12 Foods That Boost Your Skin’s Natural Sun Protection
Eat these nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory foods that protect your skin & promote healing!
Summer is the easiest time of year (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) to get sun and natural vitamin D. But it is also the easiest time to get sunburn. Did you know that the food you eat influences how easily you burn when out in the sun? Research has found certain key nutrients from your diet can actually boost your skin’s natural sun protection and protect your skin from sun damage. I’ll get into them below.
First things first, though. This article is NOT meant to make you afraid of the sun. We need it! I’m a big proponent of conservative daily sunshine for vitamin D production. Sunshine only becomes unhealthy when you get excessive exposure to UV rays, which can lead to skin damage, or worse, skin cancer.
Remember: You should never get sunburned!
You just have to be smart with sun exposure. If you are going to be in the sun for long periods of time, wear protective clothing, and if needed, non-toxic sunscreen to avoid overloading your skin with too much sun.
Sunshine and vitamin D production are a critical cornerstone for long-term health. Instead of all the negative focus on the sun, what you should actually be aware of are the chemical-laden sunscreens out there causing disease – but that is a whole separate topic to cover! There is plenty of natural sunscreens out there (and the EWG is a great resource to use to find them), but more importantly, sun protection can come from your food too.
FOODS THAT BOOST NATURAL SUN PROTECTION
The foods you eat can seriously reduce your risk for sunburn, sun damage, and skin cancer by supporting your skin’s ability to remain healthy and defend itself against too much sun. Here are 12 foods that science shows naturally boost sun protection and healing in the body:
1. CITRUS FRUIT
Citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits) are high in vitamin C. Research has found that a long-term intake of vitamin C, together with vitamin E, can reduce the potential for sunburn. Besides being high in Vitamin C, citrus fruits contain limonene, which has been associated with a whopping 34 percent lower risk of skin cancer. Citrus fruits also contain antioxidants, which work to protect your cells from free-radical damage (which happens during sunburn) that can lead to skin cancer.
We all know carrots are touted for your eye health. However did you know they can also help protect your skin? Carrots are one of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene also helps protect the skin against the free radical damage caused from sun exposure. Because of this, carrots can provide increased protection against sunburn, especially when combined with vitamin E.
Strawberries contain a powerful combination of antioxidants and vitamin C, which both help protect your skin from sun damage. They can also help sunburned skin heal.
TIP: Strawberries contain tannins that can help reduce the sting of a sunburn. If by chance you do get some sunburn, grab a few strawberries and mash them up. Than slather them on your sunburn for natural relief. Rinse off your skin after a few minutes.
4. GREEN TEA
When you sip a cup of green tea, your body is getting catechins, which have disease-preventing properties and protect against sunburn inflammation and long-term UV radiation damage. Green tea also has tannic acid in it, which helps calm sunburn pain, and antioxidants called EGCGs. A University of Wisconsin study showed EGCGs stopped genetic damage in human skin cells exposed to UV light.
TIP: Some studies show enjoying just two cups a day could help provide additional sun protection. This sweet dressing includes strawberries and green tea for an extra summer boost of protection.
Pomegranates have been part of a healing tradition that dates all the way back to ancient Egypt! The seeds in this delicious exotic fruit are rich in antioxidants. Pomegranates also contain ellagic acid, which can help protect your skin from cell damage induced by the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. In one research study, when pomegranate extract was used in conjunction with sunscreen, it increased the SPF by 20 percent! Pomegranate also increases glutathione, a power-house antioxidant, which also increases protection from free radical damage.
TIP: I highly recommend making a batch of some iced pomegranate-infused green tea for your next summer gathering! You get the skin-protection benefits of pomegranates AND green tea combined!
Almonds are one of the best sources of vitamin E, which protects and repairs the skin from sunlight. Almonds also contain quercetin, which has been shown to protect against UV damage and the wrinkle-causing breakdown of collagen. One study found that after participants were exposed to UV light, the participants who took the same amount of vitamin E found in 20 almonds had less sunburn than the participants who did not that amount of vitamin E.
TIP: Pack some almonds to snack on the next time you go to the beach or pool! Or make some fresh almond butter to spread on rice cakes or fruits and veggies.
7. RED GRAPES
Phytonutrients in grapes can slow down the formation of destructive reactive oxygen species (ROS) that form in skin cells, which has been linked to sun damage, skin cancer and cell death. Grapes also contain proanthocyanidins and other polyphenols found in the grape’s seeds that inhibit skin cancer induced by UV rays. Grapes also contain quercetin, a study published by Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology found that quercetin was responsible for lessening oxidative DNA damage caused by UVB exposure, and was able to help protect the skin from related inflammation. Bonus!
8. LEAFY GREENS
Green lettuce, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard, are excellent sources of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These have been show to halt cell growth prompted by UV light in animal studies.
TIP: Eat salads every day and have fun with all the combinations possible. Check out this delicious salad recipe for some inspiration!
When you eat tomatoes, you are adding lycopene to your diet. Lycopene is a carotenoid and antioxidant that neutralizes the free radicals produced from too much sun, and minimizes any inflammatory response to UV damage by your body, according to Mayo Clinic. This effects is magnified when you eat processed tomatoes (cooked or smashed into foods such as ketchup, tomato paste, or tomato juice), which makes the lycopene more bioavailable. In a German study, participants who ate a quarter cup of tomato paste with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 35 percent LESS skin reddening when exposed to UV radiation than those who did not eat the tomato paste. In another study, people eating five tablespoons of lycopene-rich tomato paste daily for three months experienced 25 percent more natural protection against sunburn.
This staple summer fruit is also high in lycopene and contains 40% more lycopene than tomatoes!
- TIP: Check out our “Sun-Protecting Watermelon Carrot Salad” recipe and bring it to your next summer pool or beach party!
Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine have used turmeric for centuries due to its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a “superstar” of superfoods. Laboratory studies suggest that turmeric can help protect the epidermal skin cells from the damage caused by ultraviolet B radiation (UB radiation).
- TIP: Try this cool, smooth turmeric smoothie.
12. FLAX SEED
Omega 3 fatty acids in flax seeds can protect your skin from sunburn, reduce additional inflammation if sunburn occurs, and fight against skin cancer. According to the National Institute of Health, flaxseed oil can protect your skin against UV rays and keep your skin moisturized so it won’t dry out, as well as fight against skin cancer. Try adding 2 tablespoons to your next smoothie.