The sun is shining, the kids are out of school and summer is officially in full swing. At this time of year, even the slickest of city slickers among us love to get outdoors and enjoy the warmth and beauty of natural sunlight. However, we also inherently know that excessive exposure can be dangerous.
Excessive UV exposure can cause premature aging of the skin, marked by wrinkling, sagging, age spots and a sallow complexion. Skin cancer can also be triggered by overexposure, and basal and squamous cell carcinomas affect millions of people each year in the US alone. Melanoma, though less common and not typically caused by overexposure to UV light, can be one of the most lethal.
Ironically, one of the best ways to prevent skin cancers of all kinds is to optimize your vitamin D levels with natural sunlight exposure. In fact, vitamin D can reduce your risk of many cancers, including those of the skin, by as much as 60%.
Often called 'the sunshine vitamin', vitamin D is actually a steroid hormone, and provides a staggering number of health benefits. Studies have shown that optimizing your vitamin D levels can help you prevent at least 16 different types of cancer, including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate and yes, skin cancers.
The sunshine vitamin can also:
Support healthy kidney fiction
Promote healthy teeth and bones
Support cardiovascular health
Eliminate Seasonal Affective Disorder and lift moods
Help normalize blood pressure
Enhance muscle strength
Maintain a healthy immune system
Would you like to know how to get the benefits of sun exposure while avoiding the health risks? Here are 10 useful tips on how to do just that.
1. Be like Popeye. A 2009 report in the International Journal of Cancer shows that people who ate the most folate-rich leafy greens, such as spinach, had half as many skin cancer tumors as those who ate the least.
2. Get an Oil Change. Not for your car, for your kitchen! If you regularly consume packaged or processed foods, your cells are loaded up with damaged, oxidized fats from corn, soy and canola oil. Oxidized fats in the skin make you more prone to sunburn and sun damage. Make sure to get the right balance of omega 3 to omega 6 in your diet and use cooking oils that resist oxidation, like coconut oil.
As you change the types of oils and fats you eat, take cholesterol into consideration. Your body converts cholesterol to D3 in the skin. If you currently take cholesterol-lowering drugs or follow a low or no cholesterol diet, you are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Consume a healthy amount of cholesterol each day to optimize your vitamin D levels and ensure overall health.
3. Eat the Peel. Lemon and orange zest (the colorful part of the peel) contain d- limonene, an antioxidant that can reduce your risk of skin cancer by up to 30%. You can see results with as little as 1 tablespoon per week.
4. Make Time for Tea. A 2007 study in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that drinking 2 to 6 cups of hot green tea a day helps prevent skin cancer and may reverse the aging affects of the sun’s rays. Drink it hot to reap the greatest amount of catechins, the antioxidant with proven anti-cancer properties.
5. Eat Real Food. Research has shown that antioxidant vitamins C and E can drastically reduce the severity of sunburn, which reduces the occurrence of cancerous mutations. In addition, eating a healthy, whole food based diet provides the nutritional support your immune system needs to fight off cancer and other illness. Fresh, raw vegetables contain an abundance of powerful antioxidants that fight free radical damage related to sun exposure, protecting you from burns and cancer.
6. Indulge in Topical Treats. Skin needs care from the inside out and the outside in. Topical use of ascorbyl palmitate, a fat soluble form of vitamin C, is an incredible panacea to skin, especially after sun exposure. Unlike water soluble forms of C (ascorbic acid), it deeply penetrates the skin without causing irritation to deliver anti-aging effects and cancer prevention where it’s needed most. Ascorbyl palmitate comes in a silky powder form that can be mixed with your favorite moisturizer or plain water. If you are already sunburned, mix it with pure aloe vera gel and coconut oil for the ultimate healing salve.
Speaking of coconut oil, it is the perfect topical treat for skin. It gently exfoliates and also offers an SPF effect of about 4-6. It prevents the fats in skin from oxidizing, providing anti-aging and antioxidant effects. It also penetrates to protect the deeper layers of the skin and even the connective tissue. It has a tiny molecular size and so will not block your pores or cause acne, and its antimicrobial properties help protect skin from infection.
7. Avoid Evil Sunscreens. Contrary to popular belief, many sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer because they contain vitamin A and its derivatives, retinol and retinyl palmitate. Other ingredients commonly found in sunscreen, such as oxybenzone, are also harmful and can become even more dangerous when exposed to UV light – crazy, but true!
To truly protect yourself, stick with natural mineral-based sunscreens, such as Aubrey Organics or Desert Essence, that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients.
8. Get Your Pink On. Astaxanthin, a natural pigment produced by the Haematococcus pluvial microalgae, is a powerful 'internal sunscreen'. The pigmentation in this antioxidant is what makes salmon (and pink flamingos) pink. The algae produce this antioxidant to protect themselves from UV damage, and it is therefore very helpful for people who want to reverse or prevent radiation damage from the sun.
When it comes to scavenging free radicals, astaxanthin is a heavyweight champ: it can be 65 times more powerful than vitamin C! So, this is one weapon you definitely want to add to your sun-protection arsenal. There are two ways to get more of this potent antioxidant into your body:
Taking supplements made from the Haematoccous pluvialis microalgae
Eating seafood (salmon, and krill, for example) that consumes the microalgae
You may consume seafood such as salmon to get your astaxanthin, but it is much more cost effective to get a supplement made from these special microalgae.
9. Timing is Everything. In this part of the country at this time of year, UVB rays (the kind that cause your body to make vitamin D3) are penetrating the atmosphere and reaching the ground between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Anytime before or after, the sun is in too low of a position (less than 50 degrees above the horizon) in the sky for any of the UVB rays to reach your skin. If you sun yourself at these times, you will be exposed primarily to UVA, which without the UVB to balance it, can cause much damage and even skin cancer.
I like to use this rhyme to remember when to get my daily does of sunshine:
UVA, stay away,
10 to 3 for UVB
For best results, go out during the UVB hours, and spend just enough time in the sun to turn your skin the lightest shade of pink (if you are fair skinned). The darker your skin, the more sunlight you will need to reach optimal D3 levels. NEVER burn, as this is a sign you have had more radiation than your skin can handle.
10. Hold the Lather. D3 forms on the surface of your skin, and your skin oil is what helps the body absorb the D3 and take it into the bloodstream. If after sunning yourself you immediately take a hot shower with soap, you wash all the D3 down the drain. Wash with soap only where necessary (groin, armpits) and just rinse the rest of your skin with warm or cool water. Avoiding over-washing will give your skin a healthy glow, and ensure you optimize your vitamin D levels.
Follow the tips in this guide and you will be able to enjoy the sun all you want, reap the health benefits from exposure and greatly minimize your risk of many diseases, skin damage and cancer.
Carisa Holmes is a holistic health advocate, Reiki practitioner and author based in Columbus, Ohio. Carisa has worked in the holistic health and natural beauty fields for nearly 10 years.
Through overcoming a plethora of personal health issues and working with clients, Carisa has developed a clear understanding of the functions of the physical body as well as the more subtle layers of the human energy field.
In her practice, Carisa helps empower people to move toward higher levels of wellness. Using tools such as whole food, natural skin care and powerful yet gentle Reiki, Carisa helps clients lose weight without starving themselves, heal sickness and injury, increase energy levels and feel more calm, happy and alive.
Carisa is very grateful for the many things she has learned and is eager to share them with others.