Slathering on sunscreen is never enjoyable. Does that stuff ever blend in completely? While it's always important to spread on at least a thin layer of sunblock (yes, you can go for the easy spray-on, super-blend stuff), some other super powerful UV-blockers are hiding right in the produce aisle.
Shine On — Your Grocery Guide
Meet the double-duty foods that have been shown to increase the skin's ability to protect against UV damage. Oh, and they're part of a healthy diet, too. Their sunblocking secret: Antioxidants. These compounds help fight free radicals, a nasty set of atoms or molecules that contribute to annoying problems like premature aging and can be a product of unprotected sun exposure. Free radicals prowl the body, stealing electrons from healthy cells (in this case, in the skin). Antioxidants are a person's mini-martyrs, running around the body and giving up their extra electrons to free radicals so they stop pestering the healthy cells. Flashback to 6th grade science class, anyone?
Looking for comestible sun protection? Add these sun-friendly foods to the grocery list. (Sorry, SunChips aren't included.)
1. Omega-3-rich Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in many foods — and especially in shellfish and fatty fish) have incredible anti-inflammatory powers. Research suggests these compounds can help protect cells from free radical damage (like that caused by the sun) Dietary fish-oil supplementation in humans reduces UVB-erythemal sensitivity but increases epidermal lipid peroxidation. Rhodes, L.E., O'Farrell, S., Jackson, M.J. Dermatology Unit, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, U.K. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 1994 Aug;103(2): 151-4.. Another study found that adding omega-3 to the diet (or taking it in supplement form) may help prevent some types of skin cancer The potential of omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer. Black, H.S., Rhodes, L.E. Department of Dermatology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX. Cancer Detection and Prevention, 2006; 30(3): 224-32..
2. Red and Orange Fruits and Veggies
Lycopene, a natural pigment and carotenoid (read: antioxidant), found in tomatoes and other red and pink produce has been shown to aid in protection against some UV-induced skin irritations like erythema Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. Stahl, W., Heinrich, U., Wiseman, S., et al. Institut für Physiologische Chemie I and Biologisch-Medizinisches Forschungszentrum, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany. The Journal of Nutrition, 2001 May;131(5):1449-51.. Lycopene (yes, the same thing that's prominently featured on the back of every Heinz ketchup bottle) helps rid the body of free radicals. Beta-carotene — another type of carotenoid found in red and orange produce — has been linked to reduced reactions to sunburns , and flavanoid-filled orange and pink citrus fruits have also been shown to improve the skin’s ability to protect against UV rays Dietary factors in the prevention and treatment of nonmelanoma skin cancer and melanoma. Bialy, TL., Rothe, MJ., Grant-Kels, JM. Department of Dermatology, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, Connecticut 06030, USA. Dermatologic Surgery, 2002 Dec;28(12):1143-52. Protection from UV-B-induced DNA damage by flavanoids. Kootstra, A. BioText International, New Zealand. Plant Molecular Biology, 1994 Oct; 26(2): 771-4..
3. Dark Chocolate
Flavanoids found in dark chocolate may improve the skin’s ability protect against some types of skin damage, including UV-induced issues like sun burns Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, et al. Institut für Experimentelle Dermatologie, Universität Witten-Herdecke, Germany. J Nutr. 2006 Jun;136(6):1565-9.. Plus, the flavonoids can help keep skin hydrated, increase oxygen saturation, and boost blood flow Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. Heinrich U, Neukam K, Tronnier H, et al. Institut für Experimentelle Dermatologie, Universität Witten-Herdecke, Germany. Journal of Nutrition, 2006 Jun;136(6):1565-9. Consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa acutely increases microcirculation in human skin. Neukam, K., Stahl, W., Tronnier, H., et al. Institut fur Biochemie und Molekularbiologie I, Heinrich-Heine-Universitat Dusseldorf, Germany. European Journal of Nutrition, 2007 Feb; 46(1):53-6.! Here’s the green light to add a dark chocolate bar to your beach bag! (Just beware of it melting).
4. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower, are packed with essential antioxidants that help fight those pesky free radicals. Bonus points? This family of veggies has also been linked to cancer prevention not only in the skin, but in a number of other organs as well Cruciferous vegetables and cancer prevention. Murillo G, Mehta RG. Department of Surgical Oncology, College of Medicine, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL 60612, USA. Nutrition and Cancer, 2001;41(1-2):17-28.. Research shows that broccoli sprouts, also in the cruciferous family, contain sulforaphane, which is linked to increasing the skin’s ability to protect itself from cancer Tea consumption and basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer: results of a case-control study. Rees, JR., Stukel, TA., Perry, AE., et al. Department of Community and Family Medicine (Section of Biostatistics and Epidemiology), Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, NH. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2007 May;56(5):781-5..
If it’s green and leaf-like, chances are it’s also good for sun protection. Fresh herbs — specifically parsley, basil, sage, and rosemary — are packed with our free-radical fighting and skin-protecting antioxidant friends. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and swiss chard are all full of antioxidants like polyphenols and carotenoids, which may also naturally protect the skin from sun damage Carotenoid supplementation reduces erythema in human skin after simulated solar radiation exposure. Lee, L., Jiang, S., Levine, N., et al. Arizona Prevention Center, University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ. Proceedings of the Society of Experiemental Biology and Medicine, 2000 Feb;223(2):170-4.. One study found that eating green leafy vegetables helped prevent the reappearance of skin cancer in people who had previously suffered. (Word of caution: the study also found that “unmodified” dairy products such as whole milk, cheese, and yogurt increased risk reappearance Food intake and risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin in a community: the Nambour skin cancer cohort study. Hughes, MC., van der Pols, JC., Marks, GC., et al. Cancer and Population Studies Group, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Queensland, Australia. International Journal of Cancer, 2006 Oct 15;119(8):1953-60..)
6. Green and Black Teas
Green and Black teas (which actually start as leafy greens — surprise, surprise) are packed with polyphenols that can help stop cancer development by limiting the blood supply to the cancerous area. Some studies have found that green tea can help prevent non-melanoma skin cancer (in addition to some other amazing health benefits) Green tea prevents non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair. Katiyar, S.K. Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Birmingham, AL. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 2011 Apr 15; 508(2):152-8.. One study also found that people who drink one cup of tea per day have a lower incidence of melanoma A protective effect of the Mediterranean diet for cutaneous melanoma. Fortes, C., Mastroeni, S., Melchi, F., et al. Clinical Epidemiology Unit, Istituto Dermopatico dell'Immacolata, Rome, Italy. International Journal of Epidemiology, 2008 Oct;37(5):1018-29..
What other foods do you eat (or apply) to keep healthy skin? Share them in the comments below!
Originally Posted June 2011. Updated July 2013.