In these summer months, especially in the context of protecting our skin from early or more pronounced signs of aging, sun safety is a major concern. There is this idea that spending quality time in the sun can prematurely age us and amplify the hallmarks of aging by increasing the appearance and depth of wrinkles, cause age spots, reduce moisture and diminish skin elasticity.
Research doesn’t support this idea and shows us that the sun isn’t fully to blame. Contrary to the mainstream narrative- avoiding or minimizing sun exposure is a risk factor for certain types of cancer, including breast, colon and bladder. Reduced sun exposure has been associated with autoimmune conditions, metabolic disease and disrupted sleep patterns.
Over doing sun exposure can accelerate the aging process. However, there are some pretty big caveats to this notion. Turns out there are several modifiable factors that determine how our skin interacts with the sun, how easily the sun damages our skin and how susceptible we are to the negative effects of the sun.
One of these factors is our diet. There’s a bi-directional relationship between our diet and the sun. Our diet largely determines how we respond to the sun, for example, do we burn or simply soak up the rays? The amount of sun exposure we get influences the nutrients required the body.
One of the most interesting and modifiable factors when it comes to preventing sun damage and reversing it, is optimizing vitamin C intake.
The Sun and Our Skin
In full transparency, the sun is harmful when our body is not prepared to handle it. On the flip side, when exposed smartly to the sun, it provides infinite medicine.
The sun prompts free radical production in the skin that induces an inflammatory reaction, causing us age us beyond our years.
Sun damaged skin is typically a result of exposure to UVA rays, as these penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin. With support, and sufficient internal antioxidant systems, this damage doesn’t occur to the same extent.
The Sun, Vitamin C and Our Skin
It’s generally accepted that the winter months are the time when we want to ramp up consumption of Vitamin C due to its role in immune function. What’s often left out of the discussion is that, for different reasons- vitamin C is needed in the same amounts in the summer months.
As humans, we’ve evolved with the sun and our physiology is built to interact with the wavelengths of light it provides. Because of this, we have innately built in protection mechanisms that allow us to absorb sunlight without negative effects
One of these protection mechanisms is the high amount of vitamin C in the skin.
Vitamin C naturally accumulates in the layers of the skin where it lends its antioxidant properties to neutralize free radicals induced by the sun, protect collagen from being degraded and safeguard the skin- both the external and deeper layers from DNA and photo-damage.
When we are out in the sun, our skin cells increase receptor sites for vitamin C, which communicates to the body to send more of it into the skin, where it then protects our skin cells and the delicate DNA.
How Does Vitamin C Protect Skin?
Inflammation is a primary characteristic of sun damage. Whether we get a sunburn or a heat rash, inflammation is present. Inflammation breaks down our tissues and causes damage on a cellular level that presents as the outward signs of aging.
Research shows that vitamin C largely inhibits this process from occurring.
Collagen is responsible for smooth skin. As collagen degrades (gets broken down), fine lines and wrinkles appear and deepen. We also see a loss of blood vessel integrity that can lead to varicose and spider veins.
Mid-day sun has been shown to damage collagen proteins, if there is inadequate antioxidant protection in the skin.
Vitamin C has two primary benefits on maintaining collagen content in the skin. First, it protects collagen mRNA- which, in essence means it inhibits the breakdown of the collagen protein.
Next, vitamin C is a vital part of the collagen molecule and therefore it is needed to synthesis and replenish collagen and is essential in repairing damaged skin.
Scavenges free radicals
Perhaps the biggest contributor to vitamin C’s ability to reduce and repair sun damage is its antioxidant properties. Vitamin C helps to mitigate and neutralize the effects of both UVA and UVB light and protect melanocytes- the cells responsible for pigment (and hyperpigmentation).
Overall, Vitamin C helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, reduces occurrence of age spots, slows down the aging process, ensures skin elasticity is not impacted by the sun and reduces the appearance of inflammation on the skin.
The Difference between vitamin C and sunscreen
Vitamin C doesn’t work in the same way that sunscreen does. Sunscreen works by blocking the absorption of the UVA and UVB rays- which inherently blocks the benefits of the sun.
Vitamin C Does not block absorption of UV light, it still allows the sun’s rays to enter the body, where it has several benefits (mainly on your mitochondria). Rather, vitamin C helps keep the skin in a homeostatic state, fortifying the endogenous antioxidant systems and works to decrease damage in real time, while allowing for the benefits of the sun to be fully experienced and integrated into our physiology
Vitamin C is truly a summer non-negotiable- especially if anti-aging health is in the forefront of your minds.
Medical experts suggest that a minimum of 1000mg of a highly bioavailable vitamin C per day is needed to neutralize free radical damage if you are getting adequate sun exposure for optimal health.
Check out our Lypo-SphericⓇ Vitamin C, it has the added skin protection of phospholipids and provides a therapeutic dose! C
PS: If you're curious to learn more about a new paradigm of sun safety and how to further protect your skin, check out our previous blog ‘An Ode to The Sun’ that goes deeper into the medicine of the sun and holistic summer safety!
Happy, sunny days!
Author: Lisa Kowalyk, CNP, B.Kin
Disclaimer: this article is intended for educational purposes only, is not medical advice and does not replace medical guidance from your doctor.