Eat Your Sunscreen!

Foods that Boost the SPF of Your Skin

Eating the right foods can help us improve our skin from the inside out – even boosting the natural SPF of our skin! Foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and omega-3s can help to provide an added layer of protection for the skin from UV damage, and also help to prevent the signs of aging.

Antioxidants – An Army Against Free Radicals

Antioxidants such as carotenoids give foods their vibrant colors, and are critical to the photosynthetic process, protecting a plant from damage by light and oxygen. By consuming plants or organisms that contain these pigments, people can gain a similar protective benefit. Antioxidants and other key nutrients protect cells from oxidation, encourage cell growth, fight inflammation and boost our skin’s ability to prevent free radical damage. When the skin is exposed to the sun or other sources of radiation, this causes free radicals to form – which can damage the membranes of skin cells and harm the DNA of that cell. Antioxidants slow or prevent the effect of free radicals and oxidation – which can lead to cell dysfunction. We can see oxidation in action when a sliced apple turns brown. But a little squeeze of lemon juice can prevent the oxidation – providing antioxidant protective-effects. Oxidative stress appears to be an important part of many human diseases – linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration, as well as the signs of aging. In addition to helping fortify cells against free radicals, antioxidants also encourage cell and tissue growth, helping the body to repair itself.

Eating an antioxidant-rich diet – commonly found in fruits and vegetables and other foods – can protect and repair the cellular walls. Important antioxidants for boosting the SPF of the skin include:

Lutein is an important antioxidant found in plants, fruits, egg yolks and vegetables such as kale, broccoli, carrots and spinach that helps us to maintain healthful eyes, teeth, bones and skin as we age.

  • According to Dr Salvador Gonsalez of Harvard University, “Lutein has been widely recognized for its eye health benefits for several years. But, our data is the first of its kind to suggest that lutein may have the potential to act as a preventative agent against UVB-induced skin cancer. In addition, these data suggest that lutein protects the skin against damage caused by exposure to UVB light, further validating our position that lutein is a critical component to overall skin health.”
  • Lutein appears to be sensitive to cooking and storage. Prolonged cooking of green, leafy vegetables appears to reduce the lutein content. Eggs are best when not overcooked to preserve more of the lutein in the yolks.
  • For individuals lacking sufficient lutein intake, lutein-fortified foods are available, or a sublingual spray is available.

Zeaxanthin, another carotenoid antioxidant with skin-friendly properties, shows up in yellow-orange foods such as orange peppers, carrots, and squash.

  • A study published in the Journal of Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin provided a four-fold increase in protection from UV radiation-induced skin damage, and a six-fold increase in protection when a topical application of the nutrients was added.

Astaxanthin is perhaps the least well-known member of the carotenoid family, but is poised to be the new superstar of antioxidants with reports suggesting it has anywhere between 10 – 500 times the activity compared to other antioxidants.

  • Derived from algae, is believed to be potentially 100 times more effective than vitamin E in free radical scavaging.
  • Astaxanthin reduces the harm caused by UV radiation, so it works as an internal nutritional sunscreen – boosting the skin’s tolerance to ultraviolet radiation.
  • Wild fish like salmon get their deep color from eating krill and shrimp – high in astaxanthin. Wild salmon are 400 percent higher in astaxanthin than farmed salmon, and 100 percent of their pigment is natural astaxanthin, rather than synthetic. Farmed salmon color is typically added from artificial sources. Synthetic astaxanthin is used to supplement fish feeds in order to obtain the desired pinkish to orange-red color. But synthetic astaxanthin is made from petrochemicals. Natural astaxanthin is better for the health of the animals, and it’s far superior for pigmentation. Animals fed fish food with natural astaxanthin have higher survival rates, better growth rates, better immunity, fertility and reproduction.
  • Astaxanthin multiplies the effects of vitamin C and E in the body. It also lowers LDL cholesterol and protects lipid peroxidation.
  • Eating algae such as chlorella, spirulina and other types can also deliver astaxanthin.

Lycopene, also from the carotene family, is an excellent free radical scavenger – it is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta-carotene.

  • A 2008 study found that consuming a lycopene-rich tomato paste had 33% more sun protection than the control group (who consumed olive oil).
  • Found in tomatoes (absorbed better cooked), watermelon, grapefruit, lycopene may also help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the severity of allergy symptoms.
  • The recommended amount is 25 to 75 mg of lycopene each day in your diet.

Polyphenols are powerful botanical antioxidants. They offer protection against free radical exposure to help prevent skin aging and boost the skin’s antioxidant protection from the inside out.

  • Green tea, black tea, cacao or dark chocolate are good sources of polyphenols.
  • Recommended dose – 2 ounces of dark chocolate a day! Now that is a prescription I can handle! The higher the cacao content in the dark chocolate, the most polyphenols.

