It is officially summer and it is time to talk about skin aging, skin cancer and, most importantly, ways of protecting the skin from the “harmful rays of the sun”.
Sun exposure is considered the most common cause of premature wrinkles in our society. Did you know that many experts are calling sun tanning and tanning booths the “tobacco of the 21st century”?
If you want to keep your youthful skin for as long as possible, then you better pay attention to what follows! It may well save you from a decade or more of premature skin aging and may even save you from those dreaded words, “You have skin cancer.”
Protect Your Skin For a Long & Healthy Life
First, it is important to understand that skin cancer, in one form or another, accounts for about fifty percent of all cancers. Most of these skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, a common and benign form. The second most common form is squamous cell carcinoma, a form that is generally benign but can become invasive in rare cases when left untreated. The least common and most dangerous form is melanoma, a form that is aggressive and deadly. Because skin cancer accounts for such a significant amount of cancer incidence, keeping the skin healthy can have a significant impact on longevity and quality of life. Treatment of even benign forms of skin cancer can leave unsightly scars and thus prevention is key.
Many experts blame sun exposure for the high incidence of skin cancer in our society. Although UV rays can damage skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer, there are likely other factors that play an even more important role such as age and nutrition.
Questions about the link between sun exposure and skin cancer have been raised by studies that found office workers were at a higher risk of developing malignant melanomas compared to people whose lifestyles and work exposed them to larger quantities of sunlight. In one such study, the lowest risk of melanoma was found in the group who listed sunbathing as their main outdoor activity (Lancet 2: 290-92, 1982).
Numerous other studies have been performed to test these findings, many of which confirm the results. Please note, these results do not prove that sun exposure is not a contributor to melanomas, it simply shows that we must look for other co-factors that may prove to play an even more important role in the ultimate development of melanoma.
The bottom line: People who work outside and are exposed to sunlight most days produce melanin that works to protect the cells from damage. The people who are most at risk are the occasional sun worshipers. It is also important to realize that other factors such as genetics and nutrition may play a significant role in the development of melanoma.
Research into the use of sunscreen has failed to correlate sunscreen use with a decreased risk of melanoma (Ann of Int Med. 2003; 139(12)966-78). Other research shows that melanoma risk continues to increase despite the increased use of sunscreen. In fact, Boston University School of Medicine reported that in the US, melanoma diagnosis is increasing at a rate faster than any other form of cancer. Researchers are unsure as to why this is occurring at such an alarming rate, suggested explanations include
- Sunscreens give a false sense of security and people are spending more time in the sun
- People are not using sunscreen properly. This includes not applying enough sunscreen and not applying it often enough.
- Poor nutrition that ultimately depletes crucial antioxidants.
- Sunscreen use may inhibit vitamin D production. Vitamin D has been correlated with protection from numerous forms of cancer
- Sunscreen often contains oils that oxidize in the skin when exposed to heat and UV light which may increase DNA damage
- People are living longer which allows for longer exposure to UV rays
- Sunscreens have offered UVB protection (the radiation not associated with melanoma risk), but have lacked adequate protection from UVA radiation, the more serious and most abundant form of radiation
With all of this controversy, is it advisable to use sunscreen?
Dr. Michael Huncharek, a radiation oncologist who published a review of 11 studies on the subject, determined that there is likely no harm and most likely significant benefit to sunscreen when used properly. He admits that we have much to learn about melanoma, but with the evidence to date, sunscreen is recommended. I have a tendency to agree with him, provided you use the right kind of sunscreen and use it appropriately.
Why is sun exposure so damaging?
Sunlight contains two main forms of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB. After exposure to sunlight, DNA can be damaged which can trigger inflammation.
In an ideal world, antioxidants in the skin will limit damage caused by UV light and specialized cells in the skin will produce melanin, the compound that darkens skin and protects it from UV damage. Any cells that are damaged beyond repair would ideally trigger a process of programmed cell suicide called apoptosis. Apoptosis helps to decrease the likelihood of an abnormal cell developing into a tumor. The reality, however, is not quite so rosy. Numerous factors may set the stage for skin cancer to develop, these include:
- We spend most of our lives indoors and thus do not have a natural melanin barrier to the UV rays. This is why people with fair skin are at higher risk of skin cancer, less melanin equals less protection.
- The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) does not provide nearly enough antioxidant protection in the skin to prevent damage. Certain plant compounds and vitamins act as first line protection from the harmful effects of the sun. If you eat few fruits and vegetables then, odds are, you have a depletion of antioxidant protection in the skin.
