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How to Protect Skin from the Sun through Diet: Top Helpful and Harmful Foods in Sun Protection

Updated on April 1, 2015
Watermelon is one of the best sources of lycopene which helps protect skin from the sun.
Watermelon is one of the best sources of lycopene which helps protect skin from the sun. | Source

Our bodies are always fighting free radicals. UVA radiation from the sun damages cells and DNA, reducing the antioxidants present in skin and blood. How well we are equipped to deal with sun exposure determines the damage done to our skin. Diet can be a source of antioxidants to help keep free radicals in check, but also can introduce more harmful substances that tip the body away from a healthy balance. Certain fatty acids, minerals, and antioxidants give us nutritional protection, but we should still use other methods to protect our bodies from UV radiation such as chemical-free UV protective clothing and chemical-free sunblock.

Copyright © 2015 Melis Ann

Lycopene Content in Foods

Food Source
Serving Size
Lycopene Content (mg)
Tomato paste
1 cup
75.4
Tomato puree
1 cup
54.4
Tomato soup
1 cup
26.4
Tomato raw
1 cup
4.6
Tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon
2.5
Watermelon, raw
1 wedge
13.0
Pink grapefruit, raw
1/2 fruit
1.7
Excerpt from Linus Pauling Institute http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/carotenoids/
Tomato sauce is the best source of lycopene to help give the skin natural sunscreen abilities.
Tomato sauce is the best source of lycopene to help give the skin natural sunscreen abilities. | Source

Lycopene for Sun Protection

The British Society for Investigative Dermatology published results from their study that showed a 33% increase in sunburn protection for individuals who ate 5 tablespoons of tomato paste everyday for 12 weeks. The conclusion is that increased consumption of lycopene leads to higher levels of pro-collagen in the skin. Pro-collagen is what gives skin elasticity and structure and therefore the ability to protect itself more efficiently from sun damage. Lycopene is not stored for long in the body, thus a daily dose of lycopene is best for building pro-collagen and keeping the skin performing properly.

Lycopene is found in many fruits and vegetables. The content varies dependent on variety, maturity and processing. For example, greenhouse grown tomatoes have lower levels of lycopene.

  • watermelon
  • tomatoes (tomato paste, cooked tomatoes and redder tomatoes have higher levels of lycopene, absorbed best by the body with some fat such as from olive oil)
  • red peppers
  • guava
  • papaya
  • pink grapefruit

Note: Research published by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University suggests that orange and yellow tomatoes contain another kind of lycopene that, although present at lower levels than red tomatoes, may be more available to the body for absorption. Another study published by the University of Iowa suggests that absorption of lycopene is improved if the food source is cooked and also combined with dietary fats.

Lindt Chocolate Truffles: Quality dark chocolate can help protect the skin from the inside out to reduce sun damage and skin cancer.
Lindt Chocolate Truffles: Quality dark chocolate can help protect the skin from the inside out to reduce sun damage and skin cancer. | Source

Dark Chocolate and Protecting Skin

Cocoa is naturally high in flavonols, a powerful antioxidant. Dark chocolate contains the highest level of flavonols, however traditional chocolate processing destroys much of the original flavonol content. Raw cacao is a superfood which is available online or at many health food stores. Regular addition of dark chocolate to the diet has been shown in studies to reduce incidence of UV damage. According to ScienceNews there is a list of protective effects that flavonoids in dark chocolate induce:

  • Like lycopene, the anti-oxidants in dark chocolate are pigmented molecules in a group called carotenoids. Just as pigment in clothing can absorb UV radiation, pigment in the skin has the same protective effect.
  • As flavanoids are also anti-inflammatory, they also reduce the inflammatory response when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
  • The composition of the skin also changes with regular doses of flavonoids. Skin is thicker, more dense and more moist.
  • Blood flow to the skin is increased. Overall improvement in skin health is associated with the ability of the skin to protect itself from free radicals and skin damage.

Omega-3's give the skin UV protection.
Omega-3's give the skin UV protection. | Source

Omega 3's for UV Protection

Omega 3's in food or supplement form have been shown in a study by Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, to reduce the inflammatory response in the skin which is a pathway for skin cancer, wrinkles and sagging. These healthy fats help boost skin health and in turn help reduce sunburn and skin damage from UV rays. Regular exposure to Omega 3's will keep the skin performing at an optimal level.

