Eat Your Sunscreen

"Thank you to Jimm Harrison for this great article!Enjoy the read and don't forget your Sun Block Informed Beauty!"

When planning your dinner meal this evening, don’t forget to include a side dish of sunscreen. May seem odd, but, seriously, this is a good idea. No, I’m not talking about strange creams in a tube or jar. I’m talking about spinach and broccoli and tomatoes and deeply colored and tasty foods that are likely already part of your menu. And what about a sunscreen for dessert? Well, chocolate with berries of course!

Botanical UV Protection

There has been a lot of interest lately in the use of botanicals and their ability to quench free radicals and protect cells from the damage caused by over exposure to the sun. In a recent presentation at the 7th Scientific Wholistic Aromatherapy Conference in San Francisco, California, I documented a full array of foods, herbs, and essential oils that have been well researched with positive results in protecting cells from sun and tanning booths. Ultra Violet Radiation (UVR) induced caused by the sun and tanning booths can cause photoaging, erythema (sunburn), basal and squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

I was blown away by the amount of evidence available supporting the UV protection that can be provided by the foods and herbs we could and should be eating or supplementing with everyday.

The main reason these botanicals provide such potent UV protection is due to their powerful antioxidant action. Yet another reason to be sure you are getting ample amounts of highly antioxidant foods into your diet. Antioxidants protect against the damaging free radicals produced by UVR, which cause damage to cells, affecting the DNA.

Today’s Sunscreens

Over the counter sunscreen use is the most widespread approach to protection from sun damage, skin cancer and photoaging. Though useful, sunscreens are not adequate and fail in the prevention of solar UV induced skin cancer and photoaging, according to a 2007 article in Life Extension magazine. This may be due to improper use, incomplete spectral protection and potential toxicity. Common sunscreens are designed to protect against sun damage by either reflecting or scattering UV rays or by absorbing the UV rays.

Recently in a 2009 SOFW journal, questions have been raised regarding the safety of sunscreens to humans and their harmful effect on the environment and aquatic life. The use of sunscreens, coupled with the some people’s fear of the sun, is related to deficiencies of the necessary nutrient vitamin D.

Commercially available sun protection may not be the best that we can do. According to a 2006 journal of Experimental Dermatology, there are novel strategies that have been presented to reduce the occurrence of skin cancer and delay the process of photoaging by way of prevention with the use of botanical antioxidants that are present in the common diet. Antioxidants are capable of preventing UVR-induced skin cancers through their capability to quench free radicals and inhibit many UVR-induced cell-damaging effects, as stated by a 2003 journal on photo chemo prevention of skin cancer.

Botanical antioxidants are growing in popularity as many mainstream makers of sunscreens are now using them in their products in combination with traditional sunscreens, though they give little acknowledgement of the botanicals as sun protective agents.

It is still recommended for you to use sunscreen even with these cautions. But there are also additional food based measures you can take to protect your youthful skin.

Sunscreen for Dinner

To benefit using the added protection from sun damage that botanicals provide you will need to eat large amounts of the active botanical compounds found in the food. It’s these active compounds that provide the variety of color to foods and gives evidence to the high-powered antioxidant value. The beneficial compound families, and some foods that contain them, are:

  • Carotenoids ~ carrots, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, corn, egg yolks, melons, blueberries and purple berries
  • Flavonoids ~ grapes, apple, berries, green and black tea, black-eyed peas, broccoli, ginger, turmeric
  • Polyphenols ~ grapes, red wine, berries, green and black tea, chocolate, olive oil, peanuts

The average recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is 3-4 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables a day. That’s a simple guideline, when in doubt; eat more, within reason of course. Spice up that meal as well with ginger, basil, turmeric and other richly fragrant herbs and spices. Be sure you are eating the freshest whole foods, and organic whenever possible. Also, cooking depletes the nutrients, so never over cook, instead, lightly steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Juicing is a great way to get a high concentration of botanical nutrients. Antioxidant supplements are recommended for added benefit. The best are those that are the concentrated food extracts, such as the supercritical extracts or tinctures.

The foods, and their compounds, need to be consumed for a period of time before they will actually provide adequate protection. So don’t think after eating a grape you’re all set to go. Most studies showed a period of 10 to 12 weeks before the botanicals offered the sun protection.

This is also not a replacement for sunscreen.

Food on the Body

Extracts from these same foods can be used topically to help provide antioxidant protection from sun damage. This, again, is not yet a sunscreen replacement. I think within time, and provided regulations and corporate considerations are made, botanicals will be available as natural full spectrum sunscreen. But for now, let’s look at what you can do on your own. All of the above mentioned foods and their extracted compounds are finding their way into skin and body care products. The more natural color you see in products containing them, the more benefit you get from these compounds.

Here is a list of topical ingredients to look for in your skin care formulas:

  • Olive oil ~ this is an ideal preventative lotion on its own. Use olive oil daily and under your sunscreen for beautiful, healthy skin.
  • Shea Butter ~ provides a good emollient and moisturizing effect, with UV protection, to lotions and creams.
  • Astaxanthin ~ a red algae (Haematococcus pluvialis) supercritical extract that is well documented for its powerful antioxidant action and UV protective quality. It’s a deep red, orange color and difficult to put into skin care, but worth it.
  • Vitamin E mix ~ Vitamin E is a popular antioxidant and is now known to protect from sun damage. A good mix will contain the naturally extracted tocopherol and tocotrienol forms of vitamin E.

You’re on Your Way to Better Skin and Health

There are many more botanicals and extracts that could be listed here. The information provided should give you a pretty good start to your botanical sun protection regimen. If you do the types and amounts of food recommended here, not only will you be providing added protection from skin damage, but will also be increasing your overall health and beauty.

Jimm Harrison’s innovative and distinctive approach to beauty and health is the culmination of years of in-depth research on natural and nutritional beauty principles. He is a Holistic Beauty Scientist, educator and developer of organic and nutrient rich skin care products. Jimm is the author of Aromatherapy: Therapeutic Use of Essential Oils for Esthetics.

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