The sun’s rays contain ultraviolet radiation, a form of light that penetrates the skin and causes damaging compounds called free radicals to form in the skin. These free radicals lead to inflammation which causes the skin to redden and become painful.
In a nutshell…ultraviolet radiation causes free radicals which cause inflammation which turns the skin red and causes pain… Follow so far?
Just knowing that, you can now see that there are three areas which we can impact to prevent sunburn.
1. Stop the UV rays from striking the skin (sunblock)
2. Decrease the number of free radicals that are formed
3. Reduce the inflammatory reaction
First let’s talk about the blocking the sun. There are many sunscreens available on the market to absorb or deflect the UV rays. The importance of using sunscreen is somewhat controversial as no study has shown sunscreen to be an effective tool against the most lethal form of skin cancer, melanoma. It appears that skin cancer is as much an internal problem as it is an external problem. Some epidemiological research suggests that skin cancer is on the rise in countries such as Mexico where sun exposure has remained nearly constant. Is this an artifact of loss of the ozone layer? Although we cannot disregard this as a possibility, some scientists feel that there is more of a correlation to the dietary changes that have occurred over recent years, more on this later. While we are on the subject of sunscreen, follow these recommendations:
1. Never use tanning oils. When exposed to UV light, these oils quickly become damaged by free radicals and thus become rancid. This process browns the skin like a turkey but could result in significant damage to the DNA of the skin cells and may result in significant increases in cancer risk.
2. Use non-oil based sunscreen and make sure that the sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
3. Choose a sunscreen that has antioxidants built into it in order to add extra protection to the skin. The sunscreen that we most commonly recommend is the Life Extensions Total Sun Protection Cream .
The second step in keeping the skin healthy and protected is to use an antioxidant supplement that will concentrate in the skin and protect it from free radicals that may form during exposure to UV light. One product stands above all other on this front. This formula is called Fernblock, an herbal formula that has been thoroughly tested and proven to not only act as an antioxidant defense but also a means of directly protecting the DNA of the skin cells from mutation. See the article Protecting Your Skin – A Guide to Sunproofing Your Skin for a more detailed discussion about sunscreen and FernBlock.
The final aspect of skin protection is the defense against exaggerated inflammation. Scientists discovered that certain compounds produced by the body called prostaglandins are the primary players in forming inflammation. After sun exposure a certain type of inflammatory prostaglandin called PGE2 is formed. This prostaglandin appears to be responsible for the reddening and pain caused by sunburn. Scientists also discovered that by supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids they could significantly lower the amount of PGE2 that forms in the skin while soaking up many of the free radicals that formed after sun exposure. This resulted in significant decreases in symptoms and enhanced tolerance to sun exposure.
I mentioned earlier that scientists found a correlation between dietary changes and an increased risk of skin cancer. The link appears to be with a decrease in omega-3 fatty acid content of the diet. As cultures eat fewer and fewer omega-3 fats and more omega-6 fats the risk of skin cancer appears to go up. It is now known that that omega-3 fats lower the amount of inflammatory PGE2 prostaglandins while diets high in omega-6 fats seem to increase it. This may prove to be one of the most important health discoveries of the decade. More research is needed, but for now I would accept it as truth.
One Final Note…
It is important to note that sun exposure is a necessary part of your health program. Exposure to the sun helps to keep sleep and wake cycle in balance which is crucial for a healthy lifestyle. In addition, sun exposure is the mechanism by which nature delivers vitamin D to our bodies. By completely avoiding sun exposure, we are literally setting ourselves up for many other conditions such as chronic insomnia, different forms of cancer, osteoporosis and even autoimmune conditions! Although I believe that some sun exposure is healthy, I also believe that roasting yourself in the sun is not so good. Most people can benefit from getting out and taking a walk in the sun on a daily basis but be sure to slowly acclimate to the sun. As the weather warms up, get out and get a few minutes of exposure and slowly increase this exposure as the weather continues to warm. The darker your natural skin color, the more sun exposure you will be able to tolerate before damage may occur. So if you are a lovely shade of “pasty white,” be very conservative at first and as a tan develops you can increase exposure.