Skin Care: Skin Damaging Risks Besides the Sun

09.01.12

It’s become common knowledge we should wear sunscreen and avoid tanning beds in order to prevent our risk for skin cancer. But many, including myself, have been unaware of the scary other causes of skin cancer that we may be exposing ourselves to. The most threatening culprits of skin damage are free radicals (oxidants). Free radicals are molecules with a missing electron that seek to replace it by stealing electrons from other healthy molecules (our healthy youthful looking skin). This same process that causes fruit to brown or metal to rust is causes our skin to be damaged. While some oxidation is normal, too much is a primary cause of skin cancer. Sun exposure is only one cause of oxidation. For a more complete approach to protecting our skin, we need to consider what we eat and what we put on our skin as well. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and thereby fight skin damage. One special antioxidant found in plants, flavonoids, is especially powerful because while plants require sunlight to grow they rely on flavonoids to protect them from UV rays. By ingesting flavonoid-packed plants, our skin receives protection from UV rays as well. Also putting us at higher risk for skin damage, dry skin. While dryness doesn’t cause skin cancer, it weakens the skins natural defense. Dehydrated skin uses up antioxidants faster and less effectively, leaving the skin more vulnerable to sun damage. To reduce your risk it is important to hydrate your skin from both the inside and out – this means drinking lots of water and applying moisturizers.

As with everything, we need to approach skin care with a balanced perspective. Not only have we learned that the sun isn’t the sole culprit for skin damage, but it’s important not to demonize the sun entirely. In fact some sun exposure is good for our health. 15-20 minutes in the sun (but not during peak hours, 11am-3pm) helps to stimulate our natural antioxidant mechanism in the skin.  The same way you can overly disinfect, never allowing your body to develop its natural immune defenses against germs, you can overly avoid the sun. Not only will denying yourself any time in the sun cause you to miss out on heart-healthy vitamin D, it will also prevent your body’s natural antioxidant defense to build. So there you go, soak it up (but only for 15-20 minutes a day without sunscreen)!

 

 

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