When it comes to the sun and sun protection, it seems there are more or less two camps. There are those that no matter the season, religiously apply an SPF year-round. According to this group, if the sun is up then so are it’s harmful assortment of rays. A good sunscreen is therefore all important and will ensure that we are protected from that accidental exposure (think the walk from the car to the office) that can take a cumulative toll on the dermis. Then there are those on the opposite spectrum that argue that unless you are living two degrees or so from the equator, a daily sunscreen is overkill. If you spend most of your time working indoors and reside in the Northern Hemisphere then you are more or less safe from the sun’s rays. Unless we are outside for an extended period of time, a slathering of an opaque white film on exposed skin seems quite alarmist.
Indeed, our relationship with the sun seems a love/hate one that is difficult to reconcile. We love it for the benefits that it confers- foremost the health promoting production of vitamin D, that essential hormone that switches on our immune system and keeps us happy among many other things. Add to this the glow that we get after a little sun exposure (glutathione production, check) it seems in one sense indisputable that if we are built to make vitamin D with our skin then that is part of our very design and proof that we are meant to go in the sun- at least a little- and that is what we should do.
And yet many of us are wary of it and rightly so. There is the issue of the rapidly deteriorating ozone layer. It seems the sun’s rays are stronger than ever and clocking in too many hours in the sun’s powerful rays not only gives us an unhealthy dose of radiation but is ultra damaging to our precious outer layer of skin in ways that is difficult to reverse. Yes, we have all partaken in the folly of spending that extra 20 minutes when we could feel the time to seek shade was long overdue. Or the time when on an island holiday we thought that a thin layer of white summery fabric would be a sufficient barrier between ourselves and the sun gods.
Perhaps it is wise to be somewhere in the middle: open to being a recipient of the sun’s happy and healthy vibes but knowing that there are common sense guidelines we should observe while doing it. Just as it is not in best our interest to fear the sun is also unadvisable to recklessly overdo our exposure. There is a way to sun and a way not to sun, how to best protect yourself and in the case where we have overdone it, taking specific steps to reverse the damage.
If there isn’t yet a consensus about the need to go in the sun there seems to be some sort of agreement on the simple fact that Vitamin D is good for us and we need more of it. The benefits are without question with some even arguing that it may be one of the simplest solutions to a wide range of chronic health problems plaguing the west. Of the 30,000 or so genes in the human body, Vitamin D is estimated to affect at least 3,000 of them. Auto-immune disease nagging at you? Vitamin D. Susceptible to the flu or infections? Vitamin D. Want to maintain bone and muscle health? Vitamin D. Some even claim that those that get regular doses of sunshine have better collagen and thicker skin compared to those who don’t. While taking it in pill form is good and fine and absolutely necessary in the bleak winter months, the ideal is always to make it through direct contact with the skin. In pill form, hormone D is fat soluble and in many ways inferior to that version made naturally with sun and skin. When our skin comes into contact with the sun (sans sunscreen) the D we make is water soluble and stays in circulation two to three times longer than pill form.
But when is the best time to catch some rays? The dominant narrative in the media used to be (and perhaps still is) that is not in our interest to venture out in the sun’s peak hours. While the summer sun is definitely strongest between the hours of 11 and 2 it is important to note that unless the sun is at the right angle relative to the horizon (above 50 degrees) then the possibility of producing vitamin D is very unlikely. The sun needs to be at a certain height in the sky in order for UVB rays to be present- those being the rays needed to make D. A late day or setting sun may still feel nice (due no doubt to healing infrared waves ) but will also expose you to the harmful UVA rays which may still result in a tan but also radically increases your risk of skin cancer and unwanted photo-aging. The solution: go out into the sun at peak times and get your dose of D but do so mindfully:
- watch the time closely (10-15 minutes is all that is needed on exposed skin)
- avoid tanning the delicate skin on your face (think large hat or sunscreen)
- avoid sunscreen on areas that you are exposing to the sun to produce Vitamin D, as this will block production
- avoid washing exposed areas with soap for 24 hours as this can eliminate some of the vitamin D
- go out gently at the beginning of the season in order to acclimatize your skin to the sun
- avoid ‘tanning’ through windows as this filters out most of the UVB while UVA rays are still present
- understand that through the months of September to March in the western hemisphere it is not possible to make Vitamin D, so supplementation with D3 (not D2) is essential
It was after 5 o’clock and I found myself on a lovely patio overlooking a golf course. The sun was slowly making its way to bed but as it was summer, she seemed to be taking her sweet time. I normally wouldn’t have minded but the way I was positioned at the table put me right in the path of the setting sun’s UVA rays. Not wanting to be impolite and play musical chairs with the person next to me, I reasoned that the sun was not at its peak and what was there to worry about. Had I thought about the situation a bit more carefully, I might not have been so dismissive. Having done a thorough exfoliation the night before, my skin was glow-y but just a little more vulnerable than usual. A few days later the damage was there for all to see: blotchy patches that left the skin on the right upper side of my forehead looking like something very, very wrong had occurred. Or there was the time I was gleefully snorkelling somewhere remote in beautiful aquamarine waters with the company of sea turtles. It was a very cloudy day ( with rain clouds visible) and I thought that the sun was surely not a risk. Before setting out I capriciously decided that the clothing I had set aside the night before as sun protection would not be necessary.
