I hope you’re having a wonderful Labor Day. School might be getting started, and summer might be coming to an end. But that doesn’t mean the sun is going away. Sure, the days are getting shorter. However, even in the winter, your face, neck, and hands are all susceptible to burning.
What if there was a way to protect your skin from the damaging effects of excessive sunlight exposure without sunscreen? And I’m not talking about wearing a hat. Well there is such protection. But to make it effective, you have to understand something about the sun.
You probably already know that too much sunlight exposure is bad. It causes unsightly, scaly lesions called actinic keratoses. It also causes basal cell and squamous cell cancers. And, of course, it causes wrinkles, pigments, and old looking skin.
If you want to look older than you are, one of the best ways is to regularly overdose your face on sunlight. Most of us don’t want to do that, and so we get in the habit of slapping on the sunscreen every time we go outside. But here’s what you need to know about the sun:
Sunlight Is Not an Equal Opportunity Employer
You may have heard that certain areas of the body are more susceptible to damage from the sun’s rays. The areas to be particularly concerned about are the areas where the skin is the thinnest. These are the areas that are the most vulnerable to getting too much sun. I’m talking about the skin on the face and head, the neck, and the tops of the hands. You should pay special attention to protecting these areas from over exposure. For these areas, I do recommend sunscreen. But the other areas of the body are not nearly so at risk.
In addition to this, certain skin types can easily overdose on sunlight. So you need to know what skin type you are. There are several numeric systems that characterize skin types. Some, because they are used for research purposes, are very detailed and somewhat complicated. But the one I use is practical and simple. I use the following four-type designation system:
Type-1 skin is the type of skin that is the most vulnerable to excessive sunlight exposure. The good thing about having type-1 skin is that you can get the benefits of sunlight with only minimal exposure. The bad news is that it’s all too easy to get too much exposure. Type-1 skin is very light and often freckled. Type-1 skin burns very easily, and won’t tan. People with type-1 skin usually have red or blonde hair and blue or green eyes. I have type-1 skin.
Type-2 skin is similar to type one. The main difference is that type-2 skin can sometimes tan if you take care not to overdo it.
Type-3 skin is intermediate light. It can burn with too much exposure, but the burn often turns to a tan. People with type-3 skin usually have brown hair and brown eyes.
Type-4 skin is the one everyone wants. It’s that beautiful olive-colored skin that rarely burns no matter how long you expose it to the sun. And it always tans. People with type-4 skin can get very dark with continued exposure. They often have black or brown hair, and almost always have brown eyes.
Greater than type-4? There are some skin typing systems that go beyond type-4. These include dark-brown skin to deeply black skin. People with these darker skins won’t get burned except in exceptional circumstances. In general, they don’t need to be concerned about excessive sun exposure. Their skin handles the sun much better than the lighter skins.
If you have type-1 skin like me, you need to be very careful about getting too much sun exposure, especially on your face, head, neck, and the tops of your hands. If you cannot cover these areas, be sure to use protection when you’re going to be in the sun for more than 10-15 minutes. This is true no matter how acclimated your skin already may be to the sun.
If you have type-2 skin, the same precautions apply if you will have these areas exposed for more than 30 minutes. People with type-1 and type-2 skin need to pay particular attention to the information in the next section of this article.
Type-3’s have skin that will tan, and will become less vulnerable to the sun through the tanning process. They should avoid any exposure to the sun that will result in a burn. As their skin becomes more tanned, they will find that it can tolerate longer exposure times. But type-3’s need to continue to be careful about getting too much exposure on the vulnerable areas. Even if you don’t burn these areas, they can still be subject to wrinkles and other aging effects.
People with type-4 skin and higher are the lucky ones. They usually do not need to be concerned about sunlight exposure. Even better: In general, they have skin that ages very little, especially if they follow the suggestions below.
Why Does the Sun Damage Your Skin?
What causes the damaging effects of excessive sunlight exposure? Researchers agree that it has to do with collagen. Collagen is the protein that forms the structural substance of your body. It’s what holds your skin, muscles, bones, organs, and tissues together. Young people have an abundance of freshly formed collagen. That’s why their bones are so strong, and their skin looks so good.
As you get older, the collagen in your body starts to break down. This is what causes the wrinkles and sagging muscles. Of course, the body constantly synthesizes new collagen to replace the damaged stuff. But this replenishment occurs to a lesser extent as you get older.
In order for your body to make collagen, you must have the enzyme collagenase. But the formation of collagenase has to be very tightly balanced by the body. The body has to make enough of it to be able to make all the collagen it requires. But, on the other hand, too much collagenase will start breaking down the collagen we need. And that’s where excessive sunlight comes in.
Excessive sunlight exposure increases collagenase production through the formation of free radical molecules. Researchers from the University of Michigan published a study in the 2003 issue of the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.
They wanted to know if it would be possible to decrease the formation of collagenase by neutralizing sunlight-induced free radicals with antioxidant nutrients. Here’s what they did. First, they exposed skin to excessive amounts of ultraviolet radiation, the same type of radiation that’s in sunlight. They noticed that the result was an excessive formation of free radicals. Then they did the experiment again, only this time they pretreated the skin with antioxidants. In this case, they used genestien and n-acetyl cysteine. What they found was really remarkable.
Exciting Results Offer You Tremendous Protection
First of all, the pretreatment with the antioxidants did not prevent the skin from burning. It burned just as much as it did when they did not use the antioxidants. But what the pretreatment did do was to completely block the formation of collagenase. Even though the skin burned, there was no decrease in collagen content. The researchers concluded, “These data indicate that compounds similar to genistein and n-acetyl cysteine, which possess antioxidant activities, may prevent photoaging.” This even in the face of excessive sunlight exposure! But there’s still more to the collagenase story.
In 1994, researchers in the Department of Medicine at Dartmouth University found a similar effect from vitamin A metabolites. When these researchers exposed cells to vitamin A, they found that it inhibited collagenase synthesis. Add this to the fact that vitamin A stimulates collagen synthesis and you have one vitamin that simultaneously increases collagen formation while decreasing collagen destruction.
So What Is a Good Game Plan for the Rest of This Summer?
Here’s what I recommend for starters. First, know your skin type. If you’re a type-1 or a type-2, be extra diligent about protecting your skin. Make sure that it doesn’t get burned. If you are a type-3 or a type-4, you will be able to get away with a greater level of exposure. But you still need to make sure to avoid sunburn.
Type-1 and type-2s should take 25,000 units of vitamin A per day (note that if you’re pregnant or might become pregnant, don’t take doses higher than 5,000 units).
I also recommend you take 100 mg of n-acetyl cysteine or (NAC). You can find good quality products on the Internet and in most health food stores. (It’s also the dose you’ll find in QuickStart.)
Next week, I’ll show you an even more powerful antioxidant that protects your skin even better. And I’ll show you the absolute best sunscreen you can use for extra protection — and safety. Don’t miss it.