Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Dear Doctor: How do I enjoy the sun of summer and protect my skin from sun damage at the same time? - SW, Red Lodge

Dear SW: This is a good question for this time of year. Adequate sun exposure is both necessary and healthy. However, too much sun can be damaging, causing premature aging of the skin: wrinkles, roughening and discoloration.

Additionally, excess sun exposure can predispose an individual to basal and squamous cell carcinomas, and in susceptible people, malignant melanoma.

Everyone knows about sunscreen and lotions, but not many people realize that nourishing skin through nutrition is a large part of the protection. Skin grows from the inside out. Making sure your skin has what it needs to be healthy and counteract the effects of the sun is essential. The three most important nutrients to protect skin are: water, oils and antioxidant-containing fruits and vegetables.

The first thing is water. Without proper hydration, your skin will dry out. Especially in warmer weather, we need plenty of pure, clean water - about one-half your body weight in ounces per day (i.e. if you weigh 150 pounds then you need 75 ounces of water per day). If you are sweating a lot, make sure you are getting enough minerals - sodium and potassium especially. Lack of minerals will cause excess water loss from the body.

Next are oils. It is not enough to put lotions on the outside of your skin. You need to put oils on the inside, too. The skin contains high amounts of essential fatty acids - both omega 3 and omega 6 fats. Having higher levels of omega 3 fats strengthens skin against sun damage. Deficiency of essential fatty acids in the skin is associated with dry skin, cold sores or rashes that develop from sun exposure, and patchy pale spots on the trunk and arms. Omega 3 fats are found in cold water fish, grass fed meat, nuts and seeds.

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Dietary intake of antioxidants nourishes and protects the skin, absorbing free radicals created by ultraviolet rays. Free radical formation causes cellular death and aging. Certain antioxidants such as beta-carotene, found in orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables like carrots, oranges, peppers and beets, are especially protective for the skin. Food high in folic acid protects skin DNA from damage and may prevent skin cancers. Folic acid comes from "foliage" - green leafy vegetables like spinach, chard, kale and broccoli. In fact, all fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants - the more richly colored, the better. This is why summer is an excellent time to eat a "rainbow of foods" - at least 5 different colors of fruits and vegetables every day.

Last but not least, most of us who spend more than 30 minutes a day in the summer sun will require some protection. Sunscreens are helpful, but the best form of protection is to cover up with a hat, long-sleeve shirt and sunglasses.

Chemical-based sunscreens are most common, but there is controversy over the long-term safety of these ingredients. There are several non-chemical sunscreens on the market - usually found in health food stores.

If you can, it is also best to avoid the strongest sun of the day - between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Remember to be responsible during summer recreational activities and protect your largest organ - your skin.

Dr. Deborah Angersbach is a resident physician in naturopathic medicine at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic. She can be reached at 259-5096. Send future naturopathic health questions to ync@180com.net.

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