Now that beach vacations, gardening, outdoor sports and more summer sun activities are on most of our calendars, it’s time to consider ways to protect skin from damage.

The medical profession has broadcast its message loud and clear: Too much sun exposure causes dryness, wrinkling, premature aging and can lead to skin cancers. Certain types of medications can increase sun sensitivity.

Dark-skinned people are not immune to skin damage from excess sun exposure and people of all skin types can be susceptible to allergic reactions to sun exposure.

There are many ways to protect skin from overexposure, burning, drying and wrinkling, but the careful use of sunscreens is the most universal method of protecting skin.

Yale dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, M.D., author of numerous books including The Wrinkle Cure, strongly recommends natural sunscreens for everyone who plans to spend more than a few minutes in the sun.

“I recommend non-chemical sunscreens such as ‘physical’ blockers titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide and not chemical sunscreens,” says Dr. Perricone. “The benefits of physical sunscreen are that they act as like tiny mirrors – reflecting the dangerous rays away from the skin.  All spectrums of the radiation are deflected.”

There are common-sense steps to avoid sun damage that don’t require any special products or sunscreens that can have health risks.

Australia’s SunSmart program that has since 1982 required maximum UV protection, increasing the use of hats, sunglasses and protective clothing, including “neck to knee” swimsuits for children in a climate where the sun’s rays are intense.

Rather than use chemicals, there are many steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays, including the following:

  • Seek shade, cover up and avoid sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Be extra careful when the UV index is high (the UV index is a daily National Weather Service forecast assessing the risk of sun overexposure. Find it at www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.
  • Be extra careful near water, snow and sand since they reflect and intensify the radiation.
  • Do not use tanning products or tanning beds, even the ones advertised as safe.
  • Wear tightly woven clothing in dark colors for maximum sun protection. Denim is a good choice.

Sun protection from within 

Numerous studies show that specific foods can provide natural sun protection, quite literally protecting skin from the inside out.

Among these natural sun protectors are a class of foods known as carotenoids, the ones that give rich colors to fruits and vegetables. Among the most powerful, according to recent German research are the subcategories of the nutrients lutein (found in dark green leafy veggies) and lycopene (found in tomatoes and other pink/red foods).

Dr. Perricone explains, “Numerous scientific studies show that oral supplementation with carotenes, especially lycopene and beta carotene improve skin structure, have powerful wound healing properties and offer great protection from damage caused by sunlight.”

Dr. Perricone also says that inflammation is a major cause of all types of skin damage and premature aging, so he highly recommends the Mediterranean diet and other diets rich in healthy oils like olive oil, nuts and Omega-3s from fish and lots of vegetables and fruits.

A growing body of research from such prestigious institutions as Duke University and the Xienta Institute for Skin Research shows that vitamins C and E can protect skin against free radical damage and they also reduce the chances of sunburn.

Potent antioxidant herbs, such as green tea (Camellia sinensis), are also proving effective, according to research from the University of Alabama.

Good sun exposure

While it is important to protect skin from excessive sun exposure, exposure of protected skin to the sun for short periods is the most important way for us to get vitamin D, a vital nutrient that is important for brain health, cancer prevention, bone and joint health and much more.

Dr. Perricone recommends getting out in the sun without sunscreen protection for at least 15 minutes each day with as much skin exposed as possible. Virtually none of us will burn with that amount of sun exposure

“Don’t bake in the sun,” he warns. “This limited sun exposure will increase Vitamin D protection, known to reduce the risk of many internal cancers and at the same time reduce risk of osteoporosis. Sunshine is the best source of this critical vitamin.”

Non-chemical sunscreens 

Look for sunscreens that contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and are free of cancer-causing parabens. Here are a few products on the market:

Dr. Perricone’s More than Moisture

Jason Sunbrellas Chemical-Free Sun Block

Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen with hemp seed oil

Nature’s Gate Mineral Sportblock

Aubrey Organics Natural Sun

Lavera Sun