With summertime right around the corner I want to address some fears about sun exposure. First of all we need sunlight. Sunlight regulates our sleep wake cycle by affecting the melatonin levels in our brain. Sunlight also converts cholesterol into vitamin D when our skin is exposed to UVB rays. For people in Minnesota it will take at least 30 minutes of exposure without any SPF to make vitamin D. The more pigment your skin has, the more time it will take to make adequate vitamin D.
Let's address skin cancer fears. Cancer is a big problem and it is only getting worse. Sun is just one piece of the puzzle. When we are exposed to sunlight it can damage the DNA in our skin cells but we have many protective mechanisms in place to make sure that damage either doesn't happen or it is quickly repaired. These mechanisms are fueled by- you guessed it- what we eat. The following is a list of compounds that help prevent DNA damage (not just in your skin cells). Of course there are many more than this short list but it is a starting point.
Vitamin C: Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes
Folate: dark leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli, citrus fruits, berries, beans, peas, lentils, avocado, okra, Brussels sprouts, seeds and nuts
Carotenoids: especially orange and green vegetables
Vitamin D: sunlight
Vitamin E: Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds
Despite the fact that we have sunscreen to "protect" us from the sun, skin cancer rates are on the rise. I believe it has more to do with a weakened defense system rather than sun exposure. If you want more information read this article about the rise in skin cancer rates.
Keep in mind sun exposure is part of a healthy lifestyle and like everything else must be done in moderation. If you are going to be exposed for extended periods of time, cover up after 30-60 minutes (depending on skin tone) and/or seek shade.
Skin cancer can form on skin that has not been exposed to the sun! The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends doing self exams once per month. When doing self exams learn the ABCD's to properly evaluate your skin. I recommend annual checks by a dermatologist who records your mole sizes and can help monitor your skin health.
After a family member got pretty severe burns from the sun we didn't have any aloe on hand so I got creative and made a sunburn tea. We were very pleased with the results! I made a large pot of tea with bags of the following:
Once the tea was cool I soaked large gauze pads in the tea and applied them to the burned area. It was immediately soothing. Every 30 minutes we put the gauze back in the tea and reapplied them to the burn to keep it moist. The burn did not blister and after two days of using the tea the pain was gone. I hope you don't get burned this summer but if you do, give tea a try!
PS- If you are a science nerd like me keep reading- this idea came to me after reading this article about iron's role in sunburn damage. Black tea has tannins which bind iron. The rest of the ingredients were added for soothing and antioxidant action.