If you’re like us, this is the time of year when you’re daydreaming about the beach, cooking up family barbecues and making the most of the summer’s hot, steamy end.
But there’s something else we should all be thinking about as the sun beats down on us, the pools we swim in teem with chlorine, and the locker rooms we change in drip with humidity, and that is the health of our skin, hair and nails.
Save for smearing on some sunscreen, we tend to think of caring for our body’s natural armor as a cold weather endeavor, when frigid, dry air rakes across our face and bites at our hands. But protecting our skin, hair and nails is a yearlong effort, and it’s especially important in the hottest months. Now is when the sun’s rays are most likely to burn us, when fungus is most likely to take hold on our toenails and feet, and when chlorine is most likely to damage our hair. And let’s face it, it’s also when we’d all like to look our best while catching some waves and reuniting with old friends.
Here are several simple steps you can take to defend your skin, strengthen your nails, and nourish your hair:
Be a little shady. While sunlight is a vital source of vitamin D and can help ward off depression, excessive exposure damages your skin, making it wrinkly and peppering it with sunspots. It also puts us at a higher risk of developing cancer. We recommend lathering on a quality sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher year round. But be sure to read the label: Many popular sunscreens contain chemicals that can absorb into the body, according to the Environmental Working Group. Pick mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and avoid products with oxybenzone, parabens or phthalates. Always check the expiration date and never use a product that is expired.
Cool down your showers. Long, steamy showers might feel good, especially after a sweaty trip to the gym or mowing the lawn, but soaking in hot water can strip natural oils from your skin and hair, and it can cause your nails to split. Strong soaps and shampoos, especially those with chemical detergents and fragrances, should be avoided.
Go coconuts! After washing, coat your skin and nails with replenishing lotions and oils. Choose ones made of organic ingredients, and containing coconut, jojoba or argan oils; calendula cream; or aloe. For hair, try products containing babassu, lavender and evening primrose oils.
Work out athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot can lead to toenail fungus, so it’s important take care of, and prevent, fungal growth on your feet and toes. This is especially a problem during the hot, humid months of summer. Wash your feet and hands regularly, change your socks often, and alternate shoes. If you develop athlete’s foot, apply tea tree oil or other antifungal ointments until the fungus is cleared. Also, keep your toenails and fingernails trimmed to avoid germs, such as yeasts, bacteria and fungus, from getting trapped underneath. If fungus makes its way into your nails, try treating it with snakeroot extract, tea tree oil and Thuja occidentalis oil. Taking a probiotic daily can also help ward off fungus.
Nail down good habits. In addition to clipping and cleaning your nails regularly, wear gloves when cleaning with harsh soaps or chemicals, and apply moisturizers to the nails often. Also, remember that when it comes to nail health, looks can be deceiving. Paints may appear pretty, but many nail polishes, gels and cleaners contain dangerous chemicals, such as triphenyl phosphate. Steer clear of paint removers with acetone.
Brush up on hair health. This time of year, your hair will need protection from chlorine in pools and excessive sun, both of which can dry out and damage your locks. While it’s OK to wash oily hair daily, avoid cleaning too often or with harsh shampoos that strip away natural oils, and only use dryers briefly, if at all. Be wary of dyes and other treatments, which typically contain chemicals that can harm hair and skin. Turmeric, milk thistle, nettle leaf, vegetable silica, and saw palmetto are alternatives that promote healthy hair growth.
Beauty isn’t only skin deep. Good looks really do start on the inside. Smoking, eating poorly and failing to drink enough water will contribute to sagging, wrinkling skin and brittle hair and nails. Drinking too much alcohol will also take a toll on your complexion. By far, smoking is the worst offender, as it robs your skin of nutrients and damages its very sources of elasticity, collagen and elastin. Eating fruits, vegetables and healthy fats found in nuts and olive oil, on the other hand, as well as primrose oil supplements and omega fatty acid supplements, can help improve your skin. Eating foods such as carrots, eggs and almonds that are high in biotin may also ensure healthier nails, skin and hair.
Finally, remember that protecting your skin, hair and nails is not just a pursuit for women. It only takes a tiny cut or crack to let pathogens get in, and many toxins can absorb into our bodies through the flesh. These are not just things of beauty, but our first line of defense for foreign invaders.
Steve Bernardi is a compounding pharmacist and Dr. Gary Kracoff has a degree in naturopathic medicine and is a registered pharmacist at Johnson Compounding & Wellness in Waltham, Mass. For more information, visit www.naturalcompounder.com. Readers with questions about natural or homeopathic medicine, compounded medications, or health in general can e-mail email@example.com or call 781-893-3870.