Throughout the summer, many of us have spent endless hours outdoors, as nearly any favorite summer activity includes enjoying the warm weather and the brilliant sunshine, and there are, most likely, ample sun-filled days left to enjoy. However, summer’s coveted sunshine has a downside. Not only does it inflict more direct ultraviolet rays our way than in colder months, but these rays also cover a much greater surface area as we tend to expose our skin more during this season. The unfortunate result is damaged skin cells in need of nourishment and repair.

The outermost layer of skin cells – the epidermis – contains a protective pigment known as melanin. This pigment increases in quantity and acts as a natural sunscreen when we are exposed to greater amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. As the melanin in our skin cells increases, the color of our skin darkens into what we refer to as a “tan.” However, periods of excessive sun exposure can overwhelm our bodies’ natural defense system. When this happens, damage occurs within our skin cells, resulting in sunburns.

After skin cells have been damaged from UV radiation, a series of events occur to repair the damaged area and prevent further harm. Initially, the skin becomes red and inflamed during the sunburn stage. A fervent rebuilding of cells will then ensue to form a better protective barrier against future sun exposure. This later response leads to the characteristic skin thickening seen in individuals frequently exposed to sunlight. What is not so obvious is the sun’s ability to damage cellular components, such as the DNA. UV radiation can change and mutate DNA in skin cells, potentially resulting in damaging outcomes.

When skin has been harmed by over exposure to sunlight, various nutrients have been found to be helpful in supporting the body in its attempt to repair skin cells and prevent further damage. One group of nutrients, known as plant polyphenols, are helpful in supporting the body’s ability to soothe initial inflammation. Additionally, plant polyphenols act as antioxidants, meaning they are able to neutralize damaging free radicals that result when the body is overexposed to sunlight. Plant polyphenols are abundant in such nutrients as green tea extract, olive fruit extract, grape seed extract and resveratrol, to name a few.

Individual vitamins may also play a supporting role in repairing sun-damaged skin. Vitamin A is a naturally occurring constituent of skin cells and aids in the body’s ability to regenerate new cells when old ones have been damaged. Like plant polyphenols, vitamin A is also a powerful antioxidant. When the sun has damaged the skin, vitamin A levels are often depleted, leaving the skin more prone to destruction by free radicals.

Vitamin C is also very helpful in boosting the body’s healing powers. It is a natural component of collagen, the protein in skin responsible for its smooth, elastic appearance. When collagen is damaged by frequent or excessive exposure to the sun, early signs of aging develop, including wrinkles, fine lines, and loss of elasticity. Vitamin C supports the rebuilding of collagen to keep skin looking youthful and healthy.

When it comes to sun exposure, it appears that moderation is the key, with the best possible way to protect the skin from excessive UV radiation is by limiting overall sun exposure. Yet, there are ample reasons that drive everyone to get outside and enjoy some of those rays. While no nutrient can completely turn back the clock on the effects sunlight has on skin health, the nutrients mentioned above do offer some much needed skin support.