Most of us have had to endure the pain and possibly embarrassment of a day in the sun gone wrong. Not only is sun-damaged skin painfully difficult to treat and reverse, it can also potentially lead to other more serious health issues. A burn is something to be avoided at all costs, but when it does happen we should take some solace in the fact that our skin is always in repair mode and cells are constantly turning over. Having said that, there are some actionable steps that we can take to mitigate the damage. For nasty sunburns of the variety sustained on idyllic island getaways the go-to treatment is always some form of aloe vera (preferably directly from the leaf). The sticky and gooey gel is loaded with precious antioxidants and polyphenols and kept chilled in the fridge can provide immediate relief. Perhaps less known is the use of clays for sunburned skin. Due to the high mineral content of clays and its natural ability to draw out toxins, a liquid clay is a very useful weapon in our skincare arsenal in any situation. Not only does it immediately reduce the pain of a sunburn but its mineral content works to repair the skin and reduce redness. As long as you don’t mind temporarily looking like you’ve took a roll in a pile of chalk dust, clay is a clear sunburn superstar. Look for a liquid bentonite, green clay powder (just add water to make a paste) or even a silica rich pyrophyllite … but almost any variety will work. For lesser sun mishaps, there is the topical use of caffeine (in the form of a tea or coffee extract) that used over time is very effective at diminishing any visible signs of photo-aging.
It is also important to mention that a fantastically effective way to avoid sunburn in the first place is to not only dress for the occasion but also to consider the internal aspect. Besides the beauty of a large sun hat, long sleeves and a good naturally formulated zinc or titanium based sunscreen, there do exist some specific supplements that can assist with protecting you from sun damage and sunburn, from the inside. Supplementing with antioxidant rich krill oil (which is an important source of clean omegas that we love anyway) will provide you with the very critical carotenoid pigment astaxanthin. This gives krill its red-orange pigment, that being the magic that supports healthy vision and promotes brain and heart health just to name a few. Taken 30 minutes or an hour before sun exposure dramatically reduces incidence of sunburn and sun-damage in its many forms and since its antioxidant value is so strong (6,000 times higher than vitamin C) its ability to protect us from the sun is a little known Beauty Arcana.
As summer is ever so slowly coming to an end north of the equator things are just heating up down south. From sunny Australia comes Lepaar, a ‘wholistic luxury skincare’ line that checks all our green beauty boxes. Working with the principles of Rudolph Steiner in mind, Johanna and Christo of Lepaar very mindfully handcraft their compositions from start to finish, using the most potent botanicals grown on their property in the pristine Kangaroo valley. Herbs are hand-picked and then infused with sun to produce whole plant extracts that result in formulas that are not only super-charged but amazingly effective. Their newest addition to the line is Elemental Day Silk, a gorgeous anti-oxidant rich, olive oil based sunscreen that we absolutely love. With 12% uncoated, non-nano Zinc it provides the desired level of protection while it’s select use of nutrients such as raspberry seed oil (further SPF ), wheat germ oil (great for ceramides), ashwaghanda (super adaptogen), arnica (for skin repair) and even 24K gold (for collagen health and extra panache) make it a formulation that is hard to resist. Somewhere between a cream and a lotion, it goes on luxuriously and absorbs quickly. They also carry ultra chic garden accessories, in case you are interested. $120