End of Summer Skincare
As we approach the end of summer and the beginning of shorter fall days, many of us find ourselves taking every opportunity to get outside and soak up as many of those last rays of the summer sun as possible. There are so many ways that moderate amounts of sunshine are good for you. Sunlight is a natural mood booster, stress reliever and your body needs it to naturally synthesize vitamin D. Of course, we also know that overdoing it in terms of sun exposure is not so great for the skin, and a little knowledge goes a long way in protecting your skin from the long-term damaging effects of the sun. So, whether you are heading out to soak up the last of summer, or are noticing the effects of a summer full of a little too much sun, let’s find a spot in the shade and talk for a minute about the real effects of the sun on your skin health, and what to do if you are already guilty of a little overexposure.
Of all the factors that can contribute to how your skin ages, your lifetime accumulation to sun exposure is by far the most significant. In fact, one study determined that sun exposure is responsible for eighty percent of the visible signs of aging on your face. That number rises to ninety percent when we expand it to include all visible signs of aging over your entire body, including cataracts and skin that bruises easily. But, let’s say that you are not someone who would be considered a sun worshiper and you haven’t had sunburn since childhood, that means you are off the hook, right? Unfortunately, not necessarily.
If you venture outside on a regular basis without being properly protected from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, then you are almost certainly suffering from some degree of sun damaged skin, even if you don’t burn or purposefully tan several shades darker than your natural skin color. Sun exposure results in damage to five different parts of the skin. These include the epidermis, dermis, melanocytes, sebaceous glands and the blood vessels. Just how much damage is done depends upon the length or severity of exposure. Someone who goes for a forty-minute walk at 10am will have less exposure than someone who lays out for an hour and a half at 2:00 in the afternoon. However, while the exposure is less, the potential for some damage is still present, and with repeated exposure the damage accumulates and leads to not only premature aging, but more serious conditions including skin cancer.
Before we address how the sun damages the skin, I want to visit the necessity of mild amounts of sun exposure. Vitamin D is a vitamin that your body is not capable of producing on its own. This means that you must either get it from an outside source, or synthesize it with the help of the sun. Slathering on sunscreen has been shown to reduce the amount of vitamin D that your body can synthesize from the sun. Too much sun exposure is bad, but so is too little. The thing to remember is that the average person only needs about fifteen to twenty minutes of sun exposure per day to synthesize an appropriate amount of vitamin D. Of course, this can change depending on your natural skin color and where you live. Lighter skin requires less time, while darker skin will require more. Someone living in a region with direct sunlight will not need as much time to synthesize vitamin D as someone living in a far norther region with less direct sunlight year-round. You can get enough exposure from taking a quick walk around the block, chasing your kid around the back yard, or even driving to the store. Remember, that unless the glass is specialty treated, ultraviolet rays can pass through windows as well. The amount of exposure that the average person needs to synthesize enough daily vitamin D is not enough on its own to result in sun damage because you simply aren’t exposed long enough. The problem is that many times, we spend much longer out in the sun, without realizing the full effects of the prolonged exposure.
After a certain amount of time in the sun, the sun’s rays begin penetrating your skin cells and breaking down collagen, and you don’t need to suffer a burn for this to happen. Even the lightest tan means that the sun’s rays have penetrated your skin deep enough to cause cellular and structural changes. Collagen builds the network that is the support structure of your skin. Collagen levels and production naturally decline as we age, and the ultraviolet rays only accelerate this process. Along with deteriorating collagen, ultraviolet rays also begin attacking your cellular DNA, resulting in changes and mutations, some of which can lead to skin cancer. It is estimated that ninety percent of cases of skin cancer are caused by exposure to the sun. Some signs of sun damage include:
- Dark, tanned skin
- Dry skin
- Sun spots
- Actinic keratoses (rough, scaly patches of discolored skin)
- Atypical moles
- Skin cancer
It can be hard to visualize just how much the sun can affect the appearance and health of the skin, and because the damage occurs slowly, you might not even realize the full effect at first. One study took women who were of the same age and placed them side by side. One of the women had a minimal amount of sun exposure over her lifetime, while the other had a great deal of sun exposure. What they found was that on average, there was at least a decade’s difference in how old the two women were perceived to be. The good news is that it is never too late to start to protect your skin. Plus, there are things that you can do on a regular basis to reduce the appearance of sun damage on your skin, and possibly even reverse some of the damage altogether.
