Photograph courtesy: Miro Made This
While the obvious protection for sun exposed skin is proper sunscreen (and by our standards, one that is completely free of harsh chemicals and endocrine disrupting toxins), paying attention to the foods that you eat is just as important. Certain diets, particularly those rich in healthy fats and antioxidants, can act as an oral sunscreen and increase sun tolerance, whereas other diets (ehem, high in sugar, vegetable oils and fried, fatty foods) can have the adverse affect and make us more susceptible to severe burns that may pave the way towards long-term skin damage.
Because sunburn prompts an inflammatory response, it makes sense to follow an anti-inflammatory diet to minimize the unwanted effects, including foods that contain a rich source of lycopene, astaxanthins, polyphenols, catechins and vitamins C and E, among others.
We advocate for proper sun protection for our body's precious outer layer, but we wouldn't be doing our due diligence if we didn't use this space to share additional knowledge and information regarding how we can further protect ourselves and our skin through proper diet and food. Our cohesive guide below outlines the most potent ingredients found in various foods to keep on hand this summer as you expose yourself to additional time in the sun, along with some of our ideas for how to enjoy them and pair them together with other ingredients to maximize absorption and beneficial effects.
LYCOPENE, found in bright red fruits and vegetables
Lycopene, a carotenoid and antioxidant that neutralizes the free radicals produced from too much sun, is the bright red pigment that colors tomatoes, watermelons, papayas, guavas, rosehips and other vivid red fruits. It also minimizes the inflammatory response caused by UV damage, making these foods a summer staple when spending extra time outside.
Serving up these fresh tropical fruits to nosh on throughout the day also keeps the body cool and hydrated, while working to protect the skin from too much sun exposure. Sun-warmed local tomatoes right from the garden vine or farmers market are ideal, and can be tossed into fresh seasonal salads.
Worth noting, the effects of lycopene in tomatoes are magnified when slightly cooked or smashed into foods, making it much more bioavailable. It's also better absorbed with the addition of healthy fats, so be sure to pair with a high quality olive oil.
ASTAXANTHIN, found in wild-caught seafood and algaes
This potent antioxidant acts as an oral sun-protectant while also combating sun damage. Wild-caught salmon and shrimp are particularly rich in astaxanthin, but be sure to source from clean waters and ask your local markets where their seafood is from (and that it is, indeed, wild-caught).
Wild caught seafood also contain their own host of complementary nutrients like vitamin D, iodine and other micronutrients, and when it comes to supplementation, we recommend a high quality cod liver oil.
Micro-algaes such as chlorella and spirulina also contain astaxanthin, 550 times more powerful than Vitamin E, that has been shown to protect the skin and eyes against UV radiation. Add to summer smoothies, dressings and enjoy alone in purified water after a long day in the sun.
ANTIOXIDANTS & VITAMIN C, found in fresh citrus fruits and berries
Citrus fruits such as lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit are particulary high in free-radical fighting antioxiandants and vitamin C, which helps to reduce the potential for sunburn (especially when paired with Vitamin E). They also contain limonene, which has been associated with a decreased risk of skin cancer.
Strawberries, not only a wonderful source of antioxidants and Vitamin C, also contain special tannins that can help reduce the sting of a sunburn, so try mashing them up and then slathering on the affected area for natural relief.
CAROTENOIDS & BETA CAROTENE, found in leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes and beets
Carotenoids are antioxidants that reduce the negative effects of UVB radiation, while carotenes are unoxygenated carotenoid compounds that provide pigment to fruits and vegetables that are used by plants as sunscreen.
Green leafy vegetables are particularly rich in carotenoid compounds known as xanthophylls. And not only are carrots beneficial for eye health, but they happen to be one of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene that protects the skin against free radical damage caused from sun exposure.
CATECHINS, found in green tea and cacao
Catechins contain disease-preventing properties that protect against sunburn inflammation and long-term UV radiation damage. Green tea also contains ECGCs that have been shown to stop genetic damage in human skin cells exposed to UV light.
Brew fresh green teas (including matcha) and serve them chilled with a splash of rosewater and consider adding pomegranate seeds to maximize the effects. Pomegranates contain ellagic acid, which can protect your skin from cell damage induced by the sun's UVA and UVB rays, in addition to glutathione, a powerhouse antioxidant that increases protection from free radical damage.
Cacao contains four times the amount of catechins as green tea, so a recommended daily serving of 2 ounces of dark chocolate not only provides the body with a host of antioxidants, but essential magnesium. Milk should not be added to the chocolate as it interferes with the absorption of its antioxidants, so we always tell people our secret of homemade raw chocolate using cacao powder, melted coconut oil and adaptogenic herbs to swirl together and freeze for quick bites any time.
POLYPHENOLS, found in red grapes
Phytonutrients found in red grapes can slow down the formation of destructive reactive oxygen species that form in skin cells, which has been linked to sun damage and skin cancer. They also contain proanthocyanidins and other polyphenols (found in the grape's seeds) that inhibit skin cancer induced by UV rays.
Keep red grapes in the freezer to use as ice cubes in summer tonics, and use fresh bunches of grapes to mix into nut and fruit-based summer salads.
VITAMIN E, found in almonds, spinach and avocado
Vitamin E, found in higher amounts in almonds, spinach and avocado, is a natural sun protectant and helps to repair the skin from sun exposure. Additionally, almonds contain quercetin, which is shown to protect against UV damage and the wrinkle-causing breakdown of collagen.
Beginning to see a theme? Keep almonds in tow for sun-time snacking as well as leafy greens and avocados to make simple afternoon salads as an easy way to pack in loads of nutrients that nourish and protect the body from the outside in.