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Skip the Sunburn this Season
Fun in the Summer Sun

Sunburn Protection
Depending on the strength of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and your skin’s degree of pigmentation, sunburn to unprotected skin can occur with as little as a few minutes or as long as several hours of exposure. Unlike other types of burn, sunburn is not fully apparent until hours after exposure.

Everyone should enjoy some sunshine but too much sun can spoil the fun—and cause permanent damage to your skin. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may help you shield yourself*:

  • Block harsh rays: Prevent sunburn by wearing protective clothing, by frequently applying sun block with a high sun protection factor (SPF), and by staying in the shade when the rays are strongest.
  • Apply topical antioxidants: Try formulas containing 2% vitamin E, 5% vitamin C, 0.02% to 0.05% selenomethionine, 1% to 2.5% melatonin, and/or 10% green tea polyphenols to boost the protection from traditional sunscreens.
  • Add tomatoes to your meals: Gain the protective benefits of the antioxidant lycopene by consuming tomato-based foods and drinks.
  • Supplement with antioxidants: Fortify your body in the short term with antioxidants that defend against harmful ultraviolet rays; take a daily supplement containing 2,000 to 3,000 mg of vitamin C, 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin E, 6 mg of natural beta-carotene, and 6 mg of lycopene during periods of high sun exposure.

Frequent sunburn contributes to wrinkling and aging of the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer. Severe sunburn should be evaluated and treated by a doctor.

Reddening of the skin is the hallmark of sunburn, and the skin may become swollen as well. Pain in the area develops over several hours and may persist for days. Blistering and fever can occur with severe sunburn. After a few days, sunburned skin will peel. Staying out of the sun when it is strongest, wearing protective clothing, and frequently applying sun block with a high SPF are all recommended for avoiding sunburn. People suffering from sunburn should avoid further exposure until symptoms improve. Cold water compresses made from gauze or thin cloth may soothe inflamed tissue and ease the pain.

It should be noted that while protection from sunburn has been demonstrated with several types of orally administered antioxidants, the degree of protection (typically less than an SPF of 2) is much less than that provided by currently available topical sunscreens. On the other hand, these modest effects will provide some added protection to skin areas where sunscreen is also used and will give a small amount of protection to sun-exposed areas where sunscreen is not applied. However, oral protection from sunburn is not instantaneous; maximum effects are not reached until these antioxidants have been used for about eight to ten weeks.

Herbs that may help
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and animal and preliminary human studies have suggested that these polyphenols, when given orally or used topically, can protect skin against ultraviolet rays. In a small, controlled human study, topical application of green tea extracts containing from 2.5% to 10% polyphenols significantly reduced the amount of burning from exposure to ultraviolet rays, with the 10% solution exerting the greater protective effect.

Extracts of Polypodium leucotomos (PL), a fern native to Central and South America, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Several preliminary human studies have reported that a 50:1 PL extract in amounts of either 7.5 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight or 1,080 mg given orally on the evening before and on the day of testing reduces the burning effect of ultraviolet rays. Placebo-controlled research is needed to verify these protective effects.

Topical aloe (Aloe vera) is often recommended for soothing burns, but only one preliminary human study involving sunburn has been published, and applying aloe gel after ultraviolet exposure had no effect on reddening of the skin. It has not been investigated whether applying aloe gel before ultraviolet exposure might be more effective.

*These recommendations are not comprehensive and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or pharmacist.

Safe Exercise in the Sun
Take advantage of the sun’s rays, but exercise a few precautions and you’ll have an energizing rather than exhausting summer fitness routine.

