Protect your skin from sun damage

  • 30 Apr 2015
  • Reading time 7 mins
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Wrinkles, dark spots, and sagging skin are not the inevitable consequence of getting older. Most of the signs of skin ageing come from the sun. It’s called photo-ageing, and getting a tan isn’t the only way to sustain damage. Virtually any light can affect your skin at any time of year. On average, you get 80 percent of your lifetime sun exposure during multiple, brief exposures that aren’t intended to produce a tan.

So, what’s the best way to protect your skin and reverse the effects of the sun? Let’s first take a closer look at your skin to understand what happens.

Ultraviolet (UV) and other types of light enter your skin as packages of energy called photons. The photons are absorbed by different substances in your skin—including melanin and nutrients like retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and vitamin C. In fact, the nutrients in your skin sacrifice themselves every day to the sun. UVA rays damage the vitamin A, while UVB rays damage DNA and blue light waves damage vitamin C. Light also creates free radicals in your skin which, if not disarmed by antioxidants, will further damage DNA.

What you see as ageing skin is really the result of DNA damage to different kinds of skin cells. The cells on the outside of your skin, called keratinocytes, develop into keratoses (skin lesions) that may become cancerous. The outer layer of your skin becomes thinner, providing less protection to layers underneath. Cells called melanocytes multiply, creating those dark spots. Deeper down, damaged fibroblasts produce less collagen, which means wrinkles and saggy skin.

The Key to Protection

Of all the nutrients you take in, vitamin A is by far the most important for your skin. This nutrient helps control the rate of keratin accumulation in your skin and normalises DNA, which results in healthy cells that function better. It also improves collagen and elastin production (helping skin stay plump and supple), aids in normal pigment control, and repairs old damage.

UVA light can go through clouds and glass, so there’s no avoiding it. Strong sun exposure causes you to lose as much as 70-90 percent of the vitamin A in your skin, and it usually takes days to restore these levels. However, you can replenish vitamin A levels in a few hours if you apply it directly to the skin. Topical vitamin A has also been shown to reverse most of the signs of skin ageing. It is also good to both supplement it in a high strength multivitamin and to eat fish and vegetables, especially carrots, high in the vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene.

Vitamins C and E work as antioxidants. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant, but vitamin C is water-soluble. That means it’s not stored in your skin and has to be delivered every day via your diet and bloodstream. Vitamin C is also used to make collagen.

So, the key to protecting your skin and reversing the signs of photo-ageing is to keep vitamin A and other nutrients at optimum levels while reducing the amount of UVA that gets through. That means using a daily skin cream that contains vitamin A, C, and E, plus a good sunscreen.

The most effective sunscreens are the sunblocks zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which reflect the sun. The organic sunscreens methoxycinnamate (protects against UVB rays) and methoxydibenzolmethane (protects against UVA rays) are sufficient if you’re not going to be in particularly strong sunlight. Since no sunscreen is 100% effective, additional vitamin E and C to mop up free radicals is advisable. However, you don’t want any sunscreen ingredients in skin creams applied at night.

What Types of Nutrients Work Best?

Have you heard of Accutane Retin-A? This is a type of vitamin A called retinoic acid. It works, but it’s quite harsh on your skin and can cause irritation. The same is true for retinol. Esters of vitamin A (retinyl acetate and retinyl palmitate) are milder, highly effective, and well tolerated by the skin. Retinyl acetate is also absorbed more easily through the skin than retinoic acid.

The more vitamin A you have in your skin, the more receptors you have for it on your skin cells. Irritation occurs when large amounts of vitamin A are applied to highly deficient skin. To protect against potential irritation, it’s best to start with a cream that provides 500-1,000 IU of retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate per gram. Build up to a cream that provides 10,000 IU per gram.

With vitamin C, straight ascorbic acid is water soluble and quite acidic. That means it doesn’t pass easily into the skin and it’s more likely to cause irritation. There are various forms that work better than others, including magnesium-L-ascorbyl-2-phosphate (called VCPMg) and ascorbyl palmitate (a fat-soluble form of vitamin C). The most effective, however, is ascorbyl-4-isopalmitate (also called ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate or VCIP). This is vitamin C attached to four molecules of palmitic acid. Although it appears to be much less concentrated than ascorbic acid, it is so much better absorbed that you end up with 10 times more vitamin C reaching skin cells. It’s also more effective than ascorbyl palmitate. This is the form you want in your skin cream, in addition to vitamin E. The form of vitamin E is less important, since it’s fat-soluble and more easily absorbed by the skin.

Don’t Go for the Quick Fix

Daily application of these key skin nutrients in skin creams is the only truly effective way to prevent and reverse skin ageing—backed up with protecting yourself against excessive sun exposure. The net result? Wrinkles and pigmented age spots recede, and your skin becomes smoother. The outer layer of your skin, the epidermis, becomes healthier and thicker. The keratinocytes, restored to good health, become naturally flatter and less flaky.

Of course, there are quicker routes to smooth skin—exfoliation and skin peels. Exfoliation involves a skin scrub designed to remove dead cells, while skin peels usually contain alpha hydroxy acids that remove the rough outer layer of skin. The danger with skin peels is that they can literally thin ......

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