Skincare for your Sol ~ There's more to Suncare than Sunscreen
This article is written by Lauren Noël Otten, owner of ISLA MUDRA Islandvedic Essentials, LCMT, Aromatherapist, and Skincare Formulator; & Waleska Davie-Bonet, Esthetician at Inner Beauty by Waleska located in the Rincon Wellness Co-op.
The sun and our skin ~ therein lies a conundrum. It’s a “can’t live with it and can’t live without it” scenario. Many dermatologists warn against any amount of UV exposure but we also rely on sunlight for our overall health and happiness. So how do we have a balanced relationship with the sun, both enjoying our lives and keeping our skin healthy? While it’s proven that for prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, an SPF sunscreen is essential to our long term safety, our first line of defense should be healthy, properly functioning skin. And there is a whole lot more to keeping our skin healthy than just sunscreen.
With over 30 years of combined experience, Lauryn & Waleska have seen a lot of sun damage. Being in the Caribbean, many people often struggle with how much sun to take in without negative effects both short and long term. There is a delicate balance, and the solution lies in nourishing and protecting the skin. The wellness of our skin is fundamental for a happy, healthy, and properly functioning body. Just think of all that it does: It is our largest organ, essential to our survival, our first line of defense in our body’s immunity, it heals itself when injured, produces melanin to protect itself from UV damage, and literally holds us all together.
Our skin deserves a little more respect. Skincare is not a luxury, but a necessity and a vital component in self-care.
Let’s talk about the skin barrier: our first line of defense. Located in the outermost layer of the skin, the skin barrier protects against germs, toxins, and is largely responsible for regulating transepidermal water loss (TEWL); the water that passes through the skin and evaporates from the surface. TEWL is directly related to our skin’s ability to stay hydrated. Things that directly contribute to the deterioration of the skin barrier are excess humidity or excessively dry climates; allergens, irritants, or pollutants; overexposure to the sun; harsh alkaline cleansers; and prolonged time in the water. When the skin barrier is damaged, we are more susceptible to infection, irritation, dermatological conditions, and lack of hydration. As we know, plump, moist, well-hydrated skin tends to be the healthiest skin. So what does the skin barrier need to maintain its proper function? Botanical oils are a great first step.
Studies have shown many natural botanical oils have a reparative effect on skin barrier function and hydration. We have used plant oils for centuries to help soothe and repair our skin, and there is conclusive evidence that oils like jojoba, sunflower, and coconut actively repair the skin barrier and provide a protective occlusive layer, sealing in moisture. Some botanical butters and oils even contain natural UV filters; not enough to protect from a full day of direct sun exposure, but enough for daily light protection during everyday tasks. Unrefined Shea butter, Buriti oil, and unrefined Coconut oil have mild sun-protective benefits and also help the skin barrier maintain and repair itself, strengthening its natural defenses. Some oils and heavier butters are best used on the body, but too heavy and potentially pore-clogging on the face, like coconut and Shea Butter. Using Jojoba, Sunflower, or Argan may prove to be better options in this case. While finding the right oil for your skin can take a little research, the benefits are well worth it in the long run. While creams & lotions containing these botanical ingredients work just fine, oil-based formulations have a few advantages to consider: higher concentrations of nutrients, water-resistance, and generally a longer duration on the skin. In the end, this is left to personal preference as both can be beneficial.
While sunscreens specifically target UV radiation, few address skin barrier repair and many contain ingredients which may also contribute to skin irritation. While some companies are making more skin-friendly formulations, applying a plant-based oil or moisturizer directly after showering, before applying a sunscreen, is one of the best ways to keep the skin nourished, and to protect against mild skin irritants. This brings us to our next topic: the importance of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants in skincare.
The inflammatory response in the skin directly relates to an attempt to protect itself. There are many possible causes of skin irritation, which could be a separate article unto itself; ranging from skin pH to allergies to chemicals to dietary offenders - so let's just keep it simple. Anti-inflammatory ingredients in your skincare can help soothe many inflammatory skin conditions, especially when you are exposed to excess sun and salt. Chronic inflammation has been linked directly to premature aging and disrepair. Many botanical ingredients help calm inflammation and repair skin, including Calendula, Colloidal Oatmeal, Blue Tansy, and Aloe.
Antioxidants are just as important, scouting out possible pollutants and free radicals that cause irritation, contribute to photo-aging (more on that below), and even lead to skin diseases in the long term. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, polyphenols... these are all powerful skin nutrients that can assist in avoiding long term damage, both of the visible and invisible variety. A skincare regimen with both antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, particularly when applied regularly after sun exposure, can be one of our most effective ways to stave off long-term damage. Excellent oils of natural origin that are high in antioxidants are Açai, Argan, and Green Coffee Bean. (Ingesting anti-inflammatory herbs and antioxidant-rich foods can also be helpful).
