Foods for sun protection… Do you think they exist? Turns out, yes.
As discussed in the previous post, some micronutrients in foods have capability to protect skin from sun-related damage. Depending on the type, they prevent or minimize sun damage by acting as UV (ultraviolet) absorbers, antioxidants and inhibitors of UV-induced reactions.
Micronutrients scientifically shown to be effective in sun protection are carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbate, polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids.
Below you will learn how these micronutrients act to protect you from sun damage (in italics) and the foods they are found in. Now that the summer is starting, keep these foods in mind and give some of them a try.
Carotenoids: β-carotene, lutein and lycopene
Carotenoids are compounds that contribute to yellow, orange and red colours of vegetables. They act mainly as UV absorbers diminishing sunburn.
The three carotenoids shown to be effective in UV protection when taken internally are β-carotene, lutein or lycopene.
Foods abundant in β-carotene are usually orange in colour. Two fruits that contain β-carotene in large amounts are mango and papaya while vegetables include carrot, dill, parsley, tomato and sweet potato.
Lutein-containing vegetables are green in color. Vegetables that have significant amounts of lutein are cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, parsley, peas, spinach and watercress.
You may know that the king of lycopene is red tomato. Other sources are guava, watermelon and pink grapefruit.
Not to make you avoid the above-mentioned foods but please be aware that taking high amounts of carotenoids internally may result in skin discoloration giving it an orange or yellow tint. I remember a time when I was eating lots of carrots which gave my facial skin an orange-light brown tone. It looked very much like a smooth tan and liked it, however you might not like it.
Tocopherols (vitamin E) and ascorbate (vitamin C)
Tocopherols is a group of Vitamin E-related compounds. The most extensively studied is alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E). Alpha-tocopherol is the most bioavailable form of Vitamin E known.
Ascorbate is another name for ascorbic acid or vitamin C.
When applied externally, vitamin E and vitamin C act as UV absorbers and antioxidants minimizing the effects of sunburn and photodamage. Studies involving humans and animals show that the sun-protection effect is multiplied when Vitamin E and C are combined.
Wheat germ oil and almond oil are known to contain high levels of vitamin E while camu camu berries are packed with more vitamin C than any other known food on the planet.
To take advantage of vitamin E and vitamin C, mix almond oil with very small amount of camu camu powder (or juice) and apply it to the skin before going sun-bathing.
Polyphenols are present in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. They act as UV absorbers, antioxidants and inhibitors of UV-induced reactions and thus protect against sunburn, photodamage and non-melanoma skin cancers, respectively. They have shown to be effective both when used internally and externally.
Specifically, tea polyphenols such as flavonoids and isoflavones have been studied in detail. For example, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (flavonoid) in green tea deserves close attention.
When epigallocatechin-3-gallate extracted from green tea is applied externally it decreases the majority of sun-related damage.
To benefit from epigallocatechin-3-gallate, brew a cup of strong tea using organic green tea leaves and apply it to the skin before going into the sun.
Omega-3 fatty acids
A series of experiments in the last decade showed that a high fat diet makes a body more susceptible to sun damage. That said, not all type of fat, as omega-3 fatty acids, in fact, have been shown to decrease the sun-induced DNA damage and formation of tumors.
The best vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseeds and hempseeds.
Remember, you need to ground flaxseeds before consuming them, otherwise they will pass undigested.
As a summary, to increase bioavailability of carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbate, polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids, take the above-mentioned foods with small amounts of raw fat such as avocado or soaked nuts.
If you are considering to implement the above-mentioned foods for sun protection, take into the account that because of the skin turnover at least eight weeks of their regular consumption is needed.
Although the micronutrients described minimize and even prevent the damage associated with excess exposure of skin to sunlight and some individuals may rely solely on them, it is strongly recommended to use sunblock such as clothes and good-quality sunscreen when going to tropical, subtropical or Mediterranean regions.
Sies, H., Wilhelm, S. (2004). Nutritional Protection Against Skin Damage from Sunlight. Annual Review of Nutrition, 24, 173-200.