Protect your skin from sun damage

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...

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