With all the hours we spend outside in the summertime, sunburns can happen, in spite of our most vigilant applications (and reapplications!) of sunscreen. Not only are sunburns painful and aggravating, they have long-term negative effects in the skin even after the burn has healed. Before you find yourself nursing a burn (or even if you’re already doing damage control), check out the Nutritional Aesthetics® approach to healing and preventing sunburns from the inside and outside.
Got a Nutritional Aesthetics® question? Just ask a Certified Nutritional Aesthetics Practitioner (CNAP):
Help! I just came back from vacation, and even though I did the best I could with sunscreen and shade I still ended up burning. I feel like a sore, itchy, red tomato. What do I do now?
Take a deep breath and be gracious and gentle with yourself. Acknowledge that you indeed “did the best you could” and let go of any guilt or admonishment that may still be ruminating in your post-vacation thoughts. Don’t stress, as stress will only slow down the skin’s wound healing process and add to inflammation.
Here’s your inside and outside treatment plan:
Topically, sunburned skin needs a lot of TLC. Your three biggest priorities are to cool the skin and ease the inflammation, while at the same time still providing nourishment to help support the skin’s wound healing process on the outside. For most people, aloe vera gel is the best ingredient for all three. Aloe vera gel has both humectant and emollient properties, which means it brings moisture into the skin and also forms a seal on the surface to protect skin as it heals. Ideally, you would purchase organic aloe vera gel from an herb supplier, or extract fresh aloe gel from an aloe barbadensis plant. Many aloe vera gels sold in stores contain extra ingredients, which aren’t necessarily beneficial for inflamed skin. Tepid oatmeal baths are also excellent for calming inflammation and nourishing tender sunburned skin. It’s also important to deliver Vitamin C to healing skin topically, in order to promote new collagen growth and gently support wound healing. Spraying the skin with a tea of roses, rose hips, and/or hibiscus flowers delivers vitamin C, and also has gentle vasoconstriction properties to help address redness. Avoid applying heavy emollients like oils or butters until the redness subsides, and avoid occlusive petrochemicals like white petrolatum and mineral oil completely, as these suffocate the skin. Healing skin needs to breathe, and the aloe vera gel will protect the skin and let it breathe while it heals.
Over the next several days, be sure to pack your diet with a variety of foods that will promote healing and reduce inflammation from the inside out as well. Cooling and hydrating foods like cucumbers, melons, and coconut water are essential, as is hydration from pure water. Cool green tea is also excellent for healing and lowering inflammation. Other inflammation-reducers include spices like ginger and turmeric, pineapple, lemons, and leafy greens. Vitamin C-rich foods like colorful bell peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, and, again, leafy greens help to heal the skin, and prevent further stress and damage. Getting plenty of restful sleep will support healing as well.
I’m really worried that I’ve caused serious damage to my skin. What can I do to fix this damage I might have caused once the redness goes away? And what else can I do to prevent a sunburn like this from happening again?
Healing past sun damage and preventing new sun damage is an ongoing job. Once redness and inflammation have subsided, you can start using cold pressed plant oils and butters again. These antioxidant and essential fatty acids-rich emollients will help the skin with ongoing wound healing, and build its resilience towards future sun exposure. Though oils like raspberry seed, coconut, argan, cranberry seed are known to carry their own sun protective benefits, they don’t have a reliable or consistently measurable SPF, so don’t rely on them as a standalone sunscreen. Do look for them–in addition to white and green tea extracts–in your skincare products, as well as supporting ingredients in an FDA-approved mineral-based sunscreen. Try to avoid exfoliation either with harsh scrubs or acids for at least a week before spending a day on the beach or taking an outdoor vacation, to protect your skin’s barrier function. Also avoid products that contain retinols or ascorbic acid (strong forms of Vitamins A and C which are phototoxic and known to be skin irritant), and cold-pressed citrus oils and mints, as many of these are also known to be make the skin more susceptible to sun damage.
Nutritionally, helping to repair existing damage and prevent future damage with your diet requires three things: clean proteins, which are the building blocks of new skin cells; sun-protective foods; and an abundance of antioxidants. It’s not necessary to overload your diet with proteins, but be conscious that you’re getting good-quality, complete proteins like wild salmon, quinoa, spirulina, and pastured eggs. From there, get your antioxidants from fresh, whole foods like vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices, and superfoods like cacao. In particular, foods with lycopene or beta carotene like tomatoes, red bell peppers, and watermelon, green tea, and omega-3 packed foods like chia, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts and sea vegetables are known to add additional protection from future UV damage. Using an integrative approach to the health of your skin will give you extra defenses.
Did you like this CNAP’s integrative approach to skin health?
While the NAA’s CNAP program is still in development, you can start learning and implementing, Nutritional Aesthetics® today as an NAA member. NAA members already have exclusive access to educational opportunities and will be the first to know when the CNAP program is ready— and will receive special pricing. Join the growing NAA member community!