Your Skin v. The Sun

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Your skin telegraphs to the world the state of your overall health and well ­being. This is why skin “warrants attention, care, and nourishment—just like the rest of our bodies,” points out Alicia Cool, MD, a New York­ based dermatologist specializing in skin cancer prevention. “With the use of many small interventions, you can keep your skin looking bright and healthy for all of your years.”

The number one culprit in skin aging is the sun. The problem is due to ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, which speeds up the aging process. “Remember, UV rays can penetrate on cloudy,rainy days and even through window glass,” Dr. Cool explains, which is why she advises all of her patients, regardless of skin type or location, to wear sunscreen year-­round.

When it comes to protecting your skin from sun damage, “early intervention is key,” agrees Adam Friedman, MD, director of dermatologic research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

It’s never too early (or too late) in life to diligently use sunscreen and other sun protectors. Unfortunately, for most of us, sun exposure before the age of 18 lays the groundwork for accelerated skin aging and even skin cancer.

Your defense team

UV rays spur the creation of free radicals within the body. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E,are part of your body’s internal defense against sun­related skin damage and can be supplemented in pill form or as a cream applied topically. The ability of green tea polyphenols to decrease signs of skin aging when taken orally or used topically in creams has impressed Dr.Cool

One antioxidant you may be less familiar with comes from a fern found in Central and South America called Polypodium leucotomos. The antioxidant extract of the fern protects skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation. Taking Polypodium leucotomos gives your skin the equivalent SPF of about 5 to 8, says Dr. Friedman. So while sunscreens are still needed, the extract provides a good protective base. Think of it as a combination approach to healthy skin, he says: “Use sunscreen (a broad­spectrum SPF 30 or higher), take systemic antioxidants, wear protective clothing, and seek shade during the sun’s peak hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.”

The tricky thing about adding antioxidants to a topical sunscreen product, explains Dr. Friedman, lies in the fact that antioxidants quickly break down when exposed to air and light. This means that antioxidants applied to the top layer of the skin—where a sunscreen needs to be to do its job—can’t actually get inside of skin cells, which is where they would provide the most protection. Some specially designed sunscreens allow antioxidants to be absorbed into the skin while the sunscreen remains on the outer layer, blocking sun damage.

Safeguard collagen

Free radical fighting is not the whole story when it comes to antioxidants. Another way that many of these antioxidant vitamins keep your skin looking its best is by preserving collagen, the protein in skin that gives a supple and firm youthful look. Sun exposure tends to “age” collagen in the skin. In addition to vitamins C and E, other collagen ­preservers include vitamins A and D, notes Dr. Cool.

For some people, it might be too late for prevention of sun­ related skin damage. If your skin is already damaged, consider vitamin A derivatives to help rebuild the deeper support of the skin they stimulate collagen and elastin production, says Dr. Friedman.

Other ways to boost collagen include taking the supplement hyaluronic acid, which traps water in the skin to “plump” it up, ceramides (as pills or a cream) to retain moisture and smooth your skin’s appearance, and even supplements of collagen, which have been shown to improve the skin’s texture and resilience.

The mineral silicon might also help. When women with sun­damaged skin took either a placebo or a 10­milligram supplement of silicon (in a form called choline ­stabilized orthosilicic acid) every day for five months, those in the silicon group saw significant improvements to skin roughness and elasticity.

As summer’s sun beckons you outdoors, ensure that your skin is well nourished and protectedfrom any sun damage that comes with the inevitable sun exposure.

Sources: 

“Effect of Oral Intake of Choline­Stabilized Orthosilicic Acid on Skin, Nails, and Hair in Women with Photodamaged Skin” by A. Barel et al., Arch Dermatol Res, 10/05

“How Do I Get the Vitamin D My Body Needs?” www.VitaminDCouncil.org

“Moisturizers and Ceramide­Containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits” by C.W. Lynde et al., J Clin Aesthet Dermatol, 2014

“The Moisturizing Effect of a Wheat Extract Food Supplement on Women’s Skin: a Randomized, Double­Blind, Placebo Controlled Trial” by S. Guillou et al., Int J Cosmet Sci, 2011

“Oral Supplementation of Specific Collagen Peptides Has Beneficial Effects on Human Skin Physiology: a Double-Blind, Placebo­Controlled Study” by E. Proksch et al., Skin Pharmacol Physiol, 2014

Personal Communication: Alicia Cool, Adam Friedman

“Sun Protection in a Pill: The Photoprotective Properties of Polypodium leucotomos Extract” by N. El­Haj and N. Goldstein, Int J Dermatol, 3/15

“Vitamin D: Health Panacea or False Prophet?” by M.J. Glade, Nutrition, 1/13

Contributor: 

Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH

Victoria Dolby Toews has been a health journalist for two decades; her latest book is Life After Baby: Rediscovering and Reclaiming Your Healthy Pizzazz ($18.95, Basic Health, 2012).