Sunscreen, hats, umbrellas, protective clothing and other external barriers are the first line of defense against the sun's rays, but some delicious summer foods can offer additional, internal protection.
Excessive exposure to the sun can damage the skin, cause premature aging and increase the risk of developing skin cancer. However, several recent studies show that eating high-antioxidant foods can fortify the skin and enhance its ability to become more tolerant to ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
Sun damage causes free radicals, which all edible antioxidants fight. But some work even better than others at protecting against the sun's rays. Here are the food categories that show the most promise:
Lycopene-rich foods (watermelon, tomatoes, apricots, papaya, pink grapefruit and papayas). These reddish-orange fruits and vegetables get their color from lycopene, