Prevention is so much better than cure, says Fiann Ó Nualláin, who offers gardeners timely advice on guarding face and body against those potentially damaging ultra-violet rays this season and beyond.
While we are all aware of the need put on some good sunblock and stay hydrated over summer months what else can we do to keep our skin in top condition and avoid UV damage. As gardeners we are out in it more than most and I know for myself, give it five minutes and I have either inadvertently wiped half the sunblock off or have sweated all of it off.
Sunburn is sunburn and we know how it happens and that is has happened but there’s more going on with UV in the sun’s rays than cooking your skin — there is also the slower and long-term damage of age spots, pigmentation blemishes and stronger wrinkles or more weathered skin.
Prevention is better than cure, so on sunny days try avoid sun exposure between 10am to 2pm. When you are out in it wear suitable protective clothing including long sleeves, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats and regularly and repeatedly apply a sunblock with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to any exposed skin.
There isn’t a sunblock that you can whip up from herbs and some kitchen items so you will have to purchase a commercial product. Thankfully in recent years there are many new formulations that help you avoid parabens and other chemical nasties and still provide super protection.
Because I am so dreadful at keeping even a thin smear of sunblock on, I need to think about boosting my body’s own defence mechanisms against the sun — and that’s all down to increasing melanin, the skin’s own SPF. Melanin is a darkening pigment in our skin that helps us to tan and not burn. It is naturally increased incrementally as we get more sun exposure over summer but there are foods that boost our skin’s own natural melanin production and so helpful for summer lunches to help get a head start on the process.
Red foods such as strawberries, watermelon and tomatoes are particularly good. They contain the plant pigment lycopene which not only raises melanin and protects from UV damage but can inhibit cancer formation.
Orange foods such as carrot, mango and sweet potato contain beta carotene which can also boost melanin and UV protection.
I wouldn’t leave it there, that’s just a quick booster. For sustained melanin production we need vitamin C, copper and the amino acid tyrosine. I often think that’s why there’s plenty of vitamin C in what we grow and eat at this time of the year and plenty of those pigments are not just seasonally available but seasonally abundant.
Leafy greens are good copper-rich foods and so are nuts and seeds — the non-vegan go-tos would be fish, chicken, turkey, cheese and milk. Tyrosine is found in almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and lima beans as well as avocados and bananas.
Beyond melanin production there are other supports from the pantry — so, for instance, black tea and pomegranates share some powerful polyphenol compounds that strengthen the skin‘s ability to resist harmful UV rays. While barley, rye and oats contain tocotrienols that can alter how we absorb sunlight, filtering the penetration of UV. So a good breakfast can set you up in more ways than one.
I favour some cosmeceutical skin masks. The oldest skin treatments have been succulent plants pulped to pastes — from sempervivens to aloe vera, depending on your location and what grows by you. Healing skin masks not only remedy sunburn and UV damage but are naturally restorative and anti-aging in their own right.
Before I look at some food-based masks I should pay a little homage to that oldest remedy and take a look at aloe. I wrote about it in detail a few weeks back, but for this article I’d like to remind of its potential as a peel-heal gel.
The sap of a leaf mixed with a tablespoon or two of vinegar can slow or prevent peeling after sun burn and also speed skins natural recovery from UV over the years.
Blitz in a blender to make a paste that will store in the fridge for three days at a time. Apply often to cool and remedy.