Our skin can do with some extra tender loving care in the summer, as heat, wind and sweat can be harmful to our peaches-and-cream complexions. I recommend a three-pronged approach: a healthy diet, an appropriate moisturiser and sunscreen.
In addition to slathering on sunscreen, you may want to start taking antioxidants for extra protection from the sun’s rays. Mounting research shows that when taken internally, certain chemicals found in plants work like sunscreens, fighting the free-radical damage caused by the sun and filtering harmful UV light. Researchers report that chemicals found in grape seeds may help prevent skin cancer. Mice given grape-seed extract and then exposed to the sun’s damaging UV rays had 25 – 35% fewer skin tumours – and tumour size was up to 78% smaller – when compared with mice not given the extract. Two additional antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin (found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks), may also provide protection from within, according to a recent study in Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. When women took a lutein-zeaxanthin combination for two weeks, the supplements gave them four times more sun protection. An added bonus – the subjects’ skin was about 60% more hydrated after taking the antioxidants.
None of us can undo the damage caused in our sun-worshipping youth. But it seems there’s a lot we can do to prevent further harm. And recent research underscores the need to take skin cancer prevention even more seriously: for reasons that researchers don’t fully understand, having skin cancer – even the less dangerous non-melanoma forms – seems to raise the risk of breast, lung, liver and uterine cancers.
New research, however, is showing that the foods you eat and the supplements you take can lower your risk. Studies show that antioxidant vitamins C and E – applied to the skin or taken internally – may protect against skin cancer by neutralising free radicals and protecting and enhancing the skin’s immune system. ‘Many skin care products contain antioxidants, and ideally vitamin C should be in the top six ingredients,’ says Shari Lieberman, a nutrition scientist and author of The Real Vitamin & Mineral Book.
What to do? Use vitamin C-rich skin care products; try a daily dose of 1000 mg of vitamin C and 400 IU of vitamin E.
Brighten up your plate
According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a plant-heavy diet rich in antioxidants can decrease your chances of all types of cancer, skin cancer included, by 20%. Foods that are especially rich in antioxidants and natural carotenoids (plant pigments with powerful antioxidant effects) include brightly coloured fruits and vegetables like grapes, oranges, broccoli, tomatoes, carrots and greens. Spices such as ginger and turmeric also provide antioxidants, as do wholegrains.
Aim for five to nine servings per day of colourful fruits and vegetables. (Tip: Starting at breakfast makes meeting the quota easier; 100% fruit or vegetable juices count.)
Put pomegranates to work
This fruit deserves an especially prominent place in your anticancer arsenal. A Norwegian study found that it (along with walnuts) contains more antioxidants than any other fruit or veggie.
What’s more, clinical studies have shown that pomegranate extract can even boost the effects of sunscreen. In one, led by dermatologist Howard Murad, volunteers who took pomegranate supplements raised the SPF level of their sunscreen by as much as 23%. Take one 15 mg pomegranate tablet daily; a standardised extract is best. And eat fresh pomegranates whenever you can, too.
Make tea-time a habit
Green, black and white teas all contain polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that help protect skin against the adverse effects of sun damage. Tea can be enjoyed as a beverage, taken as a supplement (generally in a dose of about 300 mg per day), or smoothed on as an ingredient in skin creams. Look for it among the top three ingredients on the label.
Get help from plants
Pycnogenol, a standardised extract of the bark of the French maritime pine tree, is also a risk reducer. ‘Pycnogenol binds to collagen and elastin and protects them from degradation caused by free radicals,’ says Frank Schonlau, director of scientific communications for Horphag Research, the Geneva-based developer of the supplement. Another excellent remedy to include in a prevention programme is Ginkgo biloba. It contains a cocktail of ingredients, including genistein, which some research suggests may reduce UV-induced oxidative stress and inhibit DNA damage.