Here Comes the Sun

Some topical botanicals fight aging’s effects while defending against UV rays.

June 2014

by Lisa James


It’s a tough world out there for the skin you’re in. Poor diet, broken sleep and stress attack it from within while harsh weather, wind and pollution attack it from without. All these factors can lead to wrinkles and other signs of age.

Then there is skin’s single biggest enemy—the sun. The ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunshine can, like other skin stressors, promote premature aging. What’s worse, sun exposure accounts for most of the 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the US.

There are natural skincare ingredients that address the root causes of skin aging. What’s more, some of these substances can also help protect skin against the sun’s dangerous rays.

Skin Under Attack

The skin’s three layers, from the deepest subcutis up through the dermis to the outermost epidermis, undergo constant renewal as cells on the surface are shed and replaced by those rising from the layers below. A tough, flexible protein called collagen makes up about 70% of the dermis, giving skin its tone and shape.

As skin ages, it thins and takes on a leathery look. Blood vessels in the skin also become thinner, which can result in easier bruising, while reduced oil production can make skin dry and itchy. Brownish areas, referred to as age spots, may appear on areas exposed to the sun.

The skin contains a pigment called melanin designed to protect against the sun’s effects. But excessive exposure can overwhelm the skin’s defenses, resulting in dryness, wrinkling and collagen damage. Small bumps or scaly patches called actinic keratoses may also develop. Between 10% and 15% of these lesions eventually progress to squamous cell cancer.

Nature to the Rescue

Proper lifestyle—unprocessed food, consistent exercise, uninterrupted sleep, effective stress relief—is the cornerstone of skin health. In addition, a number of nutrients and herbs can support skin defenses when incorporated into botanically based creams.

Resveratrol is good example. Best known for promoting heart health when taken internally, topical resveratrol has shown an ability to smother the free radicals that cause skin to lose tone and suppleness. That power to fight free radicals makes resveratrol a useful antioxidant.

It isn’t the only one. Skin creams fight oxidation best when they contain a wide variety of antioxidants,such as chamomile, green tea and olive. That’s because there are five separate classes of free radicals; the more botanicals a cream includes, the more types of oxidation it can fight. These plants also supply antioxidant carotenoids and vitamins C and E. What’s more, ingredients such as jojoba oil, cucumber and shea butter can help ease inflammation and leave skin feeling soothed and refreshed.

Comfortable skin is also hydrated instead of parched. Oil from the Argania spinosa tree has been used by those who dwell in the tree’s native north African desert for years as a moisturizer; coconut oil has long served that purpose in the tropics. Lanolin, the oil that coats wool in animals such as sheep, is another natural moisturizer used by the ancient Greeks in their skin preparations.

When it comes to shielding your skin against the sun, you should always take proper precautions: wearing a hat and sunglasses, staying under shade at midday, using sunscreen. But here again, botanicals can help. Researchers have found that resveratrol, green tea, aloe vera and other plant extracts react with skin to create substances providing significant UV protection.

Sure, life can be tough on your skin. But there are natural ways to fight back and maintain a lovely, youthful glow.

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