Feeling the burn… Sunshine in Arizona

Our bodies are constantly exposed to environmental stressors — and the most important protective barrier is our skin. Ultraviolet radiation emitted from the sun is among the most damaging elements we are exposed to daily — especially living in Arizona. Photodamage, the general term referring to the toxicity associated with the cumulative effects of overexposure to UV radiation, is a broad and multifaceted issue. Beginning with biochemical changes and ultimately showing up as clinically visible manifestations from sunburn to photoaging to cancer, understanding of preventive and protective measures that we can all take to minimize photodamage plays an important part in our understanding of skin health.

The question then becomes how to prevent or reduce the likelihood of sunburn or permanent damage that can result from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (wrinkles, fine lines, leathery appearance, cancer, etc).

First and foremost we must address diet and nutrition. Because many of the negative effects associated with solar exposure involve oxidation reactions, anti-oxidants should form the major part of the strategy against phototoxicity. Foods containing high amounts of Vitamins C, E, A and selenium should be included in the diet as well as generous daily servings of phytonutrient rich, colored vegetables. Protein and amino acid intake must be adequate, as rebuilding structural proteins after overexposure to Uv radiation may be a consideration. Whey protein, which contains high amounts of glutamine and glutathione and supplemental NAC can help support biological free radical scavenging systems. Adequate intake of Omega 3 fats from fish and flax may also help reduce sunburn response.

Topically, antioxidants applied directly to the skin may be helpful. Vitamins C and E, Alpha Lipoic Acid and Ferulic Acid, when applied directly to the skin, have been shown to have photoprotective properties and topical Vitamins C and A may help improve the appearance of photodamaged skin. Retinoic acid, the most potent form of Vitamin A, has been recommended to replenish the skin’s inherent supply after Uv induced depletion. Sunscreens and sunblocks, which block both UvA or UvB, have well-known sun protection properties and should be used to prevent phototoxicity.

Hopefully, this article didn’t scare you too much. There is no need to wear long sleeve turtlenecks and pants all summer long to avoid Uv exposure – after all, our bodies benefit from the suns nutrients, specifically, vitamin D. The key take away should be something you’ve heard from me over and over – and here it is one more time……MODERATION. Like that glass of red wine we all enjoy or that slice of pepperoni pizza we can’t live without, our sun exposure should be taken in moderation. Living in the Valley of the Sun we may be more prone to the adverse effects of the sun than most other regions of the US; however, with proper planning, we will all be able to enjoy the outdoors and endure another long, hot summer.