, nicotinamide not only boosts the immune system’s ability to repair DNA, but also reduces UV-induced immunosuppression. Several studies by Damian and colleagues have shown that 500 mg of nicotinamide taken twice daily reduces the rate of new skin pre-cancers (actinic keratosis), basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas by 23% in patients with a previous history of NMSC. Her research also suggests that nicotinamide may provide similar benefits to melanoma. The jury is still out on whether these benefits translate to people who have never had NMSC.
Polypodium leucotomas (PL) is derived from a tropical fern grown in Central and South America, and is a key ingredient in several oral dietary supplements currently on the market. PL offers sun protective benefits as an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory, chemoprotective and immunomodulatory effects. The antioxidant activity of PL is primarily driven by its rich source of phenolic acids, including caffeic acid and ferulic acid. As an antioxidant, PL boosts the ability of our body’s own antioxidant systems to help prevent sunburn, neutralize free radicals, inhibit DNA damage and UV-induced inflammation, and upregulate a molecule to suppress tumor formation. A recent study showed that a dose of 240 mg taken twice daily suppressed sunburn and extended the time outdoors before tanning occurred in the skin. These findings suggest that PL offers the potential to be an excellent adjunct to other sun protective measures.
Here are tips when shopping for sunscreen:
READ YOUR LABELS! Always look for “Broad Spectrum” which will offer coverage for UVA, UVB and in some instances visible light spectrum as well and a SPF 30 or above. I personally use and only recommend the physical blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as these ingredients are tolerated by most skin types and are recognized as safe and effective.
Are there any ingredients you should be mindful about (and consider avoiding)? Yes! And the following are reasons why -
Oxybenzone is considered to be an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC).
With a molecular weight small enough to pass through human skin and placenta barriers, use of oxybenzone is during pregnancy raises health concerns for the unborn child
Used in sunscreen formulas at 6% and as much as 8% , studies show that oxybenzone is absorbed through the skin and into the body via blood stream, partially stored in fat and eventually excreted in urine
When applied topically at the FDA approved dose of 2mg/cm2 or 1 ounce (30g) of sunscreen for every 2h of sun exposure (average exposure 4h) to avoid skin cancer, studies have shown oxybenzone can be found in blood serum
In contrast to it previously being reported that it takes 34.6 - 277 years of sunscreen application to reach endocrine disrupting effects in humans, recent reports highlight that standard use can have real time impact specifically in the embryonic period
Association with birth defects: As the embryonic period of neural crest cell migration associated with Hirschsprung disease does not occur until weeks 5–12 of pregnancy, women can unintentionally expose their fetus to very high levels of oxybenzone during this time
Bottom line: you may need to ditch and switch your current sunscreen, especially if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant in the near future AND adopt sun protection strategies that have nothing to do with sunscreen.
Sunscreens I use and recommend:
This zinc oxide-based stick made with organic ingredients like Shea butter, avocado butter and coconut oil is nourishing for the skin, goes on smoothly and it’s super easy to apply. Additional ingredients like raspberry seed oil offer natural sun protective qualities, and tamanu oil and chamomile extract add skin soothing and anti-inflammatory benefits. To ensure you are getting full coverage, making at least four passes back and forth on the skin is important.
Suntegrity: What I love about this sunscreen is that you can use on your face and body for the whole family. Made with non-nano zinc oxide.
Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Sunscreen SPF 36 What I love about this product is that it does double duty as a sunscreen and a makeup primer and goes on smooth with a matte finish.
I’ve been using this sunscreen for years because it is so well tolerated on sensitive skin. It provides broad spectrum UV protection with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and is water resistant which is great for the kids in between reapplications. What’s fun and useful about their new packaging is that the bottle cap serves as an indicator of harmful UV rays by changing color.
Certified by eco-cert and offering broad spectrum protection from mineral based ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, these sunscreens come in both fragrance free for sensitive skin as well as a delicious vanilla scent so there is an option for everyone in the family from your littles to adults.
Enjoy your time outdoors safely!
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