As the summer season approaches and we all hopefully get a chance to spend more time outside, we mustn’t forget how critical it is that we take steps to protect our skin. Whether you’re going on a beach trip or just doing outdoor chores, it’s important to remember to wear sunscreen and reapply it often. Just because you didn’t get sunburned last year or last week, that doesn’t mean you are immune to the sun’s harmful rays. In fact, most experts recommend sunscreen use year-round, not just in the summer. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using a waterproof sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30, and that protects against UVA and UVB rays. But, did you know there also are certain foods that can help protect your skin from the sun’s rays, as well?
“A diet rich in certain foods actually can help protect your skin from harmful UV rays,” said registered dietitian Heather Pierce from the Blount Memorial Weight Management Center. “They, in no way, should serve as a replacement for traditional sunscreen, but they can act as additional ways to protect your skin this spring and summer. A few foods, in particular, are high in certain minerals and nutrients that support healthy skin and can give us a little extra protection from the sun,” she said.
First up, Pierce says, are tomatoes, which you may already be consuming on your burgers or salads at those backyard cookouts. “Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a phytochemical that has been shown in research to help protect the skin against sunburns, particularly with concentrated sources such as tomato paste and carrot juice. And the good news is that they just happen to be in season. Watermelons also are good sources of lycopene, and fortunately they’re pretty popular this time of year, too,” she explained.
Pierce says you also should look to avocados and pomegranates for a little extra sun protection. “When the sun is damaging our skin, it’s typically the result of oxidative stress and inflammation, so a lot of the foods we would eat for anti-inflammatory diet for a condition, such as heart disease, actually are protecting our skin, too,” she said. “Avocados contain healthy oils that work to keep your skin protected, so throw a little avocado on your sandwiches this summer and you can easily get that added bit of protection. Pomegranates, too, contain ellagic acid, which supports glutathione production that can fight skin damage caused by free radicals. Citrus fruits, of course, contain vitamin C, but the skins of citrus fruits also contain an essential oil called limonene that offers skin protection, too. You can easily add this to your diet by putting a little lemon or orange zest in your drinks or foods,” she said.
Two more sun-protecting foods, Pierce says, are green tea and those all-important Omega 3 fats. “Green tea is, of course, high in antioxidants, which can help guard against UV radiation,” Pierce said. “It also promotes DNA repair and has anti-inflammatory compounds that are helpful for repair, as well. Omega 3 fats always are important, particularly if you’re eating a heart healthy diet, but Omega 3 also has been shown to reduce the risk of a particular type of skin cancer by nearly 20 percent. With that in mind, look for ways to add Omega 3 sources such as salmon, chia seeds or flaxseed to your meals. If you can, try getting fish in your diet at least once per week,” she explained. “It’ll taste great and your skin will get a little sun protection boost, as well,” she added.