Exposing our skin to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation can have detrimental effects, including painful sunburns (which we've likely all experienced), long-term skin damage, and cancer. We all know how important traditional sun protection measures such as sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing are. However, did you know that nutrition may also play a significant role in protecting your skin from the sun? Keep reading to find out which nutrients and foods you should focus on during the summer months to help protect your skin from UV damage while enjoying time out in the sun!
What impacts our skin's health?
Our skin's health is determined by several factors, such as hydration, environmental toxins, genetics, and nutrition, to name a few. The famous saying, "we are what we eat," has never been truer than when talking about skin health.
Recent scientific research also shows a compelling connection between the food we eat and our skin's ability to withstand and heal from UV damage. While maintaining overall skin health through good habits is crucial, specific nutrients and foods have been found to enhance our skin's natural defense mechanisms against the sun.
While incorporating sun-protective foods into your diet won't replace the need for traditional forms of sun protection, they can serve as a valuable addition to your overall diet. Plus, you’ll get the immense benefit of being healthier overall. What's good for your skin is also good for YOU as a whole!
Vitamin D found in tuna, salmon, sardines, egg yolks, and mushrooms
One of the most important nutrients concerning the sun is vitamin D. Often referred to as the "sunshine vitamin," vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin critical for bone health, proper immune function, calcium absorption, hormone regulation, muscle function, and skin health. When our skin is exposed to sunlight, it synthesizes vitamin D. However, we can also find vitamin D in food sources. Vitamin D can be found in fortified foods like milk, juice, and cereals, as well as naturally in oily fish (canned tuna, sardines, salmon), egg yolks, and some mushrooms. Vitamin D can also be taken orally as a supplement.
Vitamin D plays an enormous role in skin being able to function properly. Studies show it helps regulate the growth and development of skin cells, promotes wound healing, improves cell turnover, and reduces inflammation. It also contributes to the skin's natural barrier, protecting against environmental stressors such as pollution or the sun.
Research suggests that vitamin D may also have photoprotective effects by reducing inflammation and DNA damage caused by UV radiation. Studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood have a reduced risk of developing sunburn and skin cancer.
However, it is important to note that while some sun exposure is necessary for vitamin D synthesis, prolonged or excessive sun exposure without adequate protection can still lead to skin and DNA damage.
Antioxidant rich sources such as matcha powder, turmeric, spices, wild berries, and legumes
Another group of nutrients that play a vital role in defending our skin from UV damage are antioxidants. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, harmful free radicals are created, which can cause oxidative stress and damage. Antioxidants help neutralize these free radicals, reducing oxidative stress. This protective mechanism also works to protect our skin from the inside out. Antioxidants help strengthen the skin's barrier, enabling it to defend itself from UV damage and fight off free radical damage after sun exposure. Great sources of antioxidants include matcha, turmeric, wild berries, legumes, and spices.
Vitamin C found in oranges, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, tomatoes, and strawberries
Vitamin C and vitamin E work synergistically and are two of the most potent antioxidants that show promise in mitigating the effects of UV radiation. In addition to being antioxidants, vitamin C plays a critical role in collagen synthesis. Collagen is a protein that provides strength, structure, and support for the skin, muscles, bones, and connective tissue. It promotes skin elasticity and wound healing. Some studies suggest that collagen can boost our skin's natural barrier, helping prevent some UV damage. Vitamin C has also shown promise in reducing sunburns and protecting against long-term sun damage. Food sources rich in vitamin C include fruits and vegetables such as bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, kiwis, tomatoes, and strawberries.
Vitamin E found in seeds, nuts, and vegetables oils
Vitamin E is a lipid-soluble antioxidant that enhances our skin's protective mechanisms. Studies show that vitamin E is anti-inflammatory and may protect the skin's cell membranes from oxidative damage. Because vitamin E is such a powerful anti-inflammatory, some research suggests that it can help prevent inflammatory damage that occurs after sun exposure. Topical vitamin E may also reduce external damage caused by the sun, such as swelling, edema, and erythema. Nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils are excellent sources of vitamin E.
Carotenoids found in carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, & kale
In addition to vitamins C and E, carotenoids are another group of antioxidants associated with sun protection. Carotenoids give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, and each pigment offers different health benefits, including photoprotection. Beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein are a few carotenoids studied for their potential in reducing sunburn and improving skin resilience. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables with a range of colors, such as carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens like spinach and kale, is a great way to include these beneficial compounds in your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts, oily fish, chia seeds, walnuts, algae, & flax seeds
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, are yet another nutrient that may help protect the skin from sun damage. Some studies show that omega-3s may decrease the skin's sensitivity to UV rays and reduce redness after sun exposure. They may also reduce symptoms following UV damage, such as rashes and blisters. This is thought to be due to omega-3 fatty acids' ability to reduce inflammation in the body. Omega-3s can be found in walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, algae, and oily fish.
Polyphenols found in dark chocolate, tea, cocoa, legumes, fruits, & vegetables
Lastly, polyphenols are an important consideration when talking about sun exposure and our skin's health. Polyphenols are known to be anti-inflammatory, contain antioxidants, and support the immune system. Polyphenols can be found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, tea, cocoa, dark chocolate, and legumes. One study showed that participants who drank green tea could be exposed to UV light longer without developing redness than the control group. Evidence also points to polyphenols being photoprotective and helpful in healing skin after exposure to the sun.
The bottom line: Help nourish and protect your skin from the inside out with your food choices
Incorporating sun-protective foods into our diet is a valuable strategy to complement traditional sun protection methods and improve health overall. While these foods cannot replace sunscreen and protective clothing, they can fortify our skin's natural defense mechanisms and potentially reduce the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.
By prioritizing a balanced diet rich in vitamin D, antioxidants like vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and polyphenols, we gain confidence knowing that we are nourishing our bodies from the inside out.
However, it is essential to understand that while a healthy diet is critical, nutrition should never be seen as a substitute for proper sun protection measures. To effectively safeguard ourselves from potential long-term and fatal sun damage, it is key to adopt a holistic approach.
This includes regularly wearing sunscreen with a high SPF, seeking shade during peak sun hours, wearing protective clothing and accessories such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, and being mindful of our sun exposure habits.
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