The B’s of summer skin care

Ahh, it’s a time of renewal, refreshment and growth. The smell of earth ready for planting begs you to shed the wool sweater and feel the sun on your skin. Your skin–the largest organ of the body with its own intricate tasks performed 24/7 through all seasons, and the seasons of spring and summer are the best opportunities to nourish it inside and out.

Human skin has several layers, but its main duty is protection. It covers bones, ligaments, internal organs and muscle tissue. It also houses and cushions nerve endings for exposure to open air and surfaces would be excruciating. Skin regulates the body’s temperature as well as insulates it in extreme weather temperatures. Pores on the skin allow moisture to leave the body to cool it (sweating,) while hair and exterior layers keep harmful matter and debris from entering the system.

Skin problems like acne, eczema, rosacea, rashes and even skin cancer can be linked to hormones, seasonal changes, heredity and stress, but more studies are discovering that what we put into our bodies shows up on the outside. Hundreds of dollars spent at the cosmetics counter may exfoliate, cleanse and tone the outer layers of skin temporarily, but will probably not yield the natural glow resulting from a healthy diet. Nor will creams and serums contribute to keeping your heart and blood pressure in good condition.

Sunscreen has become a necessary topical shield in both summer and winter, but eating for health is nothing new. For skin care, think beans, bees, berries and beta-carotene. Happily, these “4 B’s” are readily available. In fact, if you are eating a balanced diet, they are probably already on your plate. Thinking about a garden? Plant some of these easy-to-grow fruits and vegetables, and you’ll be enhancing your skin at every meal.

Beans: Beans are little bundles of fiber, protein and antioxidants and have been called a miracle food. Legumes (one class of beans) contain powerful antioxidants that have been linked to smoother skin in an Australian research study. Beans don’t do all it by themselves, but in conjunction with healthy fats (like olive oil, avocados and omega 3’s) and other skin-friendly vegetables (see below,) the indications are that regular intake can reduce wrinkles by 20 percent.

Bees: Honey, actually. Applied to the skin, honey has been used as a treatment for burns and wounds because of its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. As a humectant, it helps the skin retain moisture, plumping up the cells and combating dryness. Cleopatra languished in milk and honey baths, but if you want to refresh and heal your skin after a day in the sun, mix equal parts honey, milk, plain yogurt and ground sesame seeds, apply to your face (or other irritated skin,) leave on for 10 minutes and rinse off with lukewarm water.

Berries: Blackberries and blueberries especially are little powerhouses for good health. Aside from being one of the highest sources of antioxidants available (2036 units per 100 grams,) blackberries are rich in Vitamin E which concentrates on fighting free radicals attacking the skin (cancer, spots and wrinkles.) It’s best to eat blackberries raw because cooking can break down some of the beneficial properties.

Blueberries are the rock stars of the antioxidant world. Fat free, 80 calories per delicious cup, they pack in more than three times the antioxidant units (6552) of blackberries per 100 grams. These antioxidants are linked to the deep blue color pigment, anthocyanin. As it happens this and the high Vitamin C content in blueberries work on collagen production and repair, promoting anti-aging processes at the cellular level. Look for dark, dark berries that are not too soft.

Beta-carotene/Vitamin A: Okay, it isn’t technically a food, but it’s found in many of the summer garden favorites. The name is a derivative of the Latin name for carrot, and is a form of Vitamin A. In the body Vitamin A is converted to retinol which is used in part as retinoic acids. They are beneficial to the skin for cell repair and renewal, and Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties to protect the skin from UV rays. Most notably, retinol stimulates the production of collagen. Collagen is a fibrous protein that connects various tissues and skin together. Collagen breaks down with age creating wrinkles, so it’s important to keep the supply replenished. Beta-carotene is, of course, found in carrots, but also in red peppers, sweet potatoes and in, generally, orange and yellow vegetables. And who doesn’t have an abundance of squash at the end of the summer?

Low-fat dairy products, especially yogurt, are also excellent sources of natural Vitamin A which does not have to be converted from beta-carotene. This is important for diabetics who have difficulty with the conversion process.

The greatest hydrator for the skin is water. Drink lots of it in any season to flush the cells and body of waste, to replenish fluids lost through sweating and to keep skin cells soft, full and younger looking. Dehydrated skin becomes thin and papery and can’t perform its functions as the body’s protector, not to mention adding years to one’s looks.

Break out the sunscreen, and, as you’re shopping at farmers markets or planting your garden, remember the 4 B’s. They don’t come in a jar, and they aren’t cosmetic, but making healthier choices like these will keep you feeling better and looking younger the natural way.