If you are in the Northern hemisphere the summer is just about to begin. This means that skin will repeatedly be exposed to bad UV (ultraviolet) radiation coming from the sun. This may lead to a sunburn, photodamage and non-melanoma skin cancer.
You are familiar with a sunburn and how it looks like – the skin is red, swollen and inflamed. Photodamage is gradual worsening of the skin when it’s continually is being exposed to the sun. This results in skin discoloration, rough texture and wrinkles. Non-melanoma skin cancer sounds scary but it differs a lot from the dreadful melanoma you are thinking about. That’s because it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. Non-melanoma skin cancer is actually a common name for several types of cancer which are all characterized by small raised areas, usually red in colour and, in general, scaly and red skin.
You may be diligent about applying sunscreen while taking a holiday in a tropical country but totally forget about it at home. Actually, you are not the only one as this pattern is widely prevalent and therefore, ironically, majority of sunburn and more serious sun damage is acquired at non-vacation time. Before rushing to a health store to pick your natural sunscreen, let’s see how you can protect yourself from the sun with sunscreens designed by Nature!
Let’s begin. In the absence of a man-made sunscreen or other means of protection such as shady areas or long clothes, skin depends on internal defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms are provided by a specific group of compounds found in fruits and vegetables. These compounds are called micronutrients. To protect you from the sun, some micronutrients act as UV (ultaviolet) absorbers, antioxidants and inhibitors of sun-induced harmful reactions.
Here is the summary the roles some micronutrients play to defend you from the sun and what they do exactly:
UV absorbers – increase the barrier for UV radiation. As a result, erythema*, edema** and the number of sunburn cells is diminished. Thus, in general, the intensity of a sunburn is decreased.
Antioxidants – protect lipids and proteins against oxidation (damage). And as a result, skin wrinkling, roughening and formation of brown spots is diminished. This means that intensity of photodamage is decreased as well.
Inhibitors of sun-induced harmful reactions – inhibit DNA damage, suppress formation of tumors and decrease inflammation. Therefore, lowering the chance of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Enough of science for today. Next time, I will explore the foods that provide the micronutrients with the above roles and how to use these foods to defend yourself from the yellow disk!
*erythema – reddening of the skin
**edema – swelling of the skin
Sies H. and Wilhelm S. (2004). Nutritional Protection Against Skin Damage from Sunlight. Annual Review of Nutrition, 24, 173-200.