Didn’t Your Mother Tell You to Eat Your Sunscreen?
Well, didn’t she?
Along with the peas, Brussel sprouts, and liver that you pushed around on your plate as you slouched at the dinner table, wasn’t there a big glob of sunscreen?
Actually, that’s not what I mean.
Let me explain myself.
It turns out that a healthy diet is good for everything. Is that obvious?
Let me be more specific.
Time and time again, more and more research is coming out to show that a healthy diet positively affects a wide range of health outcomes.
Do you know what reduces your risk of cancer? A healthy diet. Do you know what is associated with better mental health? A healthy diet. What about improving cardiovascular health, blood sugar management, and hormonal balance? A healthy diet.
And now (perhaps not so surprisingly), we’re discovering that a healthy diet can change the way our skin interacts with the sun. Specifically, a diet high in certain nutrients (highlighted below) can help us have a safer relationship with the sun by reducing the likelihood of burning and improving skin repair when sun damage does occur.
If you think about it, it makes sense.
A sunburn is basically an inflammatory reaction of the skin. The redness, pain, and sometimes swelling and blistering associated with sunburns are all triggered by an increase in free radicals and inflammatory mediators.
Interestingly, there is a class of nutrients that can neutralize free radicals and modulate inflammation.
Antioxidants are powerful molecules found in nature that off-set free radicals. Free radicals cause chain reactions that lead to cell damage or death. So basically, antioxidants, like metabolic superheroes, help keep cells healthy and alive.
Excessive sun exposure triggers an increase in free radicals and inflammation, which can then damage skin cells. Because antioxidants can reduce free radicals, they can also reduce skin cell damage.
So, more antioxidants = healthier skin.
Let’s take a look at some specific antioxidants that have been shown to be helpful in protecting the skin from sun damage, that you can start incorporating this summer!
Carotenoids, specifically astaxanthin
Carotenoids are found in most orange, yellow, red, and dark green plants, and interestingly, they serve in part to protect plants from photodamage. Specific carotenoids you may have heard of include beta carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin. Goji berries, salmon, watermelon, squash, spirulina, and dark leafy greens are particularly rich sources of carotenoids. Interestingly, it seems like their sun protective effect in plants also translates to humans. Studies show that when cells are exposed to the protective effects of carotenoids, particularly astaxanthin, they are less likely to sustain DNA damage and antioxidant depletion when exposed to UV rays [1, 2, 3]. Translation: more time in the sun, with less skin damage.
Polyphenols, especially from green tea
Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants and include flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, and lignans. Just like carotenoids, polyphenols are plant secondary metabolites that serve in part to protect the plant from sun damage. Intuitively, we might assume that again, they may serve a similar purpose in humans, and indeed, research supports this claim. Polyphenols are found in high amounts in dark chocolate (twist my arm!), green tea, blueberries, red fruits, red wine, and flaxseeds. Although not all of these lovely superfoods have been studied specifically to test their skin protective effects, there is a fair amount of research on green tea. Both oral consumption as well as topical application of green tea has been shown to reduce skin damage from UV radiation [4,5]. Drink up!
Vitamin C & Vitamin E
Vitamin C and vitamin E are two nutrients that are known for their role in skin health. They also have strong antioxidant properties. Both vitamins have long been used for maintaining healthy skin, including the repair of skin when it has been damaged or injured. One small study showed that when participants supplemented concurrently with vitamin C and vitamin E for only eight days before a controlled UV exposure, they were less susceptible to sunburn than participants who took a placebo . This could be a great short-term protocol to perform before your beach vacation!
So now, as you prepare yourself for bikini/Speedo season, perhaps you will think of your nutrition too. Sunblock lotions are still appropriate when spending longer periods of time in the sun (check out our Body Care department at The Big Carrot for some wonderful safe and natural sun protection products!). However, it’s pretty neat that, along with your sun lotion, your goji berries, green tea, and vitamin C and E supplements can be part of your sun safety team!
Click here for Alex’s Internal Sunscreen Popsicle recipe!
Alex Picot-Annand, BA (Psych), Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified Life Coach