Helping Your Sun-Damaged Skin from the Inside
There is a point that can be made about how much time previous generations spent in the sun, yet there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that they suffered from skin cancer at a higher rate than we do today. Some say this is due to environmental changes, and that more damaging rays are reaching us today than they did in years past. An additional theory is that our modern diets might be a contributing factor to how our skin responds to the sun’s rays. It is possible to help reverse some of the sun damage your skin has already suffered, and protect your skin from further damage by modifying your diet to include key elements.
The most important thing on your skin-healthy diet list should be foods that are rich in antioxidants. Ultraviolet rays cause free radicals. You have probably heard the term before, and know that free radicals are not our friends. In a nutshell, free radicals are molecules that travel around with a missing electron. They search for healthy, whole molecules to steal an electron from. When this happens, oxidation occurs which causes many of the signs of aging in our skin.
Antioxidants, on the other hand, offer up an extra electron to the free radical that instantly neutralizes it. A diet rich in antioxidant foods can help prevent cellular damage. Additionally, antioxidants can strengthen your immune system and calm inflammation. Antioxidant rich foods also act as an “internal sunscreen” reducing the impact of ultraviolet rays on contact. Here is a list of some of the best antioxidant-rich foods to add to your diet.
- Leafy greens
- Lycopene, found in foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit and other fruits and vegetables with a natural pinkish to red color.
- Green tea
- Citrus Fruits
- Dark Chocolate
Protect Your Skin by Changing Your Approach
These are simple things that you can do every day to reduce the risk of future damage from the sun.
- Become mindful of the amount of time that you spend in the sun. On a beautiful, sunny day it is easy to lose track of time. Remember that fifteen to twenty minutes is the threshold for most people when it comes to requiring protective sunscreen and clothing. Remember that accumulated time counts too. If you are unsure about how long you will be out, just toss your sunscreen in your bag and don’t forget a hat and sunglasses.
- Don’t be fooled by clouds. Ultraviolet rays have no problem passing through clouds, even on the days when it seems like the sun just isn’t interested in making an appearance.
- You don’t need to be outside to be at risk of overexposure. The sun’s rays can pass through windows. If you spend a lot of time in your car, or if you sit in front of a window all day at work, make sure you protect yourself with appropriate sunscreen.
- Look for the shade. If you find yourself outside without adequate protection from the sun, seek out someplace shady. The shade will not block the sun’s rays completely but it can significantly reduce the impact.
- Don’t forget about your eyes. Make sure that you use a sunscreen product specially formulated for the delicate area around your eyes, and invest in a good pair of sunglasses to block most of the ultraviolet rays. Both the skin around your eyes and your eyes themselves are often overlooked areas that require sun protection.
Treat Yourself with a Restorative Skin Care Routine
As this summer comes to an end, it brings about the perfect opportunity to begin a skin care routine to help you recover from the past few months as well as protect your skin from future damage. Here is a quick list of end-of-summer skin care essentials.
- Exfoliant: Sun damaged skin can be dry, and uneven in color and texture. Also during the summer months, oil production can increase. What you are left with is a buildup of old, dead skin cells that are clogging up your complexion and dulling your skin. Depending on your skin type, and the type of exfoliant that you use, you should exfoliate between one and three times per week. Gentle, enzymatic exfoliants, such as OZNaturals Ancient Orient Bamboo Dermafoliant are a good choice for end-of-summer skin.
- Retinol: We mentioned how the sun damages the collagen structures of your skin. Retinol is one of the few skin care additives that can improve collagen synthesis and promote cellular renewal. In other words, a great retinol serum can help to reduce damage and have you looking radiant with a glow that is natural and healthy rather than one caused from the sun.
- Glycolic Acid Peel: Peels work by removing the very top layers of your skin, which give new, healthy skin cells the opportunity to come to surface. It is important to be conservative when using a glycolic peel, especially if you have never used one before. Do a patch test and start with the briefest recommended time before building up to a longer amount of time. If your skin is not sensitive, we recommend monthly use of our Glycolic 30% Medium Strength Micro Peel.
- SPF of 30 or Higher: No skincare routine would be incomplete without the mention of sunscreen. Look for zinc and titanium dioxide based formulas for natural protection. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours while outdoors, and more frequently if spending time in the water, even if it is a waterproof formula.
You don’t need to shy away from the last golden rays of the season, but there is also no reason to put the health of your skin at risk. Awareness and a few preventative measures are all that you need to protect your beautiful skin. Remember, that what you do today does have an impact on the future. Even if you don’t notice the damage now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t years from now. Take care of and respect your skin now and it will reward you in the future.
-- Angela Irish, Certified Aesthetician & Co-Founder OZNaturals