Skin Health in the Sun

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Summer is around the corner with the brilliant sun closer to us and illuminating our world with warm, at times hot, rays of sunshine.

Ask beachgoers why the sandy shores are so awesome and the answer is simple. Besides the rhythmic crashing sound of the waves and the sweet smell of salty air, it’s the intense photon-filled rays filtering down from the sun onto bodies strewn all over the beach, feeling the heat.

Deep brown tans play against bright red sunburns during this great part of the year. Locals as well as tourist feel rejuvenated with the daylight shining longer and the air warm against the skin. The skin, despite the fear of cancer, does benefit from the sun’s rays. So despite the extreme caution generated from being exposed to too much UVBs (those are the ones that cause sunburns), we mustn’t forget a little sunshine goes a long way to keep our health in check.

The skin being a marvelous organ makes up about 15 percent of our body weight and the total skin surface ranges from 12 to 20 square feet. It is composed of 70 percent water, 25 percent protein, 2 percent lipids and the rest trace minerals.

Sunshine on the skin produces melanin, the dark pigmentation that becomes what we describe as a tan. It also produces a vital compound, vitamin D. As you sit outside your favorite shop enjoying a latte, vitamin D is synthesized from UVB rays entering the skin at a rate of about 1,000 IUs per minute and giving your body positive health benefits. Vitamin D supports calcium metabolism and bone density, strengthens the immune system, and helps with insulin secretion and blood pressure.

And while you enjoy the great outdoors, vitamin D increases serotonin, the happiness hormone. No wonder its so much fun to play in the sun!

Though we all should be cautious when our bare skin is under the sun, exposing it for 15 minutes a day with no sunscreen, catching the sun before 11 a.m. and after 2 p.m. will give your body the better version of the needed vitamin D, versus taking it in supplement form.

Keeping the skin healthy from the inside is vitally important as well. Though UVB radiation can cause some skin cancers, malignant melanoma is mostly caused by the indirect DNA damage through free radicals and oxidative stress, which results from poor eating habits and not enough quality oxygen.

For your health’s sake, crunch on raw vegetables and greens in delicious salads made with spinach, kale, and leafy spring greens. Or make a smoothie with avocado and mangoes to take advantage of the omega 3s, 6s and antioxidant virtues of beta carotenes to reinforce the body’s defense against free radicals. Enjoy raw (remember heated fats oxidize and add to free radicals already roaming around) nuts and seeds such as walnuts, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin. Munch on whole grains and avoid all the processed junk found in fast foods and pre-packaged items at the grocers.

Several foods contain “sun-sensitizing” compounds like psoralen – found in parsley, celery, dill, cilantro, and figs – that can aid in keeping skin healthy in the sun. And there are sun-protective elements found in other foods that can help delay or even lower the risk of skin cancers. These include carotenoids like tomatoes, watermelon, carrots, and pumpkins which help reduce the oxidizing affect of the sun’s ultraviolet rays and the free radicals that are produced.

Cut out red meat, and limit alcohol consumption to help reduce free radicals. I know the song is always the same: eat well, drink water, and exercise.

But it works.

Exercise increases the skin of the health by 1) giving circulation a chance to do its stuff by providing oxygenated blood to cells (free radicals hate oxygen) and carting away all metabolic wastes and 2) sweating rids the body of toxins, a wonderful way to detoxify the body.  And water hydrates the skin to keep it plump and youthful despite the intensity of the sun.

We all need a little sun on the body to keep ourselves happy and healthy. While maintaining healthful habits we surely can enjoy the delicious warmth of the sun saturating the skin in its life giving rays.

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