A Natural Approach to Sun Protection

sunOoh! Ouch! Ahhh! This sunburn really hurts. How many times have you made this statement? With summer heat coming and our love for the sun, I thought it would be appropriate to write about skin health and what you can do to protect your skin. In a recent book that I have been reading by Ralph Moss on cancer, he states that skin cancer (melanoma) is the most common cancer overall. There are over 800,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year in the U.S. Skin cancer is on the rise mainly in our older population, but younger folks are getting it earlier. With the depletion of the ozone and other environmental factors, it is increasingly important to pay attention to your skin.

The skin is your body’s largest organ. It weighs approximately 20 pounds and encases the body. The skin acts as a shield against external pollutants, injury and infectious agents. It is a sensing organ that communicates to the brain temperature, pressure, itching, wetness, texture and pain. The skin is semi permeable, meaning that it absorbs and excretes. Substances that you put onto the skin are absorbed into the blood stream, and the blood stream uses the skin as an organ of elimination. This article will not deal with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis, but these are inflammatory conditions that have a basis within the body and have external symptoms. It is very important to pay attention to the types of lotions, creams, soaps and other external preparations that you apply to your skin because of this factor.

Because so many of us have and still do suffer from sunburn, let’s address this condition and some of the natural remedies that will help to protect you. It is interesting to study the debate on sunscreens. First, it’s good to use them and then a report says that they don’t work. So what do you do? Sunscreens are a good idea, but researchers think that sunscreen may only delay sunburn because you can stay longer in the sun before your body signals that is has had enough. Another issue with sunscreen is that it inhibits Vitamin D production which helps to protect your skin against certain cancers. Of course, now we find sunscreens with Vitamin D and other nutrients to help protect us so it is a good idea, especially for sensitive skin types, elderly and young children, to use them.

Let’s take a look at some of the topical nutrients for the skin that you might find in sunscreen lotions:

  • Vitamin C: This antioxidant has shown in studies with animals to reduce redness and sunburned cells. It is used in tissue repair when our skin is burned.
  • Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant which enhances skin immunity and aids the healing process if burned.
  • Lycopene: The red bioflavonoid in tomatoes has shown to benefit skin protection by increasing resistance to UV radiation.
  • Selenium: Helps prevent burning and helps to heal skin that has been burned.
  • Zinc Oxide: This has been used for a long time to protect the skin. It helps with skin growth and repair and helps decrease the number of cells damaged by UV rays.

There are many plants that can be used internally and externally when it comes to sun protection. Let’s look at some of these in depth. We begin with green tea. Green tea has been touted as an anti-cancer herb. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Topical use has shown a 94 percent inhibition rate of skin cancer in animals in a study done by Rutgers University. Drinking the tea also has been effective in diminishing the negative effects of too much sun. However, one would have to drink up to two quarts per day to be useful.

Witch hazel, which is a renowned herb used as a vulnerary (wound healer) and anti-inflammatory, has shown that it works against sunburn due to its astringent and antioxidant qualities. You may see this as an active ingredient in sunscreen.

Milk thistle applied topically has shown in animal research with mice to diminish the number and size of tumors exposed to UV radiation.

Two plants mentioned for sunburn in Dr. James Duke’s book, The Green Pharmacy, are marigold (calendula) and plantain. These are age old remedies for skin inflammation and tissue healing. They contain allantoin, which is used in many skin creams. The herbs comfrey and aloe also contain allantoin and are also used in lotions.

Let’s look at our age old friend aloe vera. Many of us call this the burn plant; and I know that when I have had too much sun, this has always come to my rescue. We keep a tube of 99 percent aloe vera gel in the refrigerator in the summer just for this purpose. It is very cooling to burned skin and can be applied many times. Aloe vera helps to reduce pain, kill bacteria and promotes the healing of skin. We have found it good for bug bites and poison ivy by relieving the itching.

When it comes to having fun in the sun, it only takes a few minutes to make sure you are protected. Use common sense as to how long you expose yourself. Cover up when you begin to feel your skin tingle. You will have many more days to work on your tan. The sun is our friend and is vital for our bodies; let us not make it our enemy.

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