Nutrition for the Summer Skin

Florence Barrett-Hill

There is nothing like a clear sunny day, whether it is spring, summer, fall or even winter.
A bright sunshiny day brings a healthy feeling, in part because it is associated with high barometric pressures. But too often we hear that the sun is bad. The only bad thing about the sun is when your body is not healthy enough to benefit from it, or when you abuse it. The fact is your skin was made for the sun.

Of course, too much sun can be harmful, such as sunning for hours with just a bathing suit, or less. But if you spend a lot of time outdoors, you are doing what your body was made to do.
It’s only when you don’t follow healthy dietary habits that you become unnaturally vulnerable to sun damage and disease. Avoiding sunburn at any age, but especially early in life, is a key to preventing skin cancers later in life especially melanoma, perhaps the most serious form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, studies show that significant numbers of children still experience sunburn.

sun damage
While the sun provides nutrients and other benefits, it can also use up nutrients

While the sun gives us nutrients and other benefits, it can also use up nutrients. Consider that sunlight helps control stress, sunlight on the body and its stimulation through the eyes actually influences the adrenal stress hormones and can be very therapeutic, and prevent and treat the common problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Throughout the year, the sun hitting your skin produces natural vitamin D. Interestingly, one cannot overdose on natural vitamin D from the sun, even with day-after-day exposure, whereas synthetic vitamin D supplements can easily cause vitamin D toxicity.

Sun exposure causes reductions in Vitamins A & C, folic acid, Vitamin E and lycopene, and changes the oils within your skin’s cells. If your intake of these nutrients is low, sun exposure can be a negative influence on your health, including reduced immune function. These nutritional factors are discussed below.

The fact that sun causes skin aging, skin cancer, cataracts and more, is all true. But the problem isn’t the sun, it’s the way your body reacts to the sun. The rates of skin cancer, for example, are rising 7 percent per year and doubling every decade. But humans have been living in the sun since the beginning. So the problem isn’t that we’re in the sun more.
If that were true we wouldn’t be seeing increases in vitamin D deficient rickets and bone calcium problems in the elderly. The real problem is that most people no longer consume natural chemo-protective agents in the diet. 

Here are some of the key issues to consider:

citrus
Unfortunately, most people drink citrus juice but toss the skin, which contains high quantities of limonene

Limonene is an oily phytonutrient prevalent in the skins of citrus fruit. It has been shown to successfully prevent and treat skin cancer. Unfortunately, most people drink citrus juice but toss the skin, which contains most of the limonene, as well as many other nutrients. Other sources of limonene include cherries, spearmint and peppermint, caraway and dill. It’s no coincidence that these plants often grow in southern climates where the sun is strongest.

WARNING: It is crucial to point out that limonene is mentioned here in strictly a nutritional context. Please note that oils or fragrances based on limonene OR limolene are photo sensitisers and should therefore NEVER be applied to the skin and exposed to UVR.

Human skin normally contains oils stored in the cell walls, and may be susceptible to the sun’s ionising radiation. Consider when you heat cooking oil on your stove it can easily burn with too much heat. What types of oils are stored in your skin? If they’re mostly omega-6 polyunsaturated oils, they’re vulnerable to chemical breakdown by the sun’s rays and your risk of skin damage and disease is higher. These situation is worsened if your vitamin E levels are not adequate. The oil in your skin is directly related to what’s in your diet. Omega-3 & Omega-6 oils, such as fish and flaxseed oils are vital for healthy skin due to their powerful anti-inflammatory effects.

A healthy diet high in vegetables and some fruits is also high in natural antioxidants and other phytonutrients. These nutrients are vital in normal environmental adaptation, especially to the sun’s rays. They not only protect the skin from cancer, but also protect the eyes from the sun’s rays, which can make you susceptible to cataracts. Antioxidants include vitamins C and E, the carotenoids, selenium and others found in yellow, orange, purple and other vegetables.

Certain phytonutrients, such as lycopene, found in tomato products and green tea, are also important for the skin during sun exposure.

Raw and cooked leafy vegetables contain folic acid, another key nutrient important for sunny days. Folic acid in its natural state (virtually all folic acid supplements are synthetic) is important because sun exposure reduces folic acid in the body. There are thousands of other reactions in the body that deplete folic acid, and it’s normally replaced through a healthy diet.

If you’ve ever had too much sun, you know inflammation is a painful part of the process. Chronic inflammation is an early condition of skin cancer development. This is an extensive topic discussed in my lectures, newsletters and on our web site.
Some drugs can significantly increase your sensitivity to the sun. These include NSAIDs, certain antibiotics and anti fungals, diuretics, various psychiatric drugs, and many others.

Still more food for thought….