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Help! I’m Sunburned

Sun Protection from the Inside Out

Q: I’m a fairly pale person and need to protect my skin from the sun.  I keep reading about the harmful chemicals in standard sunscreen products and want to try something different. What’s the best way to protect the skin from the sun, and to help with sunburns naturally? -Alyssa, Toronto


A: As a fellow fair-skinned individual, I can relate to your concern.  I want to fully love the sun and feel its warm rays on my skin, boost my vitamin D, and get that sun-kissed look (which for me, since I really don’t tan well, is more of a “healthy glow”, lol). But I’m mindful of ensuring that the health of my skin takes precedence.  Sunburns and excessive sun exposure damages skin cells, speeds up aging, and let’s not forget about skin cancer.


As always, health starts from the inside out.  You want to ensure that the skin has the proper building blocks to maintain its integrity.  Focus on eating a primarily whole foods diet, a colourful variety of vegetables, some fruits, clean fats, omega 3 rich foods, and adequate protein at every meal.  Also, eat your antioxidants by embracing those rich dark-coloured berries and dark chocolate. Antioxidants help the body protect itself from the sun’s free radical effects that can cause inflammation and skin damage.   Supplementation may also be beneficial to really boost antioxidant levels. Asthaxanthin, a carotenoid, is believed to be one of the most potent antioxidants nature has to offer, and has been studied for its skin protective and anti-aging benefits.


Next, consider a smarter way to approach summer sun exposure. Firstly, start low and slow. Moderate and gradual sun exposure through the spring/summer can have the most benefits and may help prevent burning.  Second, work around the sun. Go outdoors early in the morning or late afternoon and avoid being out right at noon when UV radiation peaks. Thirdly, find some shade during peak sun or when you feel like you’ve simply gotten enough.  Lastly, wear clothes (shirts, hats, shorts etc), as these provide the best protection from UV-Rays.


Switch to a natural sunscreen. Did you know that Hawaii has passed a bill to ban standard sunscreens because of the damage their chemical composition does to the coral reef? Natural sunscreens protect the skin, are void of the known endocrine disruptive ingredients, and are also environmentally friendly. Choose products that are mineral-based sunscreens, which use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block the sun's rays. Go to your favourite health food store and speak to a consultant about your options.


What if you burn?  Boost those antioxidants and omega 3’s to reduce inflammation and support optimal skin recovery.  Aloe gel applied topically is a tried and true remedy for sunburns. Its glycoprotein content helps relieve pain, inflammation, and swelling while the polysaccharides help repair damaged skin cells.  Aloe gel is also extremely hydrating and helps keeps moisture in the skin while it heals.


To learn more about safe natural sun protection, go to https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/top-sun-safety-tips


Dr. Michelle Pobega, ND, runs a naturopathic practice near the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto. Stay connected with her at drmichellend.ca, Facebook and Twitter @MPobegaND