By Svetlana Kogan, M.D.
One of the challenges of living in a beach town is dealing with the UV light skin damage. As they age, many people find themselves “paying the price” for all those days spent in the sun without proper protection. Thousands of dollars are subsequently spent on cancerous lesion excisions, lasers, and skin resurfacing. All of this can be avoided if we remember the basic tenets of safe sunbathing. If you like going to the beach or playing tennis or golf or pickle ball – do it early in the morning and return back indoors at 11 am at the latest. Midday sun is very harmful in its carcinogenic UV content and if you want to return to the outdoors safely – do it after 5 pm.
Make sure you consult with your doctor about any of your prescription medications being potentially compromising to your skin in the sun. Believe it or not, but many prescription and over the counter drugs can lead to photo toxicity. What happens in photo toxicity is that sun’s UV rays interact with a drug’s chemistry to produce a skin reaction that looks and feels like sunburn. In that case, you can either ask the doctor to change you to a different medication, or simply avoid the dangerous midday sun, while applying SPF 70 or above when going outdoors in the morning or in the early evening.
Even if you are not taking any photosensitizing medication, there are some wonderful natural remedies that can help boost your resilience to sun’s cancer-causing effects. One of them is vitamin C. This powerful nutrient helps skin bounce back from sun exposure by accelerating repair and neutralizing UV-activated free radicals. You can either take vitamin C in a pill form 500 mg twice a day, or choose to eat fruits or vegetables naturally high in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits and bell peppers. Consult with your doctor about whether vitamin C is safe for you to take. It is not safe to take with some health conditions, such as certain kinds of kidney stones or high iron conditions such as hemochromatosis, and some others.
Another natural gift from Mother Nature is tomatoes. Tomatoes contain lycopene, an antioxidant which is proven to neutralize reactive oxygen species, commonly called free radicals – that cause skin cell damage following sun exposure. Cooking tomatoes actually helps to make this healing lycopene more bioavailable, so grilled tomatoes and tomato-based soups and sauces are your best bet. In fact, volunteers in one study who consumed 5 tablespoons of tomato paste daily, increased their skin sunburn resistance by 33%. Once again, tomatoes are not something everyone should be eating. If you are suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), gastritis, or rosacea – stay away from tomatoes.
Interestingly, while some foods possess skin-healing properties, others can be quite damaging. Consider lime, celery, and parsley for example. All of these wonderful veggies contain psoralens. When our hands’ skin comes in touch with these veggies, the psoralens in them can induce phyto-photo-dermatitis – a sunlight-fueled reaction marked by hyperpigmentation. I recommend washing your hands thoroughly after prepping dishes which contain these trigger foods and not eating them in direct sunlight.
Photo sensitivity and photo allergy can also arise from using some skin creams, especially if they contain salicylates, cinnamates, benzophenone, and 6-methylcoumarin. When UV rays strike these chemicals on your skin, certain metabolites form in the skin itself. In some women, the immune system can respond by producing itchy redness, typically a few hours after sun exposure. So even if you develop a rash at night, try to avoid the ingredients above.
If you already happened to develop itchy redness on the sun-exposed skin, try using natural products which can help quell the inflammation. The most well-known remedy of course is Aloe Vera – it is widely available over the counter and in the drugstores in a lotion or gel form. Another good one is iced green tea. When taken internally, its polyphenols boost skin cell DNA’s resistance to sun-induced mutations that set the stage for cancer. Additionally, iced green tea will also work beautifully as a topical soother. When applied as a cool compress, the polyphenols have an anti-inflammatory action that calms redness and stinging. Lastly, I find calendula ice cubes very helpful for this. Just brew a cup of calendula tea, cool and strain it. Pour it into the ice cube tray and freeze. Use a cube topically as needed to rescue skin from sun rash, sun allergy, and other photosensitive rashes.
And it’s not only the sun rays themselves that can pose a threat to our skin in the summer. Skin infections caused by the drug-resistant strain of staphylococcus known as MRSA are 30 % more common in the summer, partly because the exposed skin is more prone to cuts. If you have stepped on a shell, and the wound is superficial, clean it with sterile water and hydrogen peroxide and then smear a thin layer of dark raw honey on the affected area. Traditionally dark unprocessed honey has anti-bacterial properties which can help ward off infections in uncomplicated cuts. Now that you know so much more about your skin’s risks and remedies – have a safe and healthy summer!
Svetlana Kogan, M.D. is a Board Certified Medical Doctor with 20 years of experience. She has appeared as a health expert on FOX, ABC, CBS, and NBC prime time TV, and has authored hundreds of publications for internet and print. She moved her Concierge Internal Medicine practice from Manhattan NYC to Naples, where her focus is on fusing traditional medicine with holistic approach to illness and prevention.
720 Fifth Ave S, Unit 209
Naples , FL 34102
Phone: (239) 676-6883