Summer is on – how is your skin doing?
This question never occurred to me until I reached my 40s, when I realized that all the years I’d spent sunbathing as a teenager and feverishly hiking and camping in my 20’s and 30’s was catching up with me.
My fair skin did not do so well with my slack use of sunscreen, and so now I am doing my best to mitigate the damage and nourish and protect my skin as well as I can.
There are the standard things we know to do to prevent sun damage (staying out of the sun form 10 – 2, wearing protective clothes, wearing quality sunscreen) as well as the things we know to do to help generate healthy skin (getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise, reduce stress, refrain from smoking, drink plenty of water and eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables).
In addition to these techniques, plants offer a unique opportunity for sun protection and repair because many of them are naturally rich are in antioxidants and other compounds that absorb free radicals. Free radicals are created from UV exposure, and when we are exposed to too many of these molecules, they can create damage to cellular DNA (which can lead to cancer) and the structure of our skin (causing premature aging). Plants also offer an incredible resource of other skin healing compounds to help generate healthy cells. Depending on the plant or compound, some can be taken internally, applied externally, or both to help promote healthy skin before and after exposure to the sun. This has been a special interest of mine – to figure out how I can best work with plant materials to support my skin – and here is what I came up with for my best plant-based strategies for protecting and healing my skin in the summer months.
Green tea, rich in polyphenols, has been show to reduce skin damage caused by UV exposure when applied topically or taken internally 1. Another study found that the polyphenols in green tea, when taken internally, reduces non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair 2. Make green tea your tea of choice during the summer months (decaffeinated is an option, too!), and get that support daily. If you are suffering from sunburn or too much sun exposure, increase the dose to 5 – 6 cups per day during acute sunburn, and/or apply a wash of green tea directly on the skin.
Resveratrol, the famed part of red wine associated with cardiovascular health, is also a polyphenol and has been shown to reduce inflammation and UVB-induced tumor incidence when applied topically. One of the richest sources is found in the root of Japanese Knotweed, an herb used to treat Lyme Disease. Other sources include cranberries, grapes and peanuts 3. Resveratrol is fat-soluable, so I infuse it in oil and often include it in my summer face and body creams.
Caratenoids are plant pigments that give vegetables color (carrots, kale, tomato) and act as antioxidants with cancer-preventing qualities. A carotenoid-rich diet over a 10-week period has documented photoprotective effects, and regular intake may contribute to life-long protection to UV ray exposure 4. Another reason to “eat the rainbow” at every meal.
Antioxidants. Topical application of Vitamin E (tocopherol), frequently derived from soy or sunflower, is a great way to use the power of antioxidants to protect the skin from UV damage, before or after exposure. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), well-known for its help in supporting the immune system fight infections, has also shown to be photo protective when applied topically. Interestingly, when these two are combined, they work synergistically to provide even stronger protection. 5,6
Sea Buckthon. The pressed oil of seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) fruit is a rich source of vitamin E, quercetin and other polyphenols, and has been show to protect DNA damage from free radicals due to radiation exposure, as well as aid in skin regeneration 7,8.
How to Make A Simple, Plant-Based Skin Serum & Spritzer
If you want to make a simple, plant-bases serum for the skin, rich in compounds that help absorb free radicals and promote healthy skin, here is an easy and effective way to DIY with plant based ingredients. This recipe includes a blend of essential oils that are widely used to promote skin repair, reduce inflammation, and encourage healthy regenerative of skin cells. If you don’t have all of the essential oils at hand, and the cost for quality oils is a barrier, use lavender and/or rose geranium (or none!) and you will still get benefits from the other ingredients. I use the serum morning and evening, and apply a commercial, mineral based sunscreen when needed for sun exposure.
Nourishing Summer Skin Serum
2.5 oz rosehip seed oil (not mentioned above – this amazing oil is rich in Vitamin C, used widely to repair injuries to the skin)
.5 oz sea buckthorn oil
1 teaspoon Vitamin E
2 drops carrot seed essential oil
2 drops helichyrsum essential oil
2 drops lavender essential oil
2 drops rose geranium essential oil
Summer Skin Spritzer
This spritzer below is a great way to keep skin hydrated and well nourished in the summer season. I make small batches and keep it in the refrigerator (since the fresh green tea has a short shelf life), and use it 1-2 times per day.
.5 oz Green tea (make a cup of tea and let it cool before mixing with other ingredients)
.5 oz helichrysum hydrosol
1 – 2 drops of lavender or rose geranium (if you don’t care for the scent of helichrysum)
Also, you can experiment with different kinds of skin nourishing hydrosols – rose, lavender, rose geranium – but make sure they have no added ingredients and are pure distilled products.
Are you considering making your own herbal sunscreen? Or confused as to which sunscreen to buy? Get some important tips here.
- Katiyar, SK. Skin photoprotection by green tea: antioidant and immunomoldulatory effects. Current Drug Targets – Immune, Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders. 2003 Sep;3(3):234-42.
- Katiyar, SK. Green tea prevents non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysiology. 2011 Apr 15; 508(2): 152–158.
- Korac R & Khmabholja. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation. Pharmacognosy Review. 2011 July-Dec 5(10): 164–173.
- Sies H & Stahl W. Carotenoids and UV protection. Photochemical Photobiology Science. 2004 Aug;3(8):749-52. Epub 2004 Apr 1.
- Darr D, Dunston S, Faust H, & Pinnell S. Effectiveness of antioxidants (vitamin c and e) with and without sunscreens as topical photoprotectants. Acta Dermato-Venereologica1996 Jul;76(4):264-8.
- Dharmananda, S. Sea Buckthorn. Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, OR. 2017.