Updated: Jan 28
Bathing in direct sunlight is a primal instinct intended to keep us healthy via increased activity levels, spending more time outdoors and vitamin D absorption, however, differing skin types, diets & lifestyle factors alter the effect the sun has on our skin. With so many people getting carried away when in the sun without consciously covering up or applying sunscreen at the right times, effective treatments for sun-damaged skin need to be well-known.
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There are numerous preventative treatments which enable us to withstand regular, direct sunlight when UV is high, but many still get burnt. This article explores the various options that are available to reduce the appearance of ageing and generally recover well from sunburn.
Our skin is the first barrier to the sun so having a good skincare regime combined with a diet rich in nutritious foods and low in grains and processed foods may result in the skin developing more resistance to any damage from the sun's powerful rays (1).
What causes sunburn?
The 4.6 billion year old ball of fire at the centre of our little solar system emits radiation in all directions, 99% of which is in the form of visible and non-visible light. Of particular interest to this article is the ultraviolet portion of sunlight which is categorised, according to its wavelength, as UVA, UVB and UVC. The majority of ultraviolet light which reaches the earth's surface is UVA light - about 95% - with the majority of UVC light being absorbed by the ozone layer.
UVA light is not as powerful as UVB light, however it is 35 to 50 times more prevalent. UVA light penetrates deeper than UVB light and is associated with the development and initiation of skin cancers. UVB light is the main cause of skin reddening and sunburn, and also plays a role in skin cancers. It is important, therefore, to protect against damage from both types of UV light through preventative measures and proper recovery (2).
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Below is a list of foods, supplements and products which have been proven to relieve sunburn.
Astaxanthin, a powerful carotenoid and antioxidant, can slow skin ageing by retaining skin moisture (3). It can also improve facial skin elasticity in as little as 12 weeks when combined with a collagen peptide supplement (4).
Astaxanthin can be found naturally in wild sockeye salmon, where the dosage is over 4 times higher than that in: farmed Atlantic salmon; European and Japanese market large trout; shrimp, crab, algae, krill and lobster (5). Consuming 3.6mg of astaxanthin a day from wild sockeye salmon can offer many health benefits (6). Red pigmentation is a clear sign of astaxanthin level (7).
Collagen peptide supplements are widely available online or, if you prefer more natural sources, collagen can be obtained through diet. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and can be found naturally in fatty, collagenous cuts of meat e.g. cheeks, tails, ribs, trotters, feet, shanks. It can also be obtained by drinking the rich gelatinous broth which is produced from slow cooking these foods with the bones. It is also effective to slow cook bones and carcasses without the meat.
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Aloe vera is a succulent plant which has been shown to help cure and heal damaged skin (8). When aloe vera gel, cream or derivatives are applied to skin, it can allow skin to maintain its moisture levels and speed up wound healing among other things (9).
Vitamin A a.k.a retinol is found in: liver, king mackerel, salmon, bluefin tuna, cheese, butter and eggs. Topical retinol, as opposed to dietary retinol, has been used to good effect to protect human skin from cell damage caused by ultraviolet rays (10). 3 weeks of taking a supplement consisting of selenium, copper, tocopherol, retinol and other vitamins offered more skin protection than placebo.
Drinking full fat kefir regularly can strengthen skin and assist in reparative processes after sunburn, tanning or redness caused by UVB ray damage (11). Kefir is fermented milk where bacteria consume the lactose and increase the milks acidity hence why it is slightly more bitter than normal milk which is sweeter. It is a probiotic which feeds the gut and supports the immune system.
Skin disorders can be effectively treated through the consumption of fatty acids. They play a huge role in overall health but in terms of protection from and treatment of sunburn, these fats can increase the length of time the skin is exposed to UV rays without becoming sunburnt as well as prevent melanoma and heal wounds (12).
In order to obtain these healthy fats naturally from a diet; foods such as oily fish, walnuts, almonds and flaxseeds should be consumed.
Vitamin C is a powerful anti-oxidant which is found in supplemental form as well as in foods such as sauerkraut, broccoli, cauliflower, citrus fruits, berries and many others. Anti-oxidants help to counteract the damage cause by UV light exposure and some research suggests that this mechanism, coupled with vitamin C's role in collagen synthesis, has profound effects on skin health and UV protection (13).
It has a stronger effect against UV damage to the skin when combined with rutin which is a flavanoid found in apples, some citrus fruits, figs, green tea, black tea and also in supplemental form (14). The anti-inflammatory, antipoptotic and antioxidant actions of vitamin c and rutin complement each other and increase in level after depletion from UV irradiation.
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Resveratrol is a plant phenol which can be obtained from pistachios, blueberries, dark chocolate and red wine. In summer months or hotter climates, when the hot sun is shining often, the skin can easily tan, burn and become dry, all of which age the skin and can be dangerous to human health. When 15 healthy volunteers were tested for UV damage to their skin for 4 consecutive days, the skin sites which were treated with resveratrate, erythema or skin redness was barely visible which clearly shows that sunburn cell formation was significantly inhibited (15).
Curcumin is a potent yellow spice which comes from the Cucuma longa plant, a member of the ginger family. It can be found in spice or supplement form. In a study on hairless mice which lasted for 3 days in a row, topical curcumin application reduced the negative effects of UVB rays on the skin (16). The skin had less DNA and tissue damage, more DNA repair and other detoxification benefits. Even though this study was not on uncovered human skin, it is possible that dietary and topical curcumin can alleviate the symptoms of sunburn due to its anti‐inflammatory, antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, antimutagenic, anticoagulant and anti‐infective properties.
Tea contains tannic acid, which like other topical antioxidants, can act against free radicals to reduce skin damage (17).
This is a step-by step guide of how to use tea to treat a sunburn (18).
Vitamin D is a hormone which plays a large role in calcium regulation and bone metabolism (19). It is mostly synthesised in the skin when uncovered, clean skin is exposed to direct sunlight in Spring and Summer months; only a tiny amount is absorbed from food (20). Vitamin D bolsters the immune system by enhancing antimicrobial responses, inducing autophagy and suppressing proinflammatory mediators (21).
20 healthy adults who were given a high dose (200,000 IU) of vitamin D3(cholecalciferol) 1 hour after experimental sunburn had less skin damage 48 hours later (22). Those with higher serum vitamin D3 levels evidently experience less skin redness and faster skin repair after exposure to UV rays.
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There is an exhaustive list of sunburn remedies including many not discussed in this article such as vinegar and potatoes. Some do not have the support of scientific literature, merely anecdotal evidence. This article reveals scientifically proven options to treat sunburn both directly and indirectly, however, one should not be in a rush to dismiss treatments based on anecdotal evidence which have helped others heal their skin or prevent sunburn and skin disease. Which ever method you choose to follow, be aware of the potential damage caused by exposure to sunlight and be responsible when in the sun. Sunlight is vital to human health so be sensible in your approach.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Co-founder of 'The Evolved Way', and experienced personal trainer, Samson practices what he preaches. His own healthy lifestyle, which informs this site, is based on understanding the right way to eat and exercise, not excluding of course going out and enjoying life knowing you can still feel and look good.
John Maitland is the co-founder of 'The Evolved Way'. A personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience, he has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.