6 foods to protect your skin from the sun

sunbathing
CC BY 2.0 Andreas Kontokanis

When paired with other traditional methods for sun protection, certain antioxidant-rich foods can help fight the damaging effects of the sun from the inside out. Learn which ones are best.

Did you know that the foods you eat can provide protection from the sun? By choosing foods that are rich in antioxidants, you can help build a natural protection against the free radicals entering your body through the sun’s rays. Be sure to pair with other tools for sun protection, such as applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, staying in the shade whenever possible, and choosing the hours of exposure, as foods alone cannot do the job. Also, changes will not happen overnight. These foods are most effective if eaten daily for at least 10 weeks, but it's better to implement the habit sooner rather than later.

1. Brazil nuts

Brazil nuts contain selenium, which protects against oxidative damage from the sun. According to the National Institutes of Health, a 1-ounce serving of Brazil nuts (6-8 nuts) provides 544 micrograms of selenium, which is 777 percent of the recommended daily value. (Any food providing 10 percent or more of the DV is considered a high source of a nutrient.)

2. The ‘orange’ trio

Carrots, oranges, and sweet potatoes are all packed with beta-carotene, an antioxidant that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules in the body and protects from free radicals. Foods rich in beta-carotene will help to normalize skin cell development and keep skin tone firm. They can also reduce sunburn intensity.

3. Citrus fruits

Limonene is a naturally occurring ‘terpene’ found in citrus fruit peels that is used to make medicine. A study at the University of Arizona found that consumption of citrus peels containing limonene is directly related to reduction of skin cancer.

“The most striking feature was the protection purported by citrus peel consumption. Moreover, there was a dose-response relationship between higher citrus peel in the diet and degree of [skin cancer] risk lowering.”

4. Leafy greens

Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, rapini, and dark lettuce, contain antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown in studies with animals to “provide evidence of significant efficacy against light-induced skin damage, especially the ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths.” These antioxidants also protect eyes from sunlight and inhibit damage to the retina, so you get a double protective effect when you fill up on leafy greens.

An Australian study of 1,000 adults found eating at least three servings of leafy greens daily reduces likelihood of skin cancer by up to 55 percent.

5. Green Tea

Green tea is rich in flavonoid phytochemicals called polyphenols, which numerous studies have shown to have protective effects against free radicals. From the Smart Skin Care website:

“Animal studies showed protection from skin cancer. Both animal and human studies have credibly demonstrated that topical green tea formulations reduce sun damage. Green tea appears to exert sun damage protection by quenching free radicals and reducing inflammation rather than by blocking UV rays. Therefore, green tea may synergistically enhance sun protection when used in addition to a sunscreen.”

You can apply a green tea formulation on your skin, although it’s important to pair with a zinc oxide-based sunscreen in order to block UV rays, which is something that green tea cannot do. Alternatively, blend green tea extract (½ mL of 1:1 strength alcohol-free extract) into your sunscreen prior to application.

6. The ‘red’ trio

Tomatoes, pomegranates, and watermelon are rich in lycopene, a very effective antioxidant. A study reported by the BBC looked at 23 women “who were used to burning merely at the sight of the sun.” Half took 55 mg of lycopene daily in the form of tomato paste, and the other half took nothing additional. After 12 weeks, the volunteers on the lycopene diet had an impressive 30 percent increase in sun protection.

Tags: Cancer | Diet | Fruits & Vegetables | Health | Skin Care

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