With our beautiful coasts and equally stunning mountains and native bush, most Kiwis are at heart lovers of the outdoor lifestyle. But the natural elements – sun, wind and salt air can be very harsh on your skin and as it’s your body’s largest and arguably most important organ this is really about health more so than simply beauty. So before you head out on your next summer adventure let’s look at how you can offer the best protection for your skin.
1. Keep hydrated with water and good fats
As the barrier that covers your entire body, skin has a large surface area that is exposed to the outside elements. Keeping well hydrated by drinking at least 8 glasses of water (2 litres) and more in the heat and when exercising will help to keep your skin supple and intact, therefore allowing it to perform its function as an effective barrier. Eating foods with high water content such as fruit and vegetables also help with general hydration. Good quality fats and essential fatty acids help improve the structural integrity of the skin by providing flexibility, assisting in skin repair, helping to reduce water loss and keeping the top outer layer of the skin strong, so don’t be shy with the avocado on your salad or of oily fish, raw nuts and seeds.
2. Deep cleanse for efficient elimination
Another vital role of our skin is as an excretory channel – which simply means that your body eliminates a number of wastes via the skin in the form of sweat and sebum. Sweat also helps to cool the body down, which is very important during your summer outdoor adventures. If the pores of your skin become clogged – perhaps from a build-up of dead skin cells, sunscreen and other lotions, then these important functions can be impeded. Be sure to use deodorants and not antiperspirants to allow the body to sweat; also treat your skin to a deep cleanse once or twice a week using a simple homemade skin scrub consisting of sugar and oil (coconut, avocado or olive are all excellent choices) to remove dead skin cells and other residues without stripping the skin of its natural oils.
3. Protect from sunburn and windburn
The key messages we are bombarded with at this time of the year are to slip, slop, slap and wrap; essentially cover your body from the sun using clothing, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses. While the New Zealand summer sun is indeed quite harsh with short burn times, it is important to also try to get some sun exposure for vitamin D synthesis – not to mention the questionable ingredients found in many commercial sunscreens that potentially do more damage than good. So how do you navigate around these issues and still protect your skin from sun and wind burn? Well you should try to get your skin in the sun, uncovered for a short amount of time every day – basically the time will vary depending on your skin colour but you want to avoid any burning. If you’re out for longer than this then apply a good quality natural sunscreen or cover up, possibly both. Don’t forget your lips and ears as well.
4. Protect from the inside out
Exposure to the elements takes its toll on some of the deeper layers of our skin too, not just the surface layer we can see. Reduce free-radical damage to your cells by eating lots of antioxidant rich foods such as fresh summer berries and other dark coloured fruit and vegetables (they’re also typically high in water content). Food or supplements containing vitamins A, C, E, coenzyme Q10, resveratrol and polyphenols such as those found in green tea, pine bark extract and grape seed extract also offer excellent antioxidant protection for your skin.
5. Soothe and repair
In the event that you do damage your skin you want to heal it as quickly and effectively as possible. While topical lotions can help to soothe dry, cracked and burned skin, you also want to think about nutrients to encourage healthy skin repair from the inside out. When you’ve damaged your skin you have created an excess of free-radicals and inflammation, so you’ll need to increase your antioxidant intake (see above point) and introduce some anti-inflammatory agents such as omega 3 fatty acids from oily fish and curcumin from the spice turmeric. Other nutrients well known for repairing and regenerating skin are vitamins A, C and E and the mineral zinc. All those fresh fruit and vegetables and good fats you’re already eating will take care of providing most of these nutrients, if you eat meat then seafood and liver are good sources of zinc; if not don’t worry, you can still get zinc from nuts, legumes, fermented soy foods, mushrooms and pumpkin seeds.
With these simple 5 tips you can be sure to enjoy your summer outdoor adventures while maintaining healthy, beautiful skin. When it comes to looking for more natural, safer topical skin products look for products with fewer ingredients and ones that you can understand. The Environmental Working Group has a wonderful, free database where you can search commonly used skin care ingredients to gauge the potential safety of human use.