I am always looking to protect my skin with sunscreen or moisturizers containing sunscreen, even in the winter. Being fair skinned and blue eyes I am a target for sunspots and skin cancers of all types. My mother had skin cancer in her later years and always avoided the sun. The sun takes a toll on your skin especially as the years go by. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. They estimate 65-90 percent of melanomas, a form of skin cancer are caused by exposure to UV light.
So is it possible that we could eat a natural sunscreen?
Some plants such as tomatoes supply us with skin protective compounds. These compounds include caroteniods, polyphenols and isoflavones. Some of these compounds absorb damaging UV rays and decrease sunburn. Others provide antioxidants and anti inflammatory compounds that protect the skin cells.
Beta carotene, a carotenoid can be found in orange colored fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes and many of the dark green leafy vegetables. The natural pigment in carotenoids is what protects it from the excess light or sun. We should try to consume at least 2 servings a day of an orange or green produce.
Lycopene is another carotenoid and can be found in red colored produce including my favorites, watermelon, tomatoes and red bell peppers. Lycopene is thought to have even greater impact on protecting our skin from the sun. A study in the Journal of Nutrition showed an intake of 40 grams of tomato paste with 10 grams of olive oil over 10 weeks proved to have a 40 percent reduction in sunburn.
Vitamin C and E, both antioxidants are naturally found in the skin help maintain skin integrity. When we are exposed to the UV light these vitamins are depleted. Interestingly, a 2010 study in Nutrients found sun protection is maximized when vitamin C and E are supplemented in combination rather then taking them separately. High amounts of Vitamin C can be found in berries, citrus fruits and kiwi. Vitamin E can be found in nuts, and vegetable oils.
The polyphenols is a plant compound that provides protection against the development of skin cancers. You can find them in tea, another one of my favorites. Cocoa, grapeseeds, onions apples and soy foods are also high in polyphenols. One study suggested consuming one to two cups of brewed tea regularly to maximize the benefits. That is advice that I would not have trouble following since I love all types of tea!
Fighting sun protection with food, we can also think about consuming isoflavone, an antioxident found in soybeans. Consuming soy has been thought to be responsible for the “ slowing” down of wrinkling until about the age of 50.
But the truth be known, eating to protect your self from skin damage is a good idea, however limiting yourself to exposure to UV rays and wearing the proper sunscreen is equally important.
Last piece of advice; eat the whole food form of nutrients to gain all the positive effects. Make a trip to your local farmers market for all fresh fruits and vegetables while they are in season.