Protecting ourselves from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays

For something as natural as the day is long, sunlight seems to get some pretty bad press. This time of year is usually accompanied by a rash of articles and news stories warning us of the perils of the sun’s rays, and experts are quick to draw out attention to the dangers of sunburn and it’s link with skin cancer. Yet, for all this advice to stay out of the sun, it appears we are reluctant to take heed: there seems to be no shortage of people keen to dose up with solar energy, and a recent poll found that three-quarters of us prefer the bronzed look over a more pallid appearance any day.

For those of us who are die-hard tan-seekers, it makes sense to do what we can to protect ourselves from the ravages of the sun. While slathering ourselves with sunscreen and seeking solace in the shade when the sun is at its hottest are sensible tactics here, they are but half the story. Odd though it may seem, science suggests that our ability to tan safely is, to a degree, dependent on what we put into our mouths every day. There is good evidence that upping our intake of specific nutrients can help us in our quest to acquire a healthy golden tan.

The undesirable effects of sunlight on the skin are believed to be triggered by the production of damaging, destructive biochemical entities known as free radicals. The fires that free radicals start in the body are quenched by substances known as antioxidants, many of which are available in the food we eat. Stoking up on antioxidants has the potential to reduce the risk of sunburn, and is believed to help combat longer-term problems such as ageing changes and skin cancer too.

One antioxidant that is believed to play a particular role in skin protection is beta-carotene. Carrots, spinach, apricots, cantaloupe melons and mangoes are all rich in beta-carotene and make good summer fare for this reason. However, additional supplementation with beta-carotene may prove a convenient and economical way of getting maximum protection from this nutrient. My advice would be to take 30 mg each day for the duration of the summer. Other antioxidant nutrients worth dosing up on include vitamins C and E. In one study, 2000 g of vitamin C and 1000 IU of vitamin E taken each day appeared to protect the skin from sunburn.

Other nutrients can help the skin by assisting in the production of melanin – the pigment that darkens the skin during tanning and acts as a natural sunscreen. Melanin is made from an amino acid known as L-tyrosine, and taking 1000 – 1500 mg of this each day as a supplement can therefore help the body tan quite naturally. The conversion of L-tyrosine into melanin is helped by certain nutrients, notably vitamin C, vitamin B6 and copper. In my experience, taking 2000 mg of vitamin C, 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 4 mg of copper each day does seem to speed tanning whilst at the same time reducing the risk of sunburn too.

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