8 Foods and Nurtients that Protect your Skin from the Sun
Do you dread getting out in the summer sun? Worried about burning or skin damage caused by the sun? A number of foods and nutrients have the ability boost our endogenous photoprotection. That is, our skin’s resistance to sunburn and damage. Let’s look at some of them.
Green and black teas contain protective polyphenols which control inflammation and prevent DNA damage. More than 150 studies have reported various benefits to the skin from consuming green tea.
Cooked tomatoes are a great source of lycopene which has been shown to decrease skin damage from UV when taken long term. A study showed that synthetic lycopene didn’t have as pronounced effects when compared to natural concentrated tomato extract.
Caretinoids, which are found in dark leafy green veg, apricots, sweet potato and beets, act as natural sunscreen for plants and also help to reduce UV damage to humans.
Astaxanthin is part of the caretinoid family, but deserves a mention of it’s own. It’s a potent antioxidant with an increasing list of positive outcomes in clinical trials. It is a pigment produced by microalgae to protect itself from UV radiation, and it does the same for us too! It has also been shown to protect against alterations in human DNA induced by UVA light exposure. It protects against an inflammatory process from UV that causes skin sagging.
The flavanols in cocoa (yes, we are talking therapeutic chocolate here!) have been shown to decrease UV induced erythema (burn), lower skin water loss and improve skin tone and elasticity. Eat dark chocolate to get these benefits as the addition of milk reduces the absorption of antioxidants.
Vitamin D – While most people know that we synthesize vitamin D by exposing our skin to the sun, did you know it has a protective role against sun related skin damage? Research shows it acts as an internal sunscreen by preventing damage to the DNA. An animal study showed it not only protected against sunburn but also skin cancer. Nearly one third of Australian adults are vitamin D deficient. As well as allowing the skin to get some sunshine (see here for safe exposure guidelines), we can get vitamin D from egg yolk, cod liver oil and full fat dairy – you need the fat to absorb this fat soluble vitamin.
Proanthocyanidins, found in berries, beans, apples, grape seeds and red wine, contain antioxidant properties with powerful protective action against free radical-mediated tissue injury. They have been shown in animal studies to prevent UV skin damage and a human study found that supplementing with grape seed extract (high in proanthocyanidins) lead to significantly reduced rates of skin cancers. Do you need any more encouragement to eat your berries and drink a little wine?
Sun damage from UVA rays is an INFLAMMATORY process. Omega 3 essential fatty acids help to reduce inflammation. This useful form of this fat can be found in fish and fish oils, micro-algae, and in smaller amounts in grass fed/free range meat and eggs.
We now know that reducing inflammation is not just about increasing omega 3 intake. More importantly it is the balance between omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Elevated omega 6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, grains) is associated with increased inflammation. Omega 3’s and 6’s compete with each other in human tissue. So for reducing inflammation we need to both get plenty of omega 3’s while reducing omega 6’s in the diet. The best way to start doing this is to cut out processed vegetable oils and replace them with extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or organic butter.
Research shows that increasing intake of omega 3 fatty acids reduces sensitivity to sunburn and reduces DNA damage to the skin. An Australian study showed that people with more omega 3 fatty acids in their blood had less immune reactiveness in the skin with melanoma-causing factors.
As you can see in this list, there are ‘medicinal’ properties to many natural foods. By eating a varied, minimally processed, whole-food diet you are exposing yourself to many protective nutrients.