Green tea has protective effects on the skin when part of the diet and when applied topically.
Green tea has protective effects on the skin when part of the diet and when applied topically. | Source

Green Tea Protects Skin from Damage

Polyphenols present in green and black tea have been shown to have protective effects on the skin against sunburn and skin cancer; green tea being more powerful. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, green tea reduces the risk for squamous cell skin cancer by 30%. Drinking two or more cups per day is recommended to have this amount of protection.

Broccoli, broccoli sprouts and other leafy greens help protect the skin from the sun when they are part of a regular healthy diet.
Broccoli, broccoli sprouts and other leafy greens help protect the skin from the sun when they are part of a regular healthy diet. | Source

Broccoli Protects Skin from UV Damage

Among the multiple health benefits that broccoli provides, it has been shown to be a tool in UV protection for the skin. Also beneficial are broccoli sprouts, kale, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables. The International Journal of Cancer states that 1/2 cup per day of broccoli is expected to reduce squamous cell skin cancer risk by 50%.

Harmful Foods that Increase Sun Damage

The evidence points to the fact that healthy skin is better at protecting itself from damaging UV rays. The incidence of sunburn and skin cancer can be reduced by introducing certain healthy foods into our daily diet. The opposite is also true. Foods that make our skin more unhealthy take away from the skin's UV protection and ability to heal from UV damage. The top harmful foods to avoid that leach water and nutrients from the skin are:

  • alcohol
  • salt
  • processed meats
  • junk food
  • caffeine

Food Can Be Helpful and Harmful

Boosting skin health with nutritious foods on a daily basis will give the skin a better defense against ultraviolet radiation. It's best to use UV protective clothing and chemical-free sunscreen in addition to a healthy diet to ensure a well-rounded defense against skin damage.

Copyright © 2015 Melis Ann

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    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Thanks Kathleen for your comment and good luck getting the 10,000 views!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      No wonder you have 10,000 views in 4 months. I've been here over a year and am about to cross that line - finally.

      This is an incredibly useful and well-written hub. Looking forward to more.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Thanks for the share Brett. You're right that this may become more and more important as our climate changes.

    • Joseph G Caldwell profile image

      Joseph G Caldwell 5 years ago from southwest Pennsylvania

      Excellent hub. I recall reading that some berries high in anthocyanins like blueberries, acai might be beneficial for sun protection also.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      What a unique idea!! This is something that will become more and more important as our ozone diminishes.

      Up, useful, shared and tweeted.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      You probably have Type I skin like I do Crystal. We need multiple layers of protection against the sun which is why these food choices are so important. Cheers!

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      I'm glad you found this useful Natashalh! I knew watermelon was good for you before doing my research, but was happily surprised just how beneficial it is to the skin. I will be feeding my kids a lot more watermelon this summer for added sun protection. Thanks for your comment!

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 5 years ago from Georgia

      Excellent idea for a hub. I have very pale skin and am easily sunburned. Very helpful tips. Voted up.

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      I love all these foods too cloverleaffarm. It helps knowing that some of my favorites are helping protect me from the sun. Thanks for the comment and the share!

    • Melis Ann profile image
      Author

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      ACQHealth - the fact that a raw food diet is great for the skin makes a lot of sense! Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants that help the skin. The skin is the largest organ so when we see benefits there we know we are making a difference for our overall health. Thanks for adding your experience!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Thank you for the information! I work outside, so I'm constantly trying to find ways to protect my skin. I didn't know watermelon was so beneficial! Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • cloverleaffarm profile image

      Healing Herbalist 5 years ago from The Hamlet of Effingham

      Great hub! Love all the foods you mentioned that are good for sun protection. Voting up and sharing. Thanks for putting it all together.

    • ACQHealth profile image

      ACQHealth 5 years ago

      This is great! Did you know, raw foodies have the healthiest skin not only because of the foods they are consuming filled with viatmins, minerals and nutrients, but also the fact that a lot of those foods protect them from the sun? I had heard/read about it some time ago when eating 100% raw but never really bothered to "read" into it further. Thank you for sharing this information! =) Fabulous Hub!! This is a healthy reminder to do more to protect our skin, at the same time our internal health eating these foods.