Babying your skin in the hot summer sun

The scent of coconut still sends me back to my teenage years and my best friend’s backyard.

The scent of coconut still sends me back to my teenage years and my best friend’s backyard.

Every summer, we worked on our tans. The radio on in the background, lounging in bikinis, we slathered on tanning oil and baked.

Anticipating summer afternoons, I took my wide brimmed hat from the closet this weekend. Now on summer afternoons I can be found in the shade, wearing loose cotton dresses and sipping green tea with a slice of lemon. The radio is still on.

Living in Central Alberta, after months of winter, it is hard not to crave the sun and its warmth on skin. It is difficult not to seek the golden glow of a tan. But, after a certain age, one realizes the sun ages skin. So what to do?

Choose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays burn skin and are responsible for wrinkles. Both UVA and UVB are implicated in skin cancers. Apply the sunscreen before heading out. Those with darker complexions reapply sunscreen more frequently that those with lighter complexions. Also, after swimming or working up a sweating, be sure put on more.

On the other hand, UVB rays help our body make Vitamin D. Try to spend 30 minutes a day in the sun unprotected. Early morning before 10 a.m. or late afternoon after 3 p.m. is a good time to get out without sunscreen.

Skin loves water. When out in the sun, drink lots of it. Or try watery fruit such as watermelon, peaches and plums to keep hydrated. By the way, watermelon has the highest fibre content of all fruit. Be aware of water stealing beverages such as coffee and energy drinks containing caffeine. Alcohol also causes dehydration.

To make a refreshing tea summer tea, steep a handful of lemon balm (melissa officinalis), peppermint (mentha piperita) and basil (ocimum spp.) leaves and drop in a slice of lemon. All these herbs can be grown in Alberta gardens or on the balcony in pots.

In countries where it is summer all year round, such as India, tea is always served hot.

Hot tea helps balance the temperature between the body and the great outdoors. In traditional Chinese medicine and ayurvedic medicine of India, drinking cold water is considered poison to the body. The cold shocks the body on a hot day.

After sun, use warm water and a tablespoon of honey as a face wash. Apply moisturizers.

My favourite contains calendula (calendula officinalis) and lavender (lavandula officinal) flowers. I make it myself. Calendula repairs skin damage while lavender heals burns.

If a sun burn does occur, find an aloe plant (aloe spp.). I have one trying to take over the living window. Aloe vera is the great burn healer of the plant world. Pick a juicy, thick leaf and slice it open

lengthwise with a knife. Gently rub the leaf over the burn. It cools and soothes.

A doctor friend of my family told me about aloe when I was a child. He learned to use aloe vera during the Second World War while treating burns on soldiers.

Travelling through Bali on the back of a motorcycle, I suffered a nasty muffler burn. The inn keeper’s wife gave me a large piece of aloe daily to apply to the burn. It healed with no scar.

A lukewarm bath with several cups of baking soda will cool sunburn and ease itching.

Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are skin’s best friend. Replace the potato salad with a fruit salad and make green salads a rainbow of colour. If you are on a road trip and eating too many fries and burgers, take an anti-oxidant supplement of Vitamin A, C, E and selenium to care for skin. Remember though, supplements do not replace a nutritious diet.

Don’t forget fish oils. They make skin soft and supple.

Now when I was a teenager, I did not anticipate wrinkles. However, now when I meet elders with deep furrows of laughter and sorrow etched into their once smooth skin, I always pause for a moment. Looking into their eyes.

Inevitably I find a sparkle that twinkles at me from deep inside their heart. Then I know I am meeting someone who understands true beauty, wrinkles and all.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit Arneson can be reached at

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