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Welcome to part two, in the first part I covered the basics, the structure of the skin and some elementary skin chemistry. In this part I am going to look at the sun and its relationship to free radicals. These are atoms that basically are short one or more electrons which makes them unstable and therefore tend to steal electrons from other atoms rendering them unstable in the process. I do not intend these articles to be scientific in nature. Rather I want to break the science down into easy to understand language. As promised to a number of my clients recently, I am currently reviewing the book Vitamin A Skin Science – a scientific guide to healthy skin. As a user and passionate promoter for Environ Skin Care, this is Dr Des Fernandes latest book on his 25+ years of research with Vitamin A and antioxidents at a skin level. He created Environ from his kitchen because the products available at the time were not giving him the results he wanted for his plastic surgery patients. His quest for answers came after he lost a couple of his young patients to melanoma, he wanted to know why! And when he was constantly removing skin cancers from the skin he didn’t want to see these patients back in his surgery. In this book he teams with Dr Ernst Eiselen, a South African doctor who now practises in Western Australia. I hope you enjoy the breakdown of the science and of course my 5 cents worth has been added wherever I see the need to add an “extra” piece of the puzzle.

The sun is good for us but let me stress, in small doses!

If you are Caucasian and a Fitzpatrick 1, 2 or even 3,  15-20 minutes of unprotected exposure is all you need for Vitamin D production, in summer this is less, and for all Fitzpatrick skin types this is long enough to destroy 90% of the skins protection mechanisms – every day of exposure. These protective mechanisms need time to rebuild in sufficient numbers to put a barrier back to protect us from further damage. The problem is if you are not feeding the skin the right nutrients at adequate doses, damage occurs leading to skin cancer and those barnacles of ageing I talked about in the previous article.

So time to get into a little more detail. The sun radiates numerous types of waves:

Invisible ultraviolet light in three forms – UVA, UVB, UVC at one end of the spectrum and invisible infrared – IR at the other. The earth has some protective measures in the stratosphere as an ozone layer which limits our exposure from these waves. However, UVA and UVB are not completely absorbed and affect us directly by affecting the skin on a superficial level for UVB and at a much deeper level for UVA.

UVC Rays are the shortest and most powerful wavelength and at present stops at the stratosphere except in spring when over the south and north poles the UVC penetrates through the holes. Tasmania is in the firing line to receive these damaging rays via its hole above. So when the winter has been too long and you are keen to expose your body for the summer tan, think again, this is the most dangerous time for us to be out unprotected. These rays are very destructive, high altitude mountain climbers can also be at risk, and there are no cosmetics that can claim protection against UVC.

There is increasing awareness among scientists around the world that all forms of light, including computer screens, fluorescent lights, and energy saving bulbs, radiate UV rays and can cause photo ageing, but don’t dispair help is always at hand.

UVB Rays (B for Burning)

These are shorter wavelengths and generally don’t penetrate passed the basement membrane as they lose their energy by the time they reach it. Sunburn is the visible physical damage we see from these rays and characterised by redness and blistering when extreme. Most people consider that as long as they don’t burn they are safe, but keep reading as I will let you know why this is not the case.

Exposure to UVB rays is essential to the formation of vitamin D. Vitamin D prevents the softening of bones (osteoporosis), depression- those living in countries with limited sunlight are more susceptible to SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder so plenty of daylight and fresh air are in order with the addition of D3. I have worked with many UK clients where this is very real. Vitamin D deficiency had also been linked to impaired immunity and some cancers. There is currently a lot of research being done trying to understand the miriad of uses that Vitamin D has.

Because the atmosphere prevents a lot of the UVB rays penetrating from about mid-autumn through winter till mid-spring those countries north or south of 25 degrees ( for us in Australia that is almost from the level northern NSW down) virtually no UVB rays can penetrate. The last clinical nutrition training I did for dermatological disorders had Tasmanians at 97% deficient in vitamin D even for outdoor workers. A word of warning – do not self medicate with vitamin D – have a blood test done with your doctor to determine your levels as there are still some schools of thought that if vitamin D levels are low there could be some other underlying factor that may need checking first.

So the paradox with UVB is that they are essential for the formation of vitamin D  but also the major cause of sunburn and skin cancers. UVB rays also destroy the vitamin A in the form of retinyl palmitate that is normally found in the stratum spinosum. Vitamin A in this form is very protective to the skin. It is essential to be aware that  sun damage is accumulative, that is the damage mounts up every day, so as we age the damage that we have done in our youth shows up later in life as much as 30 – 40 years later, look to your parents and grandparents. Unfortunately most of the sun damage we get is done as teenagers.

UVA Rays (A is for Ageing)

UVA rays in contrast to UVB has a slower effect on the skin. Exposure to UVA rays manifest as increased pigmentation (ie a tan). A tan is in effect a scar, mind you a very desirable scar, but a scar nonetheless that never goes away. These rays are longer and weaker, they penetrate right through the skin into the deeper layers. The danger with these rays is that there is no IMMEDIATE visible signs of damage with almost no redness.

