Now that the weather is warming up and you’re likely spending more time outside in the sun, it’s time to think about how best to protect your skin.
You need a certain amount of sun every day to maintain adequate vitamin D, 10–15 minutes for someone with very pale skin, someone with very dark skin can need up to an hour.
Too much sun comes with risk, especially for pale-skinned people. There are nearly 5 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year, mostly due to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Luckily, there’s a variety of options you can choose from, including topical sunscreen, sun-protection clothing, and even the food you eat.
Most people opt for topical sunscreen as their primary mode of defense against the sun, although it’s important to know the potency and effectiveness of sunscreen is different depending on what part of the world you’re in. The United States lags behind in quality sunscreen products due to FDA limitations on ingredients in sunscreen. When considering what sunscreen to use, there are also concerns around using products that contain chemicals like oxybenzone, because those chemicals themselves may lead to cancer, which is what you’re trying to prevent by wearing sunscreen in the first place, right?
Oxybenzone is also toxic to marine life and very damaging to coral reefs.
Topical Sunscreen Is Just the Beginning
In addition to sunscreen, there are two more good options you have: Try clothing that blocks UV rays, and start eating foods that will help prevent sun damage, while avoiding the foods that can contribute to it. Yes, there are actually foods that help protect your skin, and some can even have direct SPF properties after consistent consumption (usually around 12 weeks of daily consumption) that can keep you not only from sun damage but from getting a sunburn in the first place.
Keep in mind that foods won’t immediately provide SPF properties, but they can immediately help determine how your body deals with sunlight and UV rays it comes into contact with.
My favorite summertime food that also helps fight sun damage is watermelon. Lycopene is its key ingredient to protect your skin: It absorbs both UVA and UVB radiation and can make the skin more photo-protective over time, just like topical sunscreen would. Tomatoes are well-known for their lycopene content, but watermelon has far more lycopene per serving, and its high water content makes it perfect for staying hydrated in the heat of summer. If you want the highest lycopene containing food, go for guava fruit, although it may be harder to find.
Next on the list of awesome foods to add to your routine is blueberries, especially wild blueberries, and other berries that are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants fight free radical damage caused by UV radiation and help to protect your skin. An added bonus of blueberries is their vitamin C content, which helps the skin stay hydrated and less wrinkled. Carrots and leafy greens also provide vital protection from sun damage due to their high beta-carotene content, which over time, like watermelon, makes the skin more photoprotective.
Tea lovers can also rejoice. Not only does tea contain theanine which helps lower stress and promote relaxation, but the flavanol EGCG found in green and black tea has powerful antioxidant properties, like blueberries, that help protect you from sun damage. Green tea may even be potent in protecting directly against UVA damage and protects against collagen loss, which is key to skin integrity and health.
Did you know your skin contains a natural type of SPF to help keep you healthy? Urocanic acid, found in the outer layer of the skin, absorbs UV radiation and helps protect against sun damage, notably damage to the DNA caused by sun exposure. Urocanic acid is produced from foods containing histamine, including cauliflower, nuts, seed, fish, and poultry, so adding these to your routine could increase the amount of urocanic acid in the skin.
Foods Can Also Make Skin More Photosensitive
Just like there is a range of foods that can make the skin photoprotective and help prevent sun damage, there are foods known to make the skin more photosensitive and susceptible to sun damage. It would be best to avoid these before taking an afternoon stroll or a trip to the beach this summer. This list of foods includes limes, celery, dill, parsley, fennel, and figs, which are definitely all on my list of foods to enjoy this summer, and probably yours, too. You can also add white wine to that list.
The key is to consume these foods when you’re not spending time in the sun; preferably at night. So instead of having a margarita or white wine while you’re lounging in the sun, opt for red wine, iced tea, or watermelon spritzer. If you love fresh fennel and figs, have them at dinner instead of lunch. Your skin, and overall health, will thank you.
Jaya Jaya Myra is a wellness lifestyle expert and go-to media expert on mind-body wellness, stress management, mindfulness, food for mood, and natural, healthy living. She’s a best-selling author, TEDx and motivational speaker, and creator of The WELL Method for purpose-filled healthy living. Visit www.JayaJayaMyra.com