- The Standard American Diet is also quite deficient in vitamins and other nutrients that play very important roles in DNA repair. These include nutrients known as methyl donors such as folic acid and trimethylglycine. In addition, due to these lifestyles, the cells of our body need more of these DNA repair nutrients.
- Vitamin D deficiency is common and may play a significant role in the development of many cancers including skin cancer.
- Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency and omega-6 abundance of the diet have correlated with increased risk of cancer (Cancer Detect Prev. 2006; 30(3): 224-32) Trans-fats may also set the stage for cancer growth.
Dr. Zane Kime, author of the book Sunlight, suggests that sun exposure creates damage to the DNA under the presence of harmful fats and a deficiency of antioxidants in the skin. He hypothesizes that skin with higher concentrations of antioxidants will prevent irreversible damage to the skin from UV radiation.
Preliminary research confirms this finding. In one study performed in rats, UV radiation caused a significant decrease in the animal’s skin concentrations of vitamins C and E. A study performed in humans found a protection from skin cancer in subjects who took 200 mcg of selenium daily. In addition, later in the article, we will discuss a breakthrough nutritional supplement that has been shown to protect the skin from DNA damage induced by sun exposure. First let’s talk about sunscreen.
The Perfect Sunscreen?
Many sunscreens do a much better job of blocking UVB wavelengths, which are the rays most responsible for sunburn and the two benign forms of skin cancer. Unfortunately, these UVB sunscreens do little to block the deeper penetrating UVA rays which are responsible for damaging DNA deep in the skin cells.
It is the UVA that is the key suspect in the development of melanoma and premature wrinkling.
In addition, many sunscreens contain oils that will oxidize when exposed to heat and UV radiation. This means that these conventional sunscreens not only do nothing to add antioxidant protection to the skin, they may even increase the free-radical stress and damage to the cells of the skin. With that said, here are the recommendations for choosing a sunscreen:
- Only choose sunscreens that are oil-free.
- Use sunscreens that contain antioxidants to protect the skin
- Choose sunscreens with botanical extracts that have proven to protect and repair DNA
- Choose sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays
- Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 20 or higher
In recent years there has been much research around natural products for topical use in preventing sun damage. These natural products have been incorporated into a sunscreen that is produced by the Life Extension Foundation. These protective botanicals include:
- Watermelon Extract – A highly purified watermelon extract that has been shown to decrease DNA damage in the cells of the skin from UV exposure.
- Silymarin from milk thistle – This extract has been shown, in animal studies, to decrease the risk of skin cancers after UV exposure, by 75%.
- Green tea Polyphenols and Proanthocyanidins from Grape Seed Extract – These botanical extracts protect the skin from free-radicals, inflammation, and DNA damage.
- Beta Glucan – This is a specialized compound from whole grain oats that penetrate the skin to stimulate immune protection from UV damage while stimulating collagen production. This helps to speed healing of tissues, while providing an overall anti-aging effect to the cells of the skin.
- Rosemary – This spice provides additional and broad antioxidant benefits. In addition, rosemary is known to have anti-tumor activity like green tea and grape seed extract.
- Licorice Root Extract – This botanical is known to help soothe and heal damaged skin cells.
This formula, called Total Sun Protection Cream with Photo-Aging Recovery Complex, combines all of these potent natural ingredients with three powerful sunscreen agents that protect the skin against short-wave UVA, long-wave UVA and UVB rays. I have found no other formula that offers so much broad spectrum sunscreen and antioxidant protection.
How to Use Sunscreens for Most Benefit
Studies have shown that people generally only apply one-quarter of the sunscreen quantity that they need to gain the most benefit and protection. One study found that most people only apply sufficient sunscreen to achieve a 20-50% of the SPF that the product is labeled for. There is some evidence that this under-application, and the insufficient UVA protection of many conventional sunscreens, may be one reason for the lack of protection from melanoma reported in the research literature.
The general rule for proper sunscreen use is: “Apply generously and apply often!” It is better to overdo it than to under apply.
Even if you get a great sunscreen, if you do not apply it properly, you will not get the full benefit. Follow these guidelines to assure optimal protection.
- 15 Minutes BEFORE Sun Exposure Apply the Total Sun Protection Cream – It is important that we apply sunscreen 15-minutes before sun exposure to allow it to penetrate and dry before we start to sweat and expose ourselves to UV radiation. This will allow the botanical extracts and the antioxidants to penetrate where I believe they will provide protection for hours to come.
- Use One Full Ounce for the First Application – Most people do not apply enough sunscreen to fully protect. For the average sized body, apply one full ounce (a shot glass size) of sunscreen.
