There’s a lot more to safe sun exposure than just sunblock and shade.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in protecting skin from the damaging effects of the sun.
UV radiation causes free-radical activity in the skin cells, which triggers inflammation as well cellular DNA damage (which can lead to cancer). Luckily, certain foods have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects on the body, which help to negate the effects of UV radiation.
Now I know what you’re thinking. And while yes, you can technically just slather on the sunblock to help prevent UV damage, there is something else we need to consider when it comes to sun exposure: vitamin D synthesis. You see, the human body can only produce vitamin D — an absolutely crucial vitamin for health and the prevention of all cancers — when our skin is exposed to the sun. In fact, some argue that our current epidemic of vitamin D deficiency is occurring because we’ve all been “scared sunless” due to increased rates of skin cancer, and that this may actually be far more detrimental to our health than sun exposure itself. It’s a heavily debated, pretty sticky situation, and one in which we need to safely strike a delicate balance between adequate sun exposure and the prevention of UV damage.
I believe that supplying our bodies with the nutrients they need to combat UV damage from the inside out is a very necessary part of this balance.
So be sure to leave room in your beach bag for a snack!
6 Foods That Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage:
Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which has been proven to provide long-term protection against the effects of UV radiation. Studies show that eating as little as 20g of tomato paste per day (about 1.25 tablespoons) can reduce the risk of sunburn by as much as 33%!
Interestingly, the lycopene in cooked tomatoes is four times more bioavailable (that is, it’s more readily absorbed and assimilated by the body) than raw tomatoes. So you may want to cook up your own tomato sauce or choose tomato paste (in a jar rather than a can since the acids in tomatoes cause the unhealthy chemicals used in can linings to leech into the product, which then find their way into our bodies! I get mine from Thrive Market, a fantastic resource for saving money on health foods and natural products!). And since lycopene is fat-soluble, so be sure to drizzle your tomatoes with olive oil or pair them with avocado.
Wild salmon packs a 1-2 punch against sun damage: it’s loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and the powerhouse antioxidant astaxanthin.
Now omega-3 essential fatty acids are something in which most of our population is seriously deficient. This is one of the reasons so many people nowadays experience chronic inflammation and inflammatory diseases. For this reason, I believe we all need to take a close look at the sources of our dietary fat to increase our omega-3 intake and decrease our omega-6 intake (remember: omega-3s and omega-6s should be consumed at about the same ratio, but the average America consumes a whopping ten times more omega-6s than omega-3s!). Another incentive to do so: a number of studies have demonstrated that omega-3s can decrease the redness and burning associated with UV exposure as well as decrease the risk of certain types of skin cancer.
Astaxanthin is one of the most powerful antioxidants, 550 times stronger than vitamin E and 6,000 times stronger than vitamin C! Astaxanthin has been shown to minimize UVA damage to the skin.
2-3 servings of wild salmon weekly will do both your skin and whole body good. You can also take a quality fish oil or omega-3 supplement, as well as an astaxanthin supplement. But be careful: most of the fish oil supplements sold at the local drugstore contain rancid oils, which do more harm than good.
Cacao (i.e. chocolate!)
Cacao is rich in flavanol, a type of flavonoid that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown that when cacoa is consumed longterm, it protects the skin from sunburn — one study found that women who consumed cacao daily for 12 weeks experienced 15-25% less redness after UV exposure! Cacao has also been found to increase blood and oxygen circulation to the skin, which aid the healing process and help minimize damage should your skin get a little too much sun exposure.
But before you go grabbing for the nearest chocolate bar, remember to look for a high-cacao content (I personally prefer over 80%) and try avoid unhealthy additives like soy lecithin or artificial flavors. This Theo 85% dark chocolate is one of my favorite chocolate bars, though it does contain a small amount of refined sugar. (Please NOTE: I’m linking to these on Amazon for reference but also for those without easy access to a health food store, but you can often find them at a better price at your local health food store or online at Thrive Market, which is where I buy them.)
Simply adding raw cacao powder to your daily routine — in your smoothie, coffee, or alone in some water (perhaps with some pure stevia extract for sweetness) — is also a great way to up your flavanol intake without any extra sugar or other ingredients.
Green tea is rich catachins, another flavanoid and extremely potent antioxidant. Several studies have found that the catechins in green tea protect skin cells from the oxidative dress and damage from UV exposure. One study even concluded that green tea prevents non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair.
So make iced green tea your go-to drink this summer! I like to buy this organic green tea in bulk to save some money and reduce waste.
And remember that vitamin C protects the catechins in green tea, making them 5 times more powerful once they’re in your body. Yes, five times! So be sure to squeeze some lemon in your iced green tea to get more bang for your antioxidant buck.
This classic summer treat serves a greater purpose than seed spitting contests! Like tomatoes, this refreshing fruit is also packed with lycopene — scientists at the South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Oklahoma estimate watermelon to have 40% more lycopene than raw tomatoes. This is because the lycopene in watermelon is already bio-available, whereas tomatoes need to be cooked to increase their bioavailability.
Dark leafy greens
Should have expected it, huh? Dark leafy greens are always a health must-have, and of course this extends to the skin!
Dark leafy greens like kale, watercress, chard, and spinach are rich in a number of powerful antioxidants that work together to protect skin from UV damage, namely carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, and flavanoids. An Australian study of over 1,000 adults found that those participants who regularly ate 3 or more servings of dark leafy greens reduced their risk of skin cancer by up to 55%.
So don’t pass up the salad at the BBQ and be sure to add some healthy fats, which increase the bioavailability of a number of the goodies found in dark leafy greens.
Sunny days are ahead!