Because these rays penetrate into the deeper dermis (penetrating right through the outer epidermal layer) they destroy cells essential to skin health. The damage accumulates over years, every day, day in and day out. Now if you think that because you don’t expose yourself enough to burn from the UVB rays,  or that you have olive skin and therefore you are somehow magically protected and that you are lucky enough to escape the damaging effects of the sun. No, no my friend, your damage is just not visible yet. Continue to expose yourself day in and day out and as you get older, this damagehas stacked up over time and you will definitely get to a stage you start to see it. The physical changes to the skin are pigmentation, loss of elasticity, wrinkles and the barnacles of ageing ( my terminology, explained in the last article), suddenly appearing magically on your skin.

The basic mechanism of UVA damage is mediated by free radicals, the energy from these rays penetrate a molecule such as vitamin A and renders it inactive. This causes a local area vitamin deficiency and is the MAIN cause of photo damaged skin and why vitamin A is so important to use every day topically.

Free Radicals

Everyone should know about free radicals in today’s world, they get talked about in some form or another and antioxidants are used to mop them up. So if you are talking about diseased or nutritional states free radicals are in the background somewhere (some people call them toxins). So what are they? And why is is so important we keep them under control?

Free radicals are created by oxidation (think back to chemistry at school and the formation of rust). In excess they accelerate your ageing and lead to all sorts of negative health issues. They are simple molecules with an electron missing. In order to become “whole” again they seek out other chemical structures in our body so they can steal an electron. After they “acquire” an electron, the chemical/tissue from where they “stole” that electron is seriously damaged. This sets off a chain reaction that can result in thousands of molecules being changed in less than twenty-thousandth of a second. Mind blowing isn’t it!

Free radicals in small and controlled quantities are OK and in fact at times very beneficial, like when our white blood cells release them to kill bacteria and virus’s. If they release too many we feel ill, if two few, we get infected. Free radicals are required for energy production and a whole host of other metabolic reactions essential for life. The problem occurs when the balance is upset between the free radicals and free radical scavengers that mop them up.

Oxidation is unavoidable! As long as we breathe oxygen (oxygen has two unpaired electrons that are only too happy to steal electrons from other sources) there will be oxidation in our body and the creation of free radicals continues. Oxygen is not the only free radical in our body although probably the most abundant, others such as nitrogen, chlorine, and carbonyl can also do a fair bit of damage to our health.

Free radical numbers are boosted by air pollution, second hand smoke, lack of nutrients in our diet, artificial radiation in food, and UV rays. It has been said that smoking contributes to the highest exposure of free radicals with over 3 trillion free radicals in one puff. No wonder so many major diseases and disorders are attributed to this habit. Each cigarette constricts the peripheral blood capillaries for up to 4 hours, so it is no surprise that the skin on a smoker ages the quickest and then you expect us therapists to perform miracles while you still smoke!

It has also been known for sometime that people who do a lot of strenuous exercise have more free radicals in their body than someone who doesn’t exercise at all. This can explain why a top athlete can look older than their peers if they are not replacing adequate amounts of antioxidants.

“Free radicals in excess, damage DNA, weaken cell membranes, alter collagen, fracture elastin fibres, change biochemical compounds within the body, and can even kill cells outright” Des Fernandes

Not just one antioxidant is affective against all the damage from free radicals, that is why we need good nutrient-rich diet every day and good antioxidant rich skin care every day and night. There are over 800 known antioxidants in nature, the more variety in our food the healthier we are. Our skin care also needs a variety of antioxidants because we want the products to work for us and not against us. What you need will be covered in more detail in coming articles.

When we go out into the sun we get more free radicals from the UV rays. In the Australian summer – yes even here in Tasmania, the numbers of free radical scavengers we have in our body can become overwhelmed increasing our requirements needed every day.

There is still a big debate in regards to whether we need to supplement our diet due to the quality of our food these days or not, I think we do!

Science is showing us that the quality of our fruit and vegetables has reduced over the generations and with trying to feed the masses, genetic modification means our food is growing faster and has been “made” more bug resistant, but at what cost. Look at growing a variety of your own chemical free food where you learn to eat by the seasons.

A word of warning if you are going to supplement, do not supplement with isolated nutrients that these days are made in a chemistry lab. Choose whole food supplements or herbal supplements where the whole plant is still intact to get the 10-12,000 phytonutrients available in this form rather than the 24 or so in an isolated form. When you take isolated supplements (like vitamin/mineral supplements) over time it can tax the kidneys and throw out the delicate nutritional balance required for good health. If you would like to know more about what I use and recommend please send me a message and I can discuss this with you.

Our main skin antioxidents are Vitamin C and E – these work synergistically along with Alpha-lipoic acid, glutathione and coenzyme Q10 because they are able to reactivate each other. We produce an enormous number of free radicals during normal cellular and biological processes and generally we have homeostatic mechanisms in place to manage them. The problem starts with uncontrolled oxidation. When free radicals overwhelm our resources breakdown of cellular processes become evident.

If we changed our language around some of the results of oxidation maybe we would be more inclined to do something about them. One particular effect of oxidation is the freckles and pigmentation marks/spots………if we looked at these as rust spots, then it changes our view on them – they are not so cute then!