Horseman’s Health: Protect Your Skin During Your Summer Rides

Planning on doing a lot of riding this summer? Me too, and that means finding ways to protect my skin from the harsh summer sun and heat. Did you know that the health of your skin reflects your overall health and level of stress? Healthy, glowing skin indicates you are living a healthy lifestyle and getting the good nutrients your body needs to perform well. Skin care isn’t just about how you look. Your skin is actually the largest organ your body has and your first line of protection in your immune system. Besides the environment and weather conditions, just getting older can affect the skin. As we age we produce less collagen, lose skin cells, and lose elasticity of the skin. Let’s look at some of the things to consider while you are out riding this summer and natural solutions for protecting skin.

Protect Skin From Sun Damage
3.7 million cases of skin cancer were reported in 2008 according to Dr. Coldiron’s report to the American Academy of Dermatology and from 1994 to 2004 the number of claims Medicare processed for non-melanoma skin cancer increased by double. When your skin is exposed to sunlight it encounters three types of light:

  1. Infrared (heat producing)
  2. Visible light
  3. Ultraviolet or UV light

Of these three, the ultraviolet light is the type that is most damaging to skin. Experts agree that if you are going to be out in the sun, a good sunscreen is your best protection, but there are those that question the ingredients in some sunscreens. For example, many sunscreens contain zinc oxide which Dr. Yinfa Ma, Missouri S&T Professor of chemistry, and Qingbo Yang, graduate student, maintain produces a chemical reaction when it comes in contact with sunlight that can lead to increased production of skin damaging free radicals that increase your risk for skin cancer. Then there are problems with ingredients such as oxybenzone which Joseph Laszlo, Ph.D. from the Agricultural Research Service says is a hormone disruptor that can contaminate water and have a negative impact on the reproduction of certain aquatic species.

Even with these potential risks of ingredients, sunscreen is still recommended by most experts as the best way to protect skin from sun damage. Just read your labels and choose the best one you can. In addition however, research is finding that microalgae with its own protective pigments can also help protect from sun damage. Scytonemin and astaxanthin, two pigments in microalgae, have been reported to absorb UV-A radiation. Findings of this type would indicate that microalgae could be a good sunscreen ingredient and experimentation is proceeding on this. Already you can easily moisturize your skin with antioxidants and blue-green algae with this antioxidant lotion that includes beta-glucan, blue-green algae, vitamin E, A and C and aloe vera. Eating algae in capsule or tablet form can also provide nutrients and antioxidants skin needs for nourishment and to fight off damage from free radicals.

You should also wear long sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat with a brim when out riding in the summer sun. Check online for special riding helmets that have wide brims and riding clothes designed to block the sun’s rays and provide cooling. And don’t forget your hands being exposed. Wearing a pair of lightweight gloves can help protect your hands from sun damage. Top it all off with a good pair of sunglasses for eye protection and you’re all set. If all this sounds like it would make for a hot ride, consider using a cooling bandana or take a water mister along with you.

Protect Skin From Free Radical Damage
We mentioned free radicals above, but what exactly do we mean by free radicals? These are unstable molecules weakened to the point of missing an electron. This is caused by factors such as exposure to UV rays, chlorinated water, exposure to pollution, toxins in the body, and eating a lot of foods that are depleted of enzymes due to being overcooked, fried and processed. These weaker molecules then attack healthy cells seeking to grab their electrons and causing damage to them. The damage free radicals cause to cells, enzymes and DNA can lead to chronic diseases, pain and inflammation.

The best way to protect yourself from the damage of free radicals is to make sure your diet has plenty of antioxidant vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Rosemary, tomato paste, grape seed extract, pomegranate, and soy are just a few foods that can be eaten or used topically to offer skin protection. Regularly adding herbs such as rosemary and thyme to foods was reported to decrease the risk of melanoma by 60% according to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Karen E. Burke, MD, PhD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine dermatology department advises that antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium can repair damaged skin and protect skin from further damage like that from the sun. Other natural ingredients that can help protect skin from sun damage include the antioxidant Alpha-lipoic acid and retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A. You can find various skin creams with these ingredients.

More For A Healthy Skin Diet
For a healthy skin diet, adding antioxidant foods is a must with lots of bright colored veggies and fruits, green tea and even dark chocolate. Foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as olive oil, walnuts, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel have also been found to be a good addition to the diet for healthy skin. Olive oil in particular not only gives you omega-3’s, but also antioxidant polyphenols. Walnuts have a special type of omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which The Beauty Diet author, Lisa Drayer, MA, RD, says keeps skin from becoming dry, scaly and prone to eczema. Sardines have a type of omega-3 called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) also found especially useful in skin protection. Andrew Weil, MD recommends GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) from sources such as evening primrose oil and black currant oil to support not only healthy skin, but also hair and nails. If you are a meat eater, then getting grass fed beef can not only give you omega-3’s without too many omega-6 fatty acids, but also give you protein for making collagen and elastin.

I hope you have a great summer and get lots of riding time in. Just remember to protect your skin while out having fun in the sun. A few simple changes to diet and skin care and you’ll be ready to go.

Bruno, Jeffrey, PhD, Eat Light to Feel Bright