Each time the warm sunny weather returns you’re faced with the same dilemma – should you expose your skin to the sun, or cover up? On the one hand there’s the risk of skin cancer, but on the other, a lack of vitamin D … But what if you could find the right balance and use natural substances that enhance the tanning process while also protecting epithelial cells from ultraviolet radiation?
Improving tolerance to the sun
Summer can spell misery for those who suffer from solar eczema, red skin, irritation or itching as soon as they go in the sun. If your skin over-reacts and burns easily, you can increase your tolerance to the sun by taking advantage of:
- The carotenoids detailed below (beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin…). Numerous studies have demonstrated that daily consumption of a variety of carotenoids significantly improves photo-protection and tolerance to the sun.
- Omega-3s, particularly EPA (eicosapentaeonic acid). By lowering levels of E2 prostaglandins, they reduce inflammation of the skin, increase its tolerance to UV rays1 and lower the risk of skin cancer2. You can take capsules with lunch or dinner that containEPA or Krill, miniscule crustaceans found in cold Antarctic waters which are particularly rich in EPA and DHA.
- Polypodium leucotomos, a type of fern native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. It relieves the skin and provides it with cellular and systemic protection from UV radiation. Taking it for two weeks before – as well as throughout - periods of exposure to the sun constitutes a safe and effective way of significantly reducing erythema, skin eruptions and urticaria, and of minimising UV-induced photo-damage to DNA which over the long-term is a risk factor for skin cancer.
Optimising the tanning process
There is a group of antioxidants that can not only improve the skin’s tolerance to the sun, in particular boosting its pigmentation, but also protect body tissues that come into direct contact with light (the skin and eyes): the carotenoids. Naturally present in the diet, carotenoids stimulate production of melanin, the pigment responsible for the tanning process and for the skin’s healthy colour. The most effective of these are:
- Natural beta-carotene. A precursor of vitamin A, it is traditionally recognised for protecting epithelial cells and for gradually tanning the skin. Nowadays, it is considered essential to balance its action with that of alpha-carotene and it is therefore sensible to take them at the same time.
- Lycopene. This is the most abundant carotenoid in the skin. Studies have shown it significantly decreases incidence of solar erythema in those with sensitive skin and reduces sunburn severity and deeper cell damage by almost half.
- Lutein and zeaxanthin. Often found together in foods, as well as at particular sites in the body, these two carotenoids are particularly concentrated in the macula, a central area of the retina which filters blue light. They are ‘vision-specific’ antioxidants, that protect the eyes from oxidative stress. They also act synergistically with the two carotenoids mentioned above to protect the skin from the effects of UV.
- Astaxanthin. Produced naturally by the algae Haematococcus pluvialis, astaxanthin is also a powerful antioxidant for the skin and eyes. Its effects may be even greater than those of beta-carotene. In the eyes, it increases blood flow to the retina and protects the lens against free radical damage.
Carotenoids are more effective when taken together, as they act synergistically, just as they do in nature. Carotenoid supplements should ideally be taken at lunchtime or in the evening with a little fat or with fatty acid supplements in order to increase their bioavailability and ensure an intake of the specific fatty acids that prevent the skin from becoming dry.
is a new, clinically-approved substance which is a natural tan accelerator. It is obtained from a keratin hydrolysate found in black sheep wool, which is naturally rich in melanin.
It works by producing:
- Immediate pigmentation after just 10 days’ daily supplementation, increasing the skin’s pigmentation in the two hours following exposure to UVA.
- Subsequent pigmentation as a result of a boost to epidermal cells (keratinocytes and melanocytes), which produces a deeper and longer-lasting tan.
Reducing skin ageing due to sun exposure
The summer sun leads to a reduction in lipid concentrations in the protective skin layer called the Stratum corneum, resulting in skin dryness. In addition, unprotected exposure to UV rays is extremely harmful to the deep cells of the epidermis resulting in sometimes irreversible damage to support tissues.
Visible signs include unsightly wrinkles on the face, neck and chest, as well as a whole host of other imperfections: roughness, redness, scaling, tightness, itching and inflammation.
To combat sun-induced skin dryness, you need to factor in ceramides
, the essential components of the skin’s hydrolipid barrier that make up more than a third of intercellular cement. As has been convincingly demonstrated in three conclusive and concurring clinical studies, oral supplementation with ceramides obtained from wheat germ
, significantly improves the hydration, elasticity and health of skin which has suffered sun-induced dryness.
Sea buckthorn oil
, standardised in palmitoleic acid
, an omega-7 fatty acid, also restricts sun-induced skin ageing by hydrating the skin, increasing its softness and elasticity and reducing the amount and depth of wrinkles.
Taking a proprietary extract ofUncaria tomentosa, AC-11®
, significantly increases natural production of type III collagen in skin tissue, restoring its former suppleness. It increases self-healing processes and helps repair sun-induced DNA damage.
For reducing oxidative stress, a good option throughout the summer is to take a daily, 5mg dose of L-ergothioneine
, an amino acid derived from L-histidine, which can counteract the effects of the mediators involved in photo-ageing of the skin.
And last but not least, supplementing with ursolic acid
extracted from Japanese loquat leaves is also a good idea as it is traditionally used to repair damaged tissue in the skin barrier and protect the skin from photo-ageing.
Diet and nutritional supplements thus play essential roles in protecting the epidermis. Taking selected substances before, during and after exposure to the sun can prepare the skin, protect it against some of the effects of the sun’s rays, optimise the tanning process and even prolong a tan post-holiday.
Most dermatologists now recommend these supplements. Taking them prior to and during the summer period helps to:
- Maintain sun resistance and reduce episodes of sunburn,
- Combat UV-induced damage to skin and eye cells,
- Control solar eczema,
- Prevent the drying, wrinkles and unsightly marks that are synonymous with ageing,
- Stimulate melanin production and so help achieve a deep and long-lasting tan by minimising UV damage.
Rhodes LE, Durham BH, Fraser WD, Friedmann PS. Dietary fish oil reduces basal and ultraviolet B-generated PGE2 levels in skin and increases the threshold to provocation of polymorphic light eruption. J Invest Dermatol. 1995 Oct;105(4):532-5
Rhodes LE, Shahbakhti H, Azurdia RM, Moison RM, Steenwinkel MJ, Homburg MI, Dean MP, McArdle F, Beijersbergen van Henegouwen GM, Epe B, Vink AA. Effect of eicosapentaenoic acid, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid, on UVR-related cancer risk in humans. An assessment of early genotoxic markers. Carcinogenesis. 2003 May;24(5):919-25