The spotlight on sun damage is burning brighter today than ever before. Not only do we know more about the harmful effects of the sun, but also we have more information and products available to help fight back. Of course, keeping out of the sun, covering up exposed skin, and wearing a good sunscreen are your best bets for protecting yourself against harmful rays, but there is one line of defense you could be forgetting: your grocery cart. Whether you have a long day in the sun ahead of you, or you’ve already been burned, with the help of Maria-Paula Carrillo, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., we’ve listed seven foods that work from the inside out to help repair your skin and build up its defense against the sun.
Cancer-causing compounds called free radicals are the enemy when it comes to sun damage. They not only cause damage to skin cells, but also cells inside the body. One of the best ways to help your body fight off free radicals is through consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich foods. An antioxidant is any chemical that can neutralize free radicals, turning them from unstable particles that damage healthy cells into stable particles that are esstially harmless, according to the book Feed Your Face. One of the major antioxidants is beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes are packed to the brim with beta-carotene, so chow down this summer!
Green tea is often applauded for its ability to rev up your metabolism, but it's also a powerful skin food. Green tea contains a high concentration of catechins, which boast anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and antioxidant effects that fight off free radicals from the sun. It also contains polyphenols, plant compounds that some studies suggest may be effective in preventing cancer because they limit the blood supply to different areas where cancer can develop, explains Carrillo. “Shy away from bottled, processed teas because the polyphenol count changes once it’s been on the shelf--it's lower," warns Carrillo. "Brew fresh tea instead.”
These crunchy little seeds contain the powerful antioxidant vitamin E. One ounce of hulled sunflower seeds contains about 10 milligrams, which is about two-thirds of your recommended daily intake. Sprinkle over salads, mix into oatmeal, or eat by the handful. It's best to get your dose of vitamin E from whole foods, versus supplements, to reap the most benefits. Other potent sources include nuts, eggs, green leafy vegetables, avocados, and whole grains.
Lycopene is another important antioxidant to have in your diet regularly, especially during the summer, and tomatoes are one of the best sources. As a rule of thumb, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains. Additionally, lycopene is more easily absorbed by your body when the tomatoes have been cooked, so reach for tomato paste, juice, soups, and sauces pre-beach day. Research presented at the Royal Society of Medicine in London found that consuming tomato paste significantly enhanced the skin’s ability to protect itself from harmful UV rays and also helped reduce redness from sun damage. If you can only eat so many tomatoes in a week, Carrillo suggests watermelon as another great source of lycopene.
While antioxidant-rich foods are central to protecting your skin against the sun, it’s also important to consume healthy fats. “Foods like salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseed are all good sources of omega-3s and will help maintain that healthy layer of fat underneath the skin and thus prevent skin damage and aging,” says Carrillo.
Asparagus is another great source of vitamin E—who knew? The green stalks are one of the most effective foods when it comes to neutralizing cell-damaging free radicals.
When in doubt about which foods contain which antioxidants, reach for a variety of whole foods. “There's no single food," says Carrillo. "But fruits and vegetables are going to be your biggest sources of antioxidants."
Water, water, and more water. The sun dehydrates you, and dehydrated skin is more sensitive and prone to damage. “Your body is mostly water, so by staying hydrated, you’re making your skin healthier," explains Carrillo. "It’s going to prevent loss of moisture, which makes skin wrinkly. Good hydration is essential.”