One would think that, given Peaceful Dumpling and all, I would be a complete health nut. One would be wrong. I’m only about 90% health nut! The other 10% consists of my generally careless attitude toward sun damage. For instance, I haven’t applied sunblock to my legs once this summer–maybe a handful of times on my chest and shoulders when I was going out in the middle of a sunny day. Also, I haven’t once worn my sunglasses this season because they were in my spring purse and I was too lazy to put them in my summer purse. Oh, the laziness!!
But that’s all about to change since reading some truly sobering news about photoaging and sun damage. According to a recent study published in Science, astonishing 1/4 of skin cells in middle-aged people have suffered DNA damage from the sun–while they may look normal, they express mutations that are consistent with first stages of cancer. In this study, the skin cells were sampled from the eyelids, which are exposed to the sun whenever you go outside not wearing sunglasses. The researchers suggested that cells in the hands, ears, cheeks and arms would show even more damage.
The issue of sun damage, then, isn’t just about vanity–it can lead to serious health consequences for even those of us who appear perfectly healthy. I’ve begun to realize that there is a big difference between “fitness” and “health,” and that while I might be taking fitness into my own hands, I also need to care for health, as well. Here are ways to prevent and reverse photoaging and sun damage.
1. Know where, when, and what of sunscreen.
What: Choose mineral-based sunscreen like titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are both more stable and won’t break down in the sun. I also use a SPF facial moisturizer and layer a SPF containing mineral HDD cream on top.
I can’t live without my Haut Cosmetics HDD Cream ($56.50). It’s all-natural, made with Canadian glacial clay and rosehip oil and contains natural, mineral-based SPF. It also makes my skin look like a dream!
Where: Most of us use sunscreen on our faces, but make sure to protect other areas, too. Get into the habit of using your facial moisturizer with SPF on your neck and decolletage–in addition to the SPF, the more potent ingredients of your facial moisturizer will nourish the skin in these delicate areas.
Don’t forget about your hands! Take a hand cream with SPF with you in your purse and get in the habit of putting them on to refresh yourself. After your face, your hands are the most exposed parts of your body, all year round. Because we typically don’t get sunburns on our hands, we forget that this area is susceptible to photoaging, too. Instead of going out there and buying yet another specialized beauty product, I just made my own: 1 part comfrey cream, 1 part SPF 50 natural sunscreen, a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil (I used lavender). I then put it in a mini jam jar (clearly repurposing containers for beauty was a theme this week!)–stash that in your purse.
Last but not least, legs: Legs are some of the nicest part of the body to be bronzed, but they need protection just like anywhere else. If you’re not a huge fan of slathering on sunscreen on your legs before running out the door, try sunscreen mist.
Supergoop Antioxidant Sunscreen Mist (SPF 50) ($13) is aerosole and oxybenzone-free, cruelty-free, parabens-, phthalates, and sulfates-free. It’s also pumped full of Vitamin C to rejuvenate and restore your skin.
When: Pretty much any time you’re in the sun calls for sun protection. This means you should apply before your morning run (8 a.m. is pretty bright and sunny during summer!).
2. Include antioxidants and monounsaturated fats in your diet.
Much of photoaging and sun damage are not visible to the eye. In fact, much damage continues to take place *after* you come out of the sun. So you need to do the same, and protect and restore round the clock, rather than just whenever you’re outside. The best way to do it is including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet: antioxidants in produce keep repairing your cells and help prevent cancer.
Also make sure to include olive oil in your diet: In one study, lower levels of photoaging was associated with high monounsaturated fat consumption through olive oil in both men and women. Interestingly, monounsaturated fat intake through dairy or meat had no effect on decreasing photoaging. The possible explanation for this is that olive oil uniquely contains high levels of squalene (protects against free radicals and skin dryness) and polyphenols. (The other vegetable oils tested, sunflower oil and peanut oil, did not have as much effect on photoaging).
3. Cover up!
Yes, it’s fun and functional to wear more revealing clothes during summer, but do cover up when you might be under a lot of sun, like at the beach or another outdoor function. I always think a floaty tunic or a breezy linen shirt is so pretty and appropriate on the beach. Don’t neglect your sunglasses–if that above study doesn’t motivate you, just imagine the fine lines you’ll be saving yourself from. And sometimes, *do* be that person who insists on getting a table under the umbrella, or walks right under the awnings of storefronts. It’s not about being neurotic–protect your health!
What’s your tip for staying sun-safe?
Also see: Natural Beauty – Lightening Sunspots and Freckles
The Deal with Vitamin D and Sunscreen
5 Summer Sun Protection Essentials
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling; Supergoop