  • Timing is everything: Plan your outdoor workouts for early morning or late afternoon. The sun is at its hottest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., putting you at risk for dehydration, sunburn, and heat-related conditions. If the temperature climbs to 90°F (32°C) or higher, substitute your planned strenuous activity with a more moderate one. Be strategic when choosing your running, walking, and biking routes; look for shaded bike paths, parks, and trails.
  • Use good fashion sense: Start your day by slathering on sunscreen labeled SPF 15 or higher. Sports sunscreens provide additional water- and sweat-proof protection—especially important for swimmers, kayakers, and other water-bound sports enthusiasts. Dress in light-colored clothing to deflect the sun’s rays. A tightly woven shirt will keep out vexing UV rays and should cover your back, shoulders, and neck. Make sure your clothing is loose fitting so sweat has a chance to evaporate, keeping you cool and comfortable. Don’t forget your helmet, hat, or bandana. Top off your outfit with UV-protection sunglasses.
  • Drink up! Sun mixed with humidity can be a dangerous combination if you add strenuous exercise. Normally a hot body cools itself by sweating. When humidity levels rise, sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly and your body temperature can spike dangerously. This can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and, worst-case scenario, heatstroke. Staying hydrated is your best defense. 

    Adults of average weight should drink 12 cups (2.84 liters) of water a day. People of above-average weight should drink additional liquids. Physically active school-age kids should drink 6 to 8 cups (1.42 to 1.9 liters) a day. People sweating a lot during prolonged exercise may need to drink electrolyte-containing sports drinks in order to replace depleted sodium and other minerals, which can cause cramps and other problems.

During your workout, if you feel weak, dizzy, or nauseated—stop! Get out of the sun and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Seek out a shady tree and a tall glass of iced lemonade, and put off your workout for another day. This is one situation where procrastination is a good thing.

Parents: Tips for Kids’ Sun Care
It’s people’s sun exposure in their early years that determines their skin cancer risk later in life, so become a “sun savvy” parent by learning about sun protection and teaching good sun care habits to your children. Young skin is delicate and easily burned so all children, no matter whether they tan easily or not, should be protected from overexposure to sunlight. Experts agree that 80% of sun damage to skin occurs before age 18.

  • Keep sunlight exposure to a minimum for babies under 12 months old.
  • Limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when rays are most intense.
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, which blocks 93% of harmful UVB (short wave ultraviolet B rays); reapply every two hours and after swimming to maintain protection.
  • Look for “broad spectrum” sunscreens with avobenzone, a chemical doctors consider highly effective in absorbing both long and short wave ultraviolet radiation.
  • Dress children in hats and tightly woven, loose clothing with long sleeves when they play outside.
  • Put long-sleeved T-shirts over bathing suits, or buy bathing suits with built-in sunscreen; change into dry clothes after swimming since wet clothing loses half its UV protection.
  • Choose wrap-around sunglasses for kids that filter out UV rays; these don’t need to be expensive, but don’t use toy sunglasses—be sure they have a filter.
  • Remember the shadow rule: If your shadow is longer than you are tall, you probably can’t burn in the sun; if it’s shorter than you are, you can.
Take simple steps to establish a daily sun protection routine
Start with easy, everyday steps to teach kids the importance of sun protection and make them as routine as brushing teeth. "We make it part of our ‘getting-ready game," says Rebecca Staffel of Seattle, Washington, mother of eight-year-old Meg. “She now puts on sunscreen all by herself in the morning.”
  • Apply sunscreen first thing in the morning when getting dressed, or 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, so it can dry and set.
  • Apply sunscreen to all parts of the body, including ears, eyelids, shoulders, and tops of feet. Try a spray sunscreen to make application extra easy and fast.
  • Pack sunscreen and lip balm sunscreen in your child’s backpack for reapplying during the day.

Also keep in mind that eating an antioxidant-rich diet offers some natural sun protection for the eyes. A recent study associated high lifetime sunlight exposure with age-related macular degeneration in people who do not get adequate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, and zeaxanthin, and found that people who do get enough of these antioxidants were protected.


Copyright © 2009 Aisle7. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of the Aisle7 content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Aisle7. Healthnotes Newsletter is for educational or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or provide treatment for any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health, you should always consult with a healthcare professional. Aisle7 shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. AISLE7 is a registered trademark of Aisle7. 

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