How to Protect Yourself from Sunburn
As the weather in the UK is not exactly tropical, many of us take every possible opportunity to bask in the sun. However, many of us can be rather too relaxed about ensuring we are properly protected from the sun's rays. Although sunburn may feel pretty benign, especially after a few days of avoiding the sun, it can have fatal consequences. Research has shown that getting burnt just once every two years triples our risk of developing melanoma – the most deadly form of skin cancer.
As this week is Sun Awareness Week, we at Simply Supplements thought there would be no better time to compile a science-based guide on how to protect yourself from the sun, whilst still experiencing its benefits.
Why the Sun Can Be Harmful
Most of us know that too much exposure to the sun (or sun beds) can cause harm. This is due to ultraviolet (UV) radiation which comes in two main forms: UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, causing damage deep within which can age the skin. On the other hand, UVB light mainly damages the top layer of the skin and is the type responsible for the majority of sun burns.
Aside from increasing the risk of skin cancer, too much exposure to UV rays can cause damage to your eyes, and can lead to heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. On top of these health consequences, UV light can also affect the aesthetic appearance of your skin. This is because such wavelengths can damage collagen and other proteins in the skin, leading to wrinkling and a loss of elasticity.
Why the Sun Can Be Healthy
The aim of this article is not to scare you about the sun, but to raise awareness so that it can be enjoyed safely. Despite the dangers of the sun, it also has health benefits. Firstly, sunlight can rebalance the issues associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder such as low mood and a lack of energy. Related to this is the sun's ability to boost our levels of vitamin D. When exposed to UVB rays, our skin produces a compound known as cholecalciferol, which is commonly known as vitamin D3.
In the UK we have the ability to create all the vitamin D we need between April and September. However, supplementation is highly recommended during the colder, darker months. The amount of vitamin D we can synthesise depends on numerous factors, such as the time of the day, where we live, our age, how dark our skin is and how much of our skin is exposed. Older people and those with darker skin will need to spend significantly longer in the sun to create a healthy amount and this can be dangerous. For this reason, the Department of Heath recommend that these individuals consider taking a supplement year-round.
Sun Protection Tips
Now that we have highlighted the health benefits and concerns with regards to sun exposure, it's time to discuss what we can do to enjoy the sun safely.
To ensure you enjoy your time in the sun without getting burnt, there are a few important habits to bear in mind. Firstly, it is important to try and avoid the sun between 11am-2pm, which is typically the hottest part of the day. If you cannot avoid the sun, try and keep yourself well covered, especially with a hat, long sleeve top and sunglasses. If you can, try find somewhere with a bit of shade so you can find some relief from the heat.
With regards to sun cream, it is obviously important to apply it to areas of the skin that are exposed. However, applying it once a day is unlikely to be enough, so most experts recommend reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours, and doing so straight after being in the water or after using a towel. For the best protection, aim for a sun cream that has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30.
Although most of our protection from the sun stems from the aforementioned habits, what we eat can actually help provide a certain level of protection from the sun. Below is a list of foods and nutrients to include in your daily meals to help bolster your natural protection against the sun.
Fruits such as oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit are notorious for packing a vitamin C punch. Studies have shown that high intakes of vitamin C lead to less sun burn. This is because vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, helping to partially protect the skin from UV rays.
Foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes and butternut squash all have one thing in common; they are high in beta-carotene. Like all members of the carotenoid family, beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant. What's more, the body has the ability to covert beta-carotene to vitamin A, a nutrient that is needed to maintain the health of the skin and eyes.
Tomatoes are revered for their health benefits. Most importantly when it comes to sun safety are a great source of lycopene, one of the most powerful antioxidant known to scientists. Although most foods decrease in nutrients once cooked, the lycopene in tomatoes actually becomes more bioavailable when cooked. Watermelon, grapefruit and red peppers are also very high in lycopene.
Almonds are one of the best sources of both unsaturated fats and vitamin E. Unsaturated fats help to keep the skin supple and hydrated, whereas vitamin E is a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant that helps protect cells from the damage caused by UV rays.
Everyone knows that green vegetables are great for health, as they provide an array of micronutrients and polyphenols whilst being high in fibre. Due to their natural qualities, a high intake of green vegetables has been shown to decrease the risk of numerous chronic illnesses including skin cancer. Again, this is thanks to their antioxidant capacity.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are examples of the powerful nutrients found in green vegetables, which have also been shown to decrease skin wrinkling and macular degeneration – a disease that worsens vision.
Another green coloured item that is revered for its health benefits is green tea. Although green tea is popularly taken before a holiday to help with fat-loss, it may be worth consuming it daily when exposed to hot climates. Research has shown that consuming just one cup of green tea a day can massively reduce the risk of skin cancer. This is primarily thanks to its natural antioxidants, but there is also evidence to suggest that green tea can actually speed up DNA repair in the body.
A few squares of dark chocolate every day can certainly be part of a nutrient-packed diet. Not only is it high in iron, magnesium, copper and manganese, it also contains powerful flavonoid compounds. These flavonoids are why dark chocolate has such as powerful antioxidant potential, which is believed to be higher than even blueberries or acai berries.
It should come as no surprise then that research has shown that consuming dark chocolate daily provides up to a 25% greater protection against UV radiation. Unfortunately, milk or white chocolate will not have any benefit as the cocoa content is so low. Look for a dark chocolate that is at least 70% cocoa for the greatest benefit.
Although lying in the sun whilst enjoying a cold alcoholic drink can be a great way to unwind, it could be disastrous for your skin. It has been known for some time that alcohol consumption is a risk factor for sunburns and skin cancer, however until recently it wasn't known why this was the case. Relatively new research has shown that alcohol consumption actually decreases the activity of antioxidants in the skin, which therefore leaves skin cells open to UV damage.
Alcohol consumption also decreases our inhibitions, making us more likely to forget to apply sun cream or to fall asleep in the sun. By all means enjoy a drink in the sun, but make sure you have sufficient sun cream protection and you don't overdo it. Instead, make sure you regularly consume hydrating beverages such as water to keep your skin healthy and your body temperature in a normal range.
To conclude, the sun is something we should all be able to safely enjoy. However, more and more people every year are putting themselves in harm's way by getting burned. Hopefully by executing some simple behaviours and eating the right foods, we can all protect ourselves from the sun whilst reaping the health benefits.