If you ever had to come up with a list of why you love being in the Great Outdoors, you’d probably run out of time listing the many physical and mental benefits Mother Nature bestows. Hiking is one of those activities that combines physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, for there is an inexorable link between witnessing nature’s majesty and feeling like part of something far greater than ourselves. It is important to take care of your skin when you are on your next adventure, though, since the sun brings us magical rays full of Vitamin D, but it can also cause skin to age prematurely. Follow these tips for skin with a youthful glow, all year round.

Your skin works in magical ways

The epidermis is the first part of your body to react to the elements and weather. Whether it is hot or cold, the outer layer sends signals to your skin’s deeper layers. The cells at the bottom layer, called keratinocytes, slowly make their way to the outer skin. They grow towards the surface and are replaced by new cells below. As noted by beauty expert, Leslie Kenton, any steps you take today, whether it be consuming healthy food, applying a cream or protecting your skin against the sun, will reveal its benefits progressively, and skin can take weeks to look and feel better.

How does the sun affect our skin?

As the years pass by, our epidermis grows thinner, and skin becomes more susceptible to chemical and physical damage. Excessive exposure to sunlight and wind can dry our skin and cause wrinkles, flaccidity, and pigmentation. In essence, too much of a good thing (in this case, exposure to UV rays) causes ‘free radical damage’; it degrades the building blocks of skin (collagen and elastin) and can accelerate the production of AGEs (advanced glycosylation end-products). The latter cause fibers in our skin to cross-link and lose elasticity. AGEs are caused not only by excessive sun exposure, but also by consuming a diet that is high in refined sugars and processed ingredients.

What skin type is more susceptible to sun-derived ageing?

There are many factors that increase your skin’s susceptibility to ageing. These include diet, age, and skin tone. If you tend to consume refined foods, sugar and processed meals, then your skin is unlikely to glow with health. On the contrary, those who consume a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in seasonal fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and healthy fats, often have smoother, firmer skin.

The extent to which you care for skin is another issue. A regular skin routine (involving cleansing, toning and moisturizing) and occasional treats such as facials are important. Always pay attention to the ingredient list in your skincare, shunning parabens, preservatives and other chemicals,, which can add to your skin’s toxic overload. Skincare made with natural, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant ingredients are the way to go.

Age is another relevant factor, since the older skin is, the more likely it has been exposed to cumulative damage caused by pollution and harmful skincare products. Finally, the lighter your skin is, the more it can be prone to sun damage.

Which Type of Sunscreen is Best?

Sunscreen is generally divided into two types: physical, and chemical. As noted by skincancer.org, “Most UV filters are chemical: They form a thin, protective film on the surface of the skin and absorb the UV radiation before it penetrates the skin. The physical sunscreens are insoluble particles that reflect UV away from the skin.” The problem is that the active ingredients we absorb react with our skin and can create new compounds, whose effect on skin we know little about.

There are two important problems with chemical sunscreens:

  • They may stop skin from burning, but because they absorb the sun’s rays, they won’t necessarily stop wrinkles from appearing.
  • They tend to be absorbed quickly, so frequent re-application is often necessary.

Additional Protective Measures

It seems that a physical block could be your best bet in terms of reflecting UVA and UVB rays away from your skin, but what other measures can you take? First of all, make sure that your skin never burns, covering up with clothing when you are hiking or swimming. When you are out, use a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses as extra protection. On very hot days, try to stay out of the sun during peak hours (between 10am and 4pm). Finally, examine your skin in detail every month, seeing your doctor or dermatologist if you note any changes in your skin (such as a mole changing shape, color or size), or if any new growths appear).

The sun is a vital source of Vitamin D and a great source of light energy. However, when our skin is exposed to its rays for too long, wrinkles, sagging, and dark spots can ensue. To keep skin in optimal condition, opt for a healthy diet, cover up when you are in the sun, and make sure to use a sunscreen that drives UVA and UVA rays away.