Beta-carotene is believed to have the ability to diffuse UV light, help prevent burning and counteract the damaging and aging effect of the sun’s rays.

  • Beta-carotene can be found in a variety of foods including sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mangos, cantaloupes, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme, romaine lettuce and broccoli.
  • The body is able to convert beta carotene into vitamin A as it needs it, so it is a safer form of vitamin A to take than the Retinol form, which when used topically has been linked to an increased incidence of skin cancers, (read more).

Selenium is a trace mineral that increases the potency of vitamins C and E and prevents damage from free-radicals.

  • Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium, only about 2-3 freshly shelled brazil nuts is probably enough to get your daily RDA for selenium (note: selenium content within batches of brazil nuts can vary). Brazil nuts that come already shelled will likely contain less selenium than those that are shelled – so a small handful is probably sufficient. One should be careful to not consume too many brazil nuts – as toxic levels of selenium could occur.
  • The incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer is found to be significantly higher in areas of the United States with that has low selenium content soil.
  • Selenium was studied in seven dermatology clinics in the U.S. from 1983 through the early 1990s.
  • Taking a daily supplement containing 200 micrograms of selenium was found to significantly reduce the occurrence and death from total cancers. The RDA of selenium is only 55 mcg. a day.  Trace minerals are measured in micrograms (not milligrams) as only very small amounts are needed by the body.

Vitamin E strengthens the immune system and protects all the cells in the body from free radical damage.

  • Vitamin E applied topically can also help to heal the damage caused by overexposure to sun.
  • Vitamin E has anti-inflammatory effects and can be found in cold-pressed vegetable oils (especially wheatgerm), seeds, nuts and oily fish. Also avocados contains some Vitamin E. Vitamin E is destroyed when heated, so it should be consumed raw.
  • The vitamin E in nuts – especially almonds – fights skin-aging free radicals, and also helps your skin hold in moisture.

Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables and helps to boost the immune system to fight free radical damage.

  • Not stored in the body, vitamin C must be consumed regularly.
  • It is important to replenish vitamin C after too much sun exposure, because levels are likely to depleted from extended sun exposure.
  • Vitamin C aids in your body’s production of collagen, which is the protein that forms the basic structure of your skin. Collagen breakdown can leave your skin saggy, and vitamin C will help tighten it back up.
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit contain vitamin C. But even better sources of vitamin C are papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and strawberries.

Eat a Rainbow

It is important to eat a variety of colors of the rainbow – because antioxidants work best when taken in conjunction with each other – they are better absorbed that way, and can magnify each other’s effects. The American Heart Association recommends obtaining antioxidants from a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than just from supplements. The body absorbs antoxidants from whole food sources better than most supplements. But many people can benefit from a good multivitamin as well as a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables. When supplementing, just be aware that more is not always better when it comes to vitamins – the fat soluble vitamins are not readily excreted like the water-soluble vitamins and can accumulate in the body if too many are taken.

Omega 3s – Key Inflammation Fighter

Omega-3 rich foods protect our cells from inflammation, oxidation, and free radical damage, and also offer important heart protective-effects.  Research shows that omega-3 fats are inhibitors of development and progression of a range of human cancers, including melanoma. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids – which means the body can not make them, so we must obtain them from the foods we eat or supplements we take.

  • The National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review indicating that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is the key to preventing skin cancer development.
  • The three most nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • An Australian study completed ten years ago, showed a 40% reduction in melanoma for those who were eating fish and therefore consumed higher levels of omega-3s.
  • Omega-3s also offer internal hydration to the skin, so people that suffer from dry skin or dry eyes might be deficient in omega-3s.
  • The Standard American Diet is high in omega-6s, and low in omega-3s – which is important for reducing inflammation. Inflammation can also increase the likelihood of DNA damage.

Omega 3s are important for focus and brain development, mood, and heart health too.  Some excellent Omega 3 supplements:

  • swirl_mangoBarleans Omega Swirl, it tastes like a smoothie, so even kids will love it! Comes in a variety of yummy flavors like pina colada and mango peach – no hint of fishiness!  I like the Mango Peach flavor because it has 400 IU of Vitamin D.
  • Rainbow Light’s Omega Skin & Mood supplement has Omega 3s and Astaxanthin to maximize the benefit to your skin.

