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Sunscreen in the Spotlight

It is widely accepted that the best way to prevent skin damage is ensuring we apply - and regularly reapply - a high SPF sunscreen.

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There are growing concerns that some chemical-based sunscreens may be contributing to the destruction of our beautiful reefs, and more and more people are starting to look for natural alternatives. Sunscreens work in one of two ways, they are either natural or chemical based. The former transfers the energy from the sun's rays into a mixture of heat, fluorescence and a photochemical reaction, while the latter is like a mirror which rests on the surface of the skin and acts as a physical barrier, reflecting back the sun's rays.

We know that they deal with UV radiation by absorbing the energy from sunlight, but according to some researchers, this energy from ultraviolet light may be transferred to the DNA in skin cells, in the form of free radicals. Free radicals are why we don't smoke and we try to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, not to mention applying antioxidants to our skin to fight their effects.

Natural sunscreens contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and natural minerals which come from clay and beach sand deposits and work by coating your skin like paint. Just like chemical sunscreens, these must also be tested to strict measures.

Dietary factors

One area of concern, besides the proliferation of chemicals in our daily environment, is an imbalance in omega 6 and omega 3 fats in our diet today. Historically, our diets were perfectly balanced in omega 3 and omega 6. However, a change in the way we feed our animals – which are now rarely grass-fed – has led to the average person consuming dramatically more omega 6 fats.

Omega 3 is found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil and oily fish. So we can increase our intake of omega 3 rich oils, taking a fish oil supplement, and choosing organic, grass-fed animal products such as meat, milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs.

Since UVA rays do their damage by creating free radicals to ravage our DNA, clearly a diet high in antioxidants, which scavenge free radicals, is another good way to protect our skin health. Many studies also show that green tea is a powerful antioxidant and that the polyphenols it contains are powerfully protective. Similarly, lycopene in tomatoes are also high in antioxidants

Berries such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries; garlic, broccoli, citrus fruits, carrots and wholegrains are also good sources of antioxidants.

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