05.07.2014
Berry Aid!
The sun might be hot but plants can do more than provide shade

June was glorious.† ĎAnd what is so rare,í asked the American poet James Russell Lowell, Ďas a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.í† And there have indeed been perfect days over the past couple of weeks. But we live in England, so there has to be a Ďbutí.† My but is my horribly unsuitable skin.† Much as I yearned for the sun during those very, very soggy months earlier in the year, my skin gives me hell when itís hot:† in short, freckly, red, blotchy and very, very sore.† There are some positives, perhaps - but Iím hard-pushed to think of any.

When I was young, the choice of sunscreens amounted to, er, none. These days, there are masses, and there is scarcely a conscious being unacquainted with UV and SPFs and possibly even some particle physicks if mineral sun blockers take your fancy.† And there is unending advice. And endless scare stories.† And contradiction all around.† And Ė frankly Ė bafflement.† And thatís long before you get anywhere near forking out vast amounts for the sun protection that you think might suit you.

We all need protection against the sun, donít we? Because there are holes in the ozone layer and itís more dangerous than it used to be. Because we spend our time lounging in the sun Ė because we can (or some of you can, anyway).† And Ö sorry Ö because we can get skin cancer† (in mid June [ed:† 19June] the Office for National Statistics announced that malignant melanoma skin cancer rates have increased by 78 per cent in men and 48 per cent in women over the past decade in England Ė with nearly 11,300 new cases in 2012. The ONS blames increases sunny holidays abroad and increased use of sunbeds.

Meanwhile, there is a worry about vitamin D deficiency. Human bodies make vitamin D from the sunís rays and jolly useful it is too making bones strong, preventing rotten teeth and bowed legs, but also playing a role in keeping down depression, cardiovascular disease, asthma in children and various Ė here it comes again Ė cancers, never mind diabetes, some dietary intolerances and† multiple sclerosis too. Whatever its reach, vitamin D is surely important.† And some people arenít getting enough. Studies in Liverpool and Bristol have found increased risks in the women of some immigrant populations who cover up almost completely and stay indoors too much. It is a great worry because if women arenít acquiring enough vitamin D for themselves, neither are their breast-fed babies. There has been talk, too, in Australia of similar deficiencies in the general population who use Ė eek Ė too much sunblock!

Then there are scares about sunblocks.† Of course: there are scare stories about everything.† There are various chemical sunscreens that some say exacerbate skin damage.† There is certainly cause for concern about many ingredients in skincare Ė last month [ed: June] there were calls to manufacturers to stop using the alarmingly named chemical methyl dibromo glutaronitrile, a preservative that can cause allergic rashes.† Sunscreens have additional hazards:† one recent warning came from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority which tested mouse skin and found that half the cells died after contact with a weak dose of a widely used UVB filter called OMC - octyl methoxycinnamate .† When a lamp was shone on the impregnated cells, to simulate sunshine, the chemical became twice as toxic.

All in all, itís hard to know what to do.† What is clear is that need to screen against the sun but not so much that our health is endangered.† So, a retreat to common sense then. My top three rules are:

 

1.††††† Donít over-expose:† wear light cool clothes that cover up.

2.††††† Use sunscreen creams if youíre going to be in the sun.

3.††††† Eat foods with plenty of Vitamin D: oily fish, eggs, fortified cereals and milk.

 

 

While youíre thinking wisely, have a look at some of natureís own sunblockers.† You could even make your own Ė always tempting to me!† The latest miracle oil to be revealed is Red Raspberry Seed which, apart from anything else, sounds completely delicious.† Apparently it has a SPF of between 28-50;† a near-rival is carrot seed oil (SPF 38-40).† There are others too:† sesame (SPF 4 but also great for cell repair), macadamia nut, shea and avocado (each with around SPF 6 and full of useful vitamins).† Go for organic if you can: it will be purer and more powerful too.

 

A couple of years ago, for a trip to Guatemala, I mixed red raspberry and rice bran oils with vitamin E and carrot seed oils in a base of aloe vera gel.† I didnít burn, although I did cover up enthusiastically too.† There are plenty of other suggestions online if youíre keen to discover and experiment.† And if you do go down that fascinating path, rely on the comforts of common sense:† find out what suits you and your skin, and try it out in patch tests and in the sun at home before you slather it on at the beach.

 

If you do get burned, nature has plenty of very quick solutions at the ready: dear old aloe vera of course, but cucumber sliced and applied (with or without yoghurt) is a great cooler; or take a raw potato, grate it, soak it in water and then put it on those hot patches: remarkably soothing.† An ancient Ayurvedic remedy (donít kid yourself that people with brown skin donít burn!) is sandalwood and turmeric paste: mix equal amounts with a little cool water; apply to sunburned area and leave for 15-20 minutes. Oatmeal and baking soda, singly or together, mixed into a loose paste are similarly cooling. Then thereís lavender oil Ė always brilliant for burns and one of the only essential oils that you can apply directly to the skin; or St Johnís Wort, or blissfully cooling witch hazel, or liquid relief made with plantain, green tea or violet leaf.† There are many more, calendula, peppermint among them: sometimes, truly, you can trust in nature. Give it a go, and have very happy burn-free holidays!

 

   

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