- Every 1-2 Hours Renew the Sunscreen by Spraying the Total Sun Protection Spray with Beta Glucan – Because the Total Sun Protection Cream is a bit costly, we apply this for the first application and then for the rest of the day we will renew with the Sun Protection Spray, which is far more cost-effective.
- Use the Sun Protection Spray Each and Every Time You Get Out of the Water or Sweat Heavily (such as if jogging). All sunscreens wash away with water that is why the FDA no longer allows a sunscreen to claim itself to be waterproof.
Protecting the Skin From the Inside Out:
As mentioned earlier, nutrition likely plays a key role in protecting the skin from sun damage. Dr. Zane Kime, in his book Sunlight, spoke specifically about vitamins A, C and E as well as selenium. All of these nutrients are quite important in protecting the skin, however, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of compounds that concentrate in the skin to act as a significant line of defense against sun damage and skin cancer. Such nutrients include:
- Carotenoids such as beta carotein, lutein, lycopene. These compounds are found in colorful fruits and vegetables
- Proanthocyanidins such as those found in grapes, berries and pine bark
- Polyphenols such as those found in teas, fruits and herbs
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseed, chia seeds and nuts
Food is obviously the most important source of these antioxidants and nutrients, however, for most people supplementation will offer additional insurance against the damaging effects of UV rays.
Getting a good multi-vitamin, essential fatty acid and green drink containing fruit and vegetable extracts is key in making sure enough nutrition is available to protect the skin. Berry and superfruit juices such as Acai juice can provide additional whole-food protection. See the Skin Protection Protocol for specific recommendations.
Introducing A Breakthrough Product For Protecting the Skin
For centuries, Native Americans have been using a special fern plant as a prevention and treatment of sunburn. When scientists caught wind of this, they began studying the herb to confirm these reported benefits. The scientists developed an extract of the fern plant Polypodium leucotomos which is now known as FernBlock.
Early research by Dr. Salvador Gonzalez found that patients receiving UV treatment for psoriasis and atopic dermatitis had nearly complete protection from the redness and burn created by the treatment. Dr. Gonzalez, fascinated by these results, took the extract to Harvard where he continued to research the fern extract for its ability to defend the skin from UV damage caused by sun exposure. Over the next decade research confirmed the protective benefits of this powerful herb, such benefits include:
- A seven-fold increase in the amount of UV light tolerated before damage occurred to the skin
- Important cancer-fighting cells beneath the skin were protected from UV damage
- Significant decrease in DNA damage after sun exposure by protecting vital enzymes responsible for DNA repair
- Inhibition of inflammation in the skin
- Blocked enzymes that are known to decrease skin elasticity
- Increased the antioxidant defenses of the skin
Due to the ability of the phytochemcials found in FernBlock to penetrate into the skin and offer broad spectrum protection, I am excited to be able to add this to our tool box for protecting the skin.
How to Use Polypodium Extract (FernBlock)
People at risk of skin cancer, especially those with a past history of skin cancer or who have fair skin may want to take one capsule daily as a preventative. The rest of us may want to reserve this supplement for when you know that you are going to be exposed to longer intervals of sunlight. For instance, if you’re going on a cruise or heading to the beach you may want to take 2 capsules daily a couple of days before you leave and 2 capsules daily while on your trip. The phytochemicals in FernBlock have a high affinity for skin cells and will concentrate in the skin fairly rapidly. Based on the research to date, FernBlock appears to provide protection the very same day it is taken.
If I had to summarize this entire article in a couple of sentences I would say UV radiation is a real concern and protection must come from the inside out. Diet and lifestyle plays a key role in protecting you from premature skin aging and skin cancer. Sunscreen and topical antioxidants act as an additional line of defense and should be implemented. Below you will find the key bullet points of the article.
- Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, most are benign but we are seeing a significant rise in melanoma diagnosis.
- Sunscreen can offer protection, however, you must find a sunscreen that defends the skin against UVA and UVB radiation and offers additional antioxidant protection such as Total Sun Protection by Life Extension Foundation. After the first application of Total Sun Protection Cream, use the Total Sun Protection SPRAY to maintain the protection.
- Use a sunscreen with at least 20 SPF
- Make sure that you apply sunscreen generously and often to assure that you get the most protection.
- Nutrition is a critical factor in protecting the skin. Eat tons of fruits and vegetables. Drink teas such as green tea to enjoy extra antioxidant protection.
- Supplementation adds extra insurance against UV damage. Get a multi-vitamin, essential fatty acid and green drink such as Doctor’s For Nutrition Greens First.
- Use FernBlock starting a few days before significant sun exposure and during the sun exposure.