Omega 3 Rich Foods:

  • Fish and fish oils, especially cold-water fatty fish (salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, krill)
  • Chia and Flax Seed/Oils
  • Some nuts such as walnuts
  • Some algae sources such as chlorella

Sugar – Skin’s Enemy

Consuming a diet high in sugar not only contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance, it also damages our skin. When sugar enters the bloodstream, it attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs damage collagen and elastin – the proteins in the skin that keep it looking young and healthy. AGEs also causes the body to covert the more stable form of collegen into collagen that is more fragile and prone to wrinkles and sagging. Finally – AGEs deactivate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving us more vulnerable to sun damage. Ideally, no more than 10% of daily calories should come from sugar (which is about 9-10 teaspoons a day for an average woman). The good thing is that reducing dietary sugar consumption can quickly reverse some of the AGEs and collagen damage to result in more youthful looking and functioning skin.

Prevent Overexposure

What we put on our plate is important to the overall health and appearance of our skin – and it can boost the SPF of our skin. But it does not mean we can sit in the sun for too long. Consuming the above antioxidants can provide a modest level of SPF.  Too much time in the sun can be very damaging. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer affects 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime – making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. If you plan to be in the sun for an extended period, these 4 tips can help prevent overexposure to the sun:

  • wear sun protective hats & clothing (look for an SPF factor on the label)
  • wear sunscreens that contain a physical barrier  (like titanium oxide and zinc) – keep reapplying regularly, especially after swimming.  Avoid suncreens that contain oxybenzone (an endocrine disruptor), and the retinol form of vitamin A (although touted as anti-aging, it is linked to an increase in skin cancers).
  • limit the amount of time spent in the sun
  • consume a diet rich in antioxidants and omega 3s, and low in sugar/processed foods

Vitamin D

More research is needed on the topic of sun, sunscreens, antioxidants and omega-3s – but it appears that a limited amount of time in the sun (approx 15 mins. for fair-skinned people), actually could have protective effects against skin cancer because it can boost vitamin D levels (read related blog: Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin).

Whether or not we decide to get a limited amount of unprotected sunlight or not – we can all boost the natural SPF of our skin, and boost our skin’s ability to fight free radicals and the signs of aging – by getting more antioxidants and omega 3s in our daily diets. A diet rich in antioxidants, obtaining the right balance of essential fatty acids, and limiting processed or foods with high levels of sugar, preservatives and chemicals – will help protect our skin, and our overall health.

For skin cancer facts and information, visit the The Skin Cancer Foundation.

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Sara Vance is a Clinical Nutritionist in the Encinitas, CA area.

Sara offers nutritional counseling, School Assemblies, group classes, kids healthy cooking, and more. Visit ReBalanceLife.com for more information.  Friend Sara Vance at ReBalance Life on Facebook.

©2011, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

Sources:
Could sunscreens increase melanoma risk? American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 82, No. 4, April 1992, pp. 614-15.
Omega 3 but not omega 6 fatty acids inhibit AP-1 activity and cell transformation in JB6 cells. PNAS June 19, 2001 vol. 98 no. 13 7510-7515 http://www.pnas.org/content/98/13/7510.full
Health and Nutrition Secrets by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.
Palombo, P. et al. “Beneficial Long-Term Effects of Combined Oral/Topical Antioxidant Treatment with the Carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin on Human Skin: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Skin Pharmacology and Physiology. 20: 199-210, 2007.
Lycopene protects against biomarkers of photodamage in human skin. British Society for Investigative Dermatology Annual Meeting, 8 April 2008, University of Oxford. Rizwan M, Rodriguez-Blanco I, Harbottle A, Birch-Machin M, Watson REB,. Rhodes LE.

©2011, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

7 Responses so far.

  1. [...] Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more about boosting the body’s own internal [...]

  2. [...] pressure, boosting mood and brain function, protection against Alzheimers disease, lowering stress, boosting our skin’s internal SPF, and much [...]

  3. [...] when multiple foods are consumed together – the antioxidants’ effects can multiply (read Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more about antioxidants and their effects). I always tell my clients to “eat a [...]

  4. [...] Tip: Many foods can also work as a natural SPF on your body. For Example:  tomatoes, strawberries, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, fish (salmon, tuna, white fish). Basically, eat whole NATURAL foods and leave out the sugary, processed stuff. For more information you can read “how to eat your sunscreen.” [...]

  5. [...] been found to have protective effects against other cancers – especially skin cancer (read: Eat Your Sunscreen).  Just a handful of Brazil nuts a day will get your selenium to a healthy place.   But be [...]

  6. [...] has been found to have protective effects against other cancers – especially skin cancer (read: Eat Your Sunscreen).  Just a handful of Brazil nuts a day will get your selenium to a healthy [...]

  7. […] Watermelon: Over 90% water, watermelons also contain many of the things the body loses with sweating – including natural sugars, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.  Rich in beta carotene, vitamin C and lycopene, watermelon is also helpful in protecting the body from free radical damage that comes with exercise and sun exposure. Lycopene was even shown to provide the body with a little bit of internal sunscreen (read more: Eat Your Sunscreen). […]