Natural Grocers recently conducted a survey of its Nutritional Health Coaches* to find out what they do to protect their skin from sun damage during the summer months. With over 100 responses from nutritionists across the country, the results revealed three of the most recommended nutrients as well as strategies for using mineral sunscreens without wearing the chalky “ghost-look” to the beach.
ere are the top three nutrients recommended by nutrition professionals to protect your skin from the inside-out this summer.
74% recommended carotenoids such as astaxanthin, lutein, and beta-carotene
41% recommended OPCs from pine bark and grape seed extract
38% recommended the omega-3 fatty acids EPA & DHA
*Respondents were allowed to select more than one nutrient, so the results will not add up to 100%.
How do These Nutrients Support Skin Health?
We all know that putting on sunscreen when going out in the sun is important. However, you may be surprised to learn that the nutrients in your skin, or the lack thereof, can determine how well or poorly your skin responds to sun exposure. The right nutrients at optimal levels can protect the skin, support the healing process and are necessary to maintain moisture and elasticity. Carotenoids, especially astaxanthin lycopene and lutein, support skin health when it is exposed to the sun by actually absorbing some of the sun’s harmful rays (UV radiation and blue light) which minimizes the damage these harmful rays can inflict on the skin.
Oligomeric proanthocyanidin complexes (OPCs) are protective compounds that shield the skin from the oxidative damage caused by the sun’s rays—by destroying free radicals that are created when skin is exposed to sunlight. Sun exposure can result in long term changes to the skin’s collagen, known as photoaging, in which the skin develops wrinkles. This is due to changes in the structure and elasticity of the collagen found in a deep layer of skin called the dermis. OPCs protect and strengthen collagen, making it less susceptible to photoaging.
The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, found in fish oil promote a healthy inflammatory response to sunlight. In fact, research has shown that EPA and DHA supplements can provide sunburn relief. Excessive exposure to the sun can cause the skin to lose moisture as well as essential oils, leaving it dry, flaky and prematurely wrinkled, even in younger people. In addition to their inflammation modulating functions, EPA and DHA help the skin retain moisture, promoting smooth healthy looking skin.
Together, these three families of nutrients work in synergy to provide internal sun defense and support healthy, smooth skin. Furthermore these compounds do not seem to block the skin’s ability to make vitamin D upon exposure to sunlight, but still provide sun defense.i
The #1 Recommended Nutrient for Skin Health — Astaxanthin
Out of all the nutrients listed, astaxanthin was the number one recommended nutrient in our survey of nutrition professionals, with 53% of survey responders recommending this pink-colored carotenoid. Astaxanthin has been extensively studied for its ability to be deposited in the skin and absorb the sun’s harmful rays. These studies have found that supplementation for as little as 2 weeks increases the amount of time a person can spend in the sun without getting burned, though most studies use the supplements for about 8 weeks.ii iii
Mineral Sunscreens Without the “Ghost-Look”
If you’re going to be out in the sun for extended periods of time it is still important to use sunscreen. Because chemical-based sunscreens can damage human health and also are very problematic for sensitive coral reefs, there has been a significant increase in demand for reef-friendly mineral-based natural sunscreens that provide a physical barrier (rather than a chemical barrier) against the sun.iv
The downside to these mineral based sunscreens? Some of them may leave you looking a little chalky because they tend to stay on top layers of the skin. The same nutrition experts who answered our survey also gave tips on how to minimize the chalky appearance left by these sunscreens. Top tips included: using a moisturizing lotion or even using olive oil or coconut oil to help the sunscreen rub in better and also patting the sunscreen spreading it around. Many people responded that they had personal favorite brands that don’t leave an excessive chalky appearance and they are loyal to those products as well.
The skin is the largest organ in the human body and its special ability to take up and concentrate skin-protective nutrients is nothing short of amazing. This simple fact emphasizes how important consuming these compounds is for skin health. So with the longest day of the year approaching, don’t be afraid to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, just make sure you’ve been consuming plenty of carotenoids, OPCs, and fish oil and you’re equipped with a safe and environmentally friendly sunscreen.
*Natural Grocers’ Nutritional Health Coaches are highly trained nutrition specialists who support customers by offering complimentary services such as science-based nutrition classes, cooking demonstrations and one-on-one health coaching sessions.
Written by Jonathan Clinthorne, Ph.D. Manager of Scientific Affairs & Nutrition Education
Jonathan F. Clinthorne, PhD., is an ultra-endurance athlete trained in immunology and expert in human nutrition. Clinthorne has served on numerous medical advisory boards and has authored a number of research papers covering topics such as probiotics, immune function, inflammation and human nutrition.
Jonathan’s mission is to help make free science-backed nutrition education available to everyone and reduce our dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. Jonathan has been seen on Fox TV, Forbes, Ultra Running Magazine, Runner’s World and Organic Authority.