Summer is here and across the US, we have seen some beautiful, sunny days. Unfortunately, however, with all that beautiful sunlight comes the risk of sunburn.
Don’t Worry, Your Skin is Just on Fire
Sunburns are an unfortunate, but completely natural reaction to UV exposure. Your skin will start showing the first signs of sunburn in as little as 11 minutes and one of the trickiest things about sunburns is the fact that how hot the sun feels on your skin is not a sign of how much UV radiation is currently being put out by the sun.
And while we joke that your skin feels like it is on fire, what is actually happening is more insidious. Your skin cells are being inflamed and mutated by the UV radiation being put out by the sun. Some of these UV irradiated cells will die and your body will heal and replace those cells, but others will remain mutated and left behind, simply because your body’s healing process is not perfect. You won’t be able to see these mutated cells after the top layer of your skin has healed, but these mutated cells will remain for years to come and repeated damage by the sun will increase your risk of skin cancer when you are older. Cancers after all, are the result of repeated damage to the DNA in your cells, and that doesn’t even take into account how the sun speeds up the skin’s aging process and will cause your skin to wrinkle prematurely.
So the good news is, while your skin cells are not actually on fire, sunburns will mutate your DNA in some very undesirable ways.
Prevention is Best for UV
Don’t worry too much though. Sunburns are a natural, and actually desired effect, your body goes through, and it is only concerning if you allow it to happen repeatedly over the years. Going back to the fire analogy, your body has a natural pain response to touching fire that prevents further damage, and sunburns are desirable as a natural response because they remind you not to allow your body to become damaged further in the future.
Prevention is key to protecting yourself from sunburns, which means using:
- Broad-spectrum sunscreen with a SPF rating of 50 (more that that is not necessarily better)
- UPF rated clothing and sun-protection
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours
- Use a weather app that tells you when UV is at its highest and take a break in the shade
Inflammation and Your Body
If you are reading this article however, chances are you are already burned and the tips about prevention will only help for your next trip to the beach.
For now, applying aloe vera, either directly from the plant or in the form of a lotion, is a cheap and easy way to cool the fiery sensation and moisturize the top layer of your skin.
Sunburns are a form of inflammation however, and topical treatments can only go so far. Another thing to keep in mind is that cells can repair themselves when equipped with the right tools. Skin cells need zinc and vitamin C to replicate and form collagen. Skin cells also need blood flow to bring them nourishment, so keeping well hydrated and eating foods that promote blood flow is helpful as well. Some natural foods which promote good blood flow include red grapes with resveratrol, green leafy vegetables rich in potassium and magnesium, and it is especially important to avoid eating foods that do the opposite. Foods which are high in sugar and fat have been found to cause inflammation and decrease blood flow because they narrow your blood vessels. In addition, eating foods rich in a diversity of antioxidants - most easily recognized by their variety of colors in nature - such as green tea, berries, pineapple, apples, pomegranates, etc. will work together synergistically supporting you with their anti-inflammatory properties which help optimize your recovery.
A sunburn can come in different degrees of severity, with milder cases causing redness whereas severe cases can cause blistering. With blistering, it is often better to err on the safeside and see a doctor for help. If you do decide to treat the sunburn yourself, what is important to understand is all forms of sunburn are still essentially different shades of inflammation. There are many immune cells that are responsible for inflammation and they all play a unique role in your body’s defensive response to injuries. There are thousands of phytonutrients found in plants, like bromelain from pineapples and quercetin from apples that can “talk” to our immune system to help reduce inflammation without suppressing the immune system's power to heal. Remember, inflammation is required for healing to occur and it's important not to use an immunosuppressant like steroids to address the issue. It may make the redness go away, but it will also prevent the body from healing and recovering from the toxic effects of being sunburned.
How to Treat Sunburns Naturally
Sometimes people take over the counter pain meds to address the pain from sunburns, but that could lead to unwanted side effects affecting your gastrointestinal system, liver and/or kidneys. However, using these anti-inflammatories is the right idea as reducing inflammation is key in treating this inflammatory condition.
Reducing inflammation is key and using the right tools is critical for both short term and long term health benefits. If cost is not an issue, topical resveratrol shows promise as a way to directly apply and benefit from antioxidants on your skin. Additionally, many micronutrients found in green tea, red grapes, oats, lettuce, aloe vera and cabbage can also be used to treat sunburns by reducing the inflammation and pain from the burn. However, how practical is it to apply these micronutrients to your skin when you have large patches of sunburn all over your body? Nourishing your body and letting your blood deliver these phytonutrients via your vascular system to every nook and cranny of your body - as well as the underlying cells underneath your top layer of skin, which topical treatments cannot do - is so much more effective and practical than spending tons of money on topical therapies that will ultimately only have limited effects on the layer of skin that you can reach.
Knowing this about your epidermis, if you would like to proactively arm your body to address inflammation from the inside out, the regular consumption of micronutrients have been shown to reduce DNA damage to all layers of your skin, so drinking green tea regularly may be one way to cost effectively help optimize your defenses for the next time you are out in the sun.
And as much as we like micronutrients, our doctors advocate for their consumption in whole food form first and foremost. The reason being: sometimes when you are super-concentrating plants, unwanted side effects may occur. Take the example with resveratrol above. It's a great antioxidant with a variety of cardiovascular, DNA protective and neuroprotective effects when consumed, but at the same time, it can have the opposite pro-inflammatory effect when concentrated as a pharmaceutical. As another example, in our product, some of our ingredients have been sourced in whole food form and our doctors even prefer if you consume them as whole foods instead.
However, going back to the benefits of resveratrol, eating peanuts, pistachios, grapes, blueberries and cranberries will give you some of the benefits of resveratrol, while also giving your body access to many other important micronutrients all while avoiding the drawbacks of taking it in a too concentrated form.
Stay Safe Under the Sun
Ultimately, it’s best to avoid repeated and excessive sunburns as much as possible. The more your skin becomes damaged, the more you are likely to have adverse and long-term consequences later in life. That’s why proactively taking precautions to avoid the burn, and consuming micronutrients to mitigate the times you do get sunburned will help to reduce your exposure to those future consequences.