Eat Your Sunscreen? Foods to Protect Your Skin from the Sun

foods-to-protect-you-from-the-sun

I have experienced first hand, how intense the sun in the Southern Hemisphere can be. On my first day down under, I was severely burned despite wearing sunscreen. I hadn’t been aware that of the effects of the ozone layer damage here, I would have to be fastidious about sunscreen and increase my protection level – factor 50 was essential here.

I found an interesting article in a magazine here, called Denizeen, that I’ve copied below that explains the situation exceptionally well but also helps educate us on what we can eat that will increase our protection on a daily basis. I hope you find it as interesting and as helpful as I did! 

“Largely due to the dwindling ozone layer here, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, people in the Southern Hemisphere are exposed to a 40% increase in UV levels during summer, compared to other countries that share their latitude in the northern hemisphere. Add that to the outdoorsy lifestyle in this part of the world and a strong tendency to seek the sun and it is pretty unsurprising that the incidence of melanoma clocked in Australia and New Zealand are four times higher than in Canada, the US and the U.K. Still, by far the most concerning findings on the subject suggest that despite sunscreen use and reducing sun exposure, skin cancer rates, especially melanoma, are still rising dramatically, propelling researchers to delve deeper into the connection they’ve long known to exist between nutrition and sun protection. 

While the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington warns that the research is preliminary, scientists are beginning to reveal some promising findings that show that in addition to limiting your sun exposure, choosing to eat certain foods may also help reduce your risk.

Predominantly studying locals in the sun-drenched Mediterranean who, despite their extensive time spent in the sun, are less likely to get melanomas, scientists found that, along with their olive skin tones, they ate a diet that was plant-based and rich in omega-3. So promising were the findings that an Italian study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology noted that said diet had cut their melanoma risk by a staggering 50 per cent. 

Why is that? The key lies in the high antioxidant levels derived from the food they’re eating. In a nutshell, once UV light damages skin-cells, oxygen molecules known as free radicals are released. If free radicals damage your DNA, they can alter it, turning skin cells cancerous. The good news: high antioxidant levels in the skin and body can neutralise these free radicals and either prevent or delay skin cancer growth. Furthermore, new research suggests that sun damage causes angiogenesis – the growth of new blood vessels which cancer cells feed on. Anti-angiogenesis substances in foods such as fatty fish can starve cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. 

This summer, stock your kitchen with a slew of delicious foods that will also boost your body’s sun shield further. 

Tomatoes 

Bursting with lycopene, a proven protector against radiation, the carotenoid pigment found in red fruits that protect them against the sun can also increase your tolerance. Cooked tomatoes are especially abundant in lycopene (even a few tablespoons of tomato paste will do!). The same goes for watermelon, grapefruit and, surprisingly, chilli powder!

Yoghurt 

Rich in lactic acid and zinc, the tangy breakfast topping has been associated with fighting off premature ageing brought on by too much sun. As a main ingredient in sunblock, zinc can also provide temporary respite from sunburn-caused itchiness while soothing redness and inflammation.

Fish

Drawing inspiration from the Mediterranean diet, two servings of oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel or trout roughly the size of a deck of cards each week contain enough omega-3 fatty acids to increase your sun tolerance. Not a fan of fish? Opt for a significantly more sustainable algae-based omega-3 supplement – that’s where fish gets theirs in the first place, after all!

Citrus Zest

Grated into dressings, dreamy cake batters and vibrant pasta sauces, lemon, grapefruit or orange rinds house a substance called limonene that has been known to inhibit the early development of cancer cells.

Tea and Coffee

Whether you prefer it black, white or green, teas contain high levels of polyphenols and catechins, the two powerful flavonoids that shield your skin from the sun. Green tea boasts generous levels of the most powerful polyphenol to date – epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Matcha is even better, thanks to the consumption of the entire green tea leaf rather than just the water it’s been steeped in. According to the University of Colorado, when consumed as often as possible, EGCG “slows down sun-caused ageing, prevents skin cancer and inhibits tumour cells”. To reap the plentiful rewards, aim to guzzle at least two mugs a day! 

Even more reason to knock back your daily caffeine hit, the polyphenols in your cuppa can inhibit radiation-caused cancer cells from replicating. According to a study by the National Cancer Institute, “people who drank four cups of coffee per day were 20 per cent less likely to develop malignant melanoma than those who drank none”.

Coconut Oil

Long used on tropical islands assume protection, while I don’t recommend replacing your sunscreen with coconut oil, using it in place of cooking oils (aiming for 1/4 of a cup per day) will see your body’s natural UV defences boosted thanks to the high levels of medium chain fatty acids.

Leafy Greens

With high levels of folic acid, vitamin A, C and E, as well as beta carotene, deep greens like broccoli and kale prevent, and in some cases, actively repair harm caused by overexposure. Bonus, broccoli also contains the powerful phytochemical sulforaphane, that can reduce skin cancer risks.

Dark Chocolate

Bars that boast 70 per cent or more cocoa contain four times the phenols and catechins as the aforementioned teas. This translates to a 25 per cent jump in the sun shielding department!

Pomegranate 

As one of the oldest natural remedies known to mankind, the perfect addition to summer salads and refreshing berry desserts contains a powerful free radical scavenger – a polyphenol known as ellagic acid. According to research from U.C.L.A., carried out by professor of medicine, dermatologist and pharmacist, Dr Murad, this means that the gorgeous ruby balls are equipped to “enhance the skins sun protection properties by 25%”. 

Almonds

These little energy powerhouses are high in quercetin, a natural UV damage shield. Munch on plain, raw ones, substitute peanut butter for almond butter, or add almond milk to smoothies and cereals. Bonus: almonds are also an excellent source of vitamin E – an integral part of the skin’s antioxidant defences. 

Carrots

Carrots and other red, yellow and orange fruit and vegetables (think red and yellow peppers) have been shown to reduce sunburn intensity, on account of the carotenoid they store. 

Blueberries

Resveratrol rich blueberries beat valuable vitamins E and C in terms of neutralising existing free radicals so they don’t damage your skin. It’s anti inflammatory properties help soothe and heal the skin too. “