herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

FOrget the sunbeds - cook up your own tan

nutrition

I was cleaning out some cupboards during the week and came across a bottle of carrot oil. The use-by date had faded away, the label was on the same track, but the orange colour was certainly still apparent. For all the times I have said there is no significant fat content in most fruit and vegetables, let me clarify; this product simply had carrot added to an oil base, to produce an orange "after-sun" treatment in a bottle.

Carrots do not contain any significant amount of oil or fat.

It brings me right back to the eighties, when lots of women and men used to walk around, during the summer months, with an orange hue. This was quite the fashion for a brief few years, to get a tan out of a bottle. The thing was the bottle did not contain fake-tan; rather, carotene supplement tablets. People took daily doses of carotenoids and over a period of weeks turned a lovely shade of golden yellow/orange. Their skin looked lovely and tanned, right down to the palms of their hands and soles of their feet!

I was taken aback on a recent episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey (the secret is out; this is what I watch to unwind!) when Teresa Giudice (the most Jersey of Jersey Housewives) nonchalantely mentioned that "I tan, I spray", referring to her regular usage of sun-beds as well as spray tanning products.

I really thought that day had passed. I thought that in the US, surely, they would have outlawed sun-beds by now. Apparently not!

In recent years, the area of carotenoids and skin health has re-emerged and is now the focus of some research, on how and what carotenoids do for our skin.

It is a relief to know that we are past (I hope) our dependence on sun-beds for healthy-looking skin. It's hardly news that fruit and vegetables are good for you, but can they give you a golden tan, while simultaneously protecting you from cancers of the skin? That is where current research is at. Now that would be good news.

The science bit

Carotenoids are anti-oxidants that are responsible for the red, orange, yellow colours of such fruits and vegetables as tomatoes, carrots, peppers, plums, squash, cantaloupe melon, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots, peaches and the green of such vegetables as broccoli, kale, spinach, romaine and Cos lettuce (plus many more).

They fight the good fight; to arrest the destructive path of free radicals that would otherwise cause such cell damage as breaking down cell membranes and destroying DNA. Smokers, in particular, are exposed to large doses of toxins that produce free radicals in excessive amounts and thus age prematurely, in terms of skin ageing at any rate.

Sunbathing, the use of sun-beds and exposure to pollutants are all damaging to our skin.

Eating adequate fruit and vegetables, daily, can help prevent this damage and can even stop some cancers from developing further.

When it comes to the specifics of affecting the colour of your skin; carotenoids are stored in fat cells just under the surface of your skin where the effect they create is one of yellowness.

We tend to interpret this as a golden glow, of the calibre of a light tan. Carotenoids are non-toxic. When you reduce your intake, the colour fades.

The tan line

What is emerging is an interest in how carotenoids can affect the colour of our skin (of all races and pigmentation).

While it might not be news to anyone who lived through the eighties, it seems newsworthy again, that adequate carotenoid consumption can turn your skin more yellow, golden or 
orange (depending on your view on things).

Recent research is focusing, not on carotenoid supplements, but on increased consumption of such fruit and vegetables as those I have mentioned above. This is great news, as any supplement will not contain all possible cancer-fighting compounds found in the real thing.

This is also great news for those of us who like to consume vast quantities of such foodstuffs, as not only does the research show that carotenoids make us appear golden tanned, but that we are deemed more attractive for it (to the opposite sex).

While this may be of interest to some more than others, and the study sample was probably too small to be considered ground breaking, I think the golden-tan attraction part was probably the main reason that someone like Teresa Giudice uses sun-beds and spray-tans in the first place. We would all enjoy being considered more attractive and healthy looking, I suspect.

how much is too much?

Eating excessive amounts of foods rich in Beta-carotene can produce a disorder of the skin called carotenemia. This is the yellow palms and soles story. It is a harmless condition and totally reversible.

I have given this a good shot on behalf of myself and my kids and while they may be considered sallow (an old-fashioned word) or of an olive-complexion, their palms and soles are not in the least yellow.

It is, in other words, not easy to overdose on carotenoids, unless you are taking them as supplements.

By increasing your intake (which in Ireland, defaults to low) of fruit and vegetables 
significantly and consistently, you can, over a period of about six weeks, increase the 
pigmentation of your skin, to reap the benefits of not only a more 'attractive' you, but a healthier you to boot.

Enjoy a golden complexion and simultaneous protection from the effects of free-radicals and the risks associated with them.

Give yourself a six-week dose of carotenes for a long-lasting tan this year.

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