PSA: for the Sake of Your Skin, Don’t Hover Around the Grill This Summer

Photo: Stocksy/Gabriel Gabi Bucataru
Get excited, summer lovers, because it's officially the season to salivate as gray smoke rises from a vegan-friendly grill full of hot dogs and Impossible Burgers. As a health-conscious woman, you likely already slather on sustainable sunblock so you can safely soak up vitamin D while brainstorming which keto-friendly condiments you'll add to your charred grub. Unfortunately, the sun isn't the only potentially hazardous component of your barbecue; the fuming grill itself emits chemicals harmful to your skin.

Past studies have linked polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—a carcinogenic compound found in grilled and charred red meat—to bowel and stomach cancers. Erica Walters, MD, of Tribeca Wellness Collective and Park Avenue Skin Solutions, says PAHs attach to DNA and create breaks, which can lead to irregular, cancerous cells. And, a small study recently published in Environmental Science & Technology found that you don't have to ingest them for them to be harmful. Yep, PAHs can apparently be absorbed topically through the skin, Munchies reports.

To combat the cancer-causing damage of PAH molecules from grills, Dr. Walters recommends loading up on antioxidants, which she says repair compromised DNA cells and flush out PAHs in the body.

For the study, researchers split 20 participants into different groups at an outdoor barbecue and exposed each group to a different level of PAHs through smoke and food. They then collected urine samples from the participants and measured them, along with cotton clothing samples and air, for PAH levels. Ultimately grill-out-goers who ate the charred food had the highest levels of PAHs in their system—but, it wasn't inhalation that took second place. Skin exposure was actually found to be the second-highest route for PAHs to enter the system. The authors note this is an important discovery since "dermal absorption of the general population to fumes and related health risk seem to have been largely overlooked."

Yes, your clothing does initially act as a barrier to the smoke and PAHs in the air, but eventually, the garments actually exacerbate the problem. This is because the harmful pathogens cling to the fabric and therefore your pores. But there is something you can do to combat your intake of the compound.

To fight the cancer-causing damage, Dr. Walters recommends loading up on antioxidants, which she says repair compromised DNA cells and flush out PAHs in the body. "Dark-colored fruits and veggies like berries, cruciferous plants, tomatoes, pomegranates, and broccoli are stuffed with cancer-fighting compounds," she says. (Fun fact: Dr. Walters says sunscreens also help keep antioxidant levels high in the skin—so, lather up!) She also recommends applying a vitamin C serum to keep the skin surface healthy and unbroken.

While further research on absorbing carcinogens through the skin is needed, the study results are a good excuse to make as many outfit changes as possible and to stock up on blueberry-filled fresh fruit popsicles for all of your summer gatherings. Because, duh, your health demands it.

Looking for healthy summer dishes? Try these surprising Instant Pot recipes and big-batch cocktails for your party.

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