Now let’s dive into photo-aging and its effects on the skin: photo-aging is the long term result from UVB wavelengths that cause sunburn, which penetrate deep within the skin layers and over a period of time can alter DNA. Photo-aging is largely responsible for a lot of skin conditions we all try to avoid: wrinkles, discoloration, and rough, dry skin. Many botanical oils and extracts can work on the skin on a cellular level to assist with photo-aging: Myrrh, Helichrysum, Copaiba Balsam, and Lavender have all been shown to be effective in wound healing, and can penetrate deeply below the surface of the skin to help repair everyday damage caused by UV exposure. Carotenoids help protect the skin from UV damage, while Vitamin A is the nutrient most recommended by dermatologists to reverse visible damage. Botanicals high in naturally occurring vitamin A and carotenoids include Raspberry Seed Oil, Rosehip Oil, and Buriti Oil. They are also found in fruits such as papaya and mango. Photo-aging is easier to avoid than to reverse, and in many cases may require clinical methods. All the more reason to embrace a skincare wellness regimen before visible damage is observed.
All of the aforementioned topics ~ skin barrier repair and maintenance by using occlusive botanical oils, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories ~ can assist in avoiding this type of long-term damage when paired with a good skin-friendly, and preferably reef-safe sunscreen. It should also be noted that home-made sunscreens may not be as effective as we’d like to think, as zinc is a highly charged particle that can tend to clump together in formulations unless specialty laboratory equipment is used, followed by clinical trials to insure efficacy. Make sure you are using a certified SPF to avoid further damage.
Sun damage can also affect the hair and scalp. Baobab protein has been shown to assist in repairing UV damage to the hair, and oils like Avocado, Moringa, Amlaki, and once again Coconut, can replenish depleted nutrients to strengthen and protect it.
Just a little note on what to avoid: While natural products can provide a vast array of wonderful benefits, not all naturally sourced ingredients are good for sun exposure. When exposure to direct sunlight is high, limit the use of acids that can strip the skin. Skin peels and harsh abrasives should be followed with double the precaution: wear sunscreen and a hat, and use gentle products afterwards. Be cautious of photosensitizing essential oils. Many citrus oils and extracts can cause photosensitivity, which in the tropics, equates to a mini ticking time-bomb on your skin. There are many searchable lists of photosensitizing essential oils (and as a general statement from an aromatherapist, always dilute essential oils when applying to the skin, no matter the type). Avoid harsh alkaline cleansers that can strip the skin. The skin’s pH ranges from 4.5-6, while many bar soaps and soap-based cleansers can be as high as 9. Check that you are using a mild, pH balanced cleanser if skin irritation seems a constant for you.
~Look for skin-friendly botanical oils that seal in moisture: products containing Coconut (for the body), Sunflower, Jojoba, and Sweet Almond have all shown helpful results in repairing the skin barrier. Apply product directly after showering to seal in moisture and stay hydrated.
~Implement anti-inflammatories and antioxidants into your daily skincare regimen: particularly after sun exposure. Calendula, Aloe, Oat, Vitamin C-rich and Vitamin E-rich botanicals are excellent skin nutrition. Incorporating antioxidant-rich foods into your diet is also helpful.
~Photo-aging is hard to reverse. The items mentioned above can help avoid it, combined with a good skin-friendly sunscreen. Vitamin A and Carotenoids are helpful in assisting with present damage.
~Avoid over use of acidic or alkaline to not strip skin. Skin ph ranges from 4.5 to 6. Use a pH balanced gentle cleanser instead of soap-based cleansers, especially on the face. Be extra cautious to avoid excessive UV exposure if exfoliants or acids are used in your skincare routine.
Skin wellness and the prevalence of these skin conditions in our community is what inspired the creation of Isla Mudra Islandvedic Essentials: Skincare for Your SOL. Isla Mudra implements the finest quality botanicals and sun-friendly ingredients combined with Ayurvedic self-care rituals to bring your body back in balance with nature and our tropical environment. You will find many of the above mentioned botanicals in our formulations. Look for us at Saluna Apothecary and Edward’s GoNatural. And look for the Isla Mudra Facial coming soon to Inner beauty by Waleska at the Rincon Wellness Co-op.
Written by Lauryn Noël Otten - LCMT, Skincare Formulator, Owner of Isla Mudra @islamudra & islamudra.com
Co-written by Waleska Davie-Bonet - Esthetician, Inner Beauty by Waleska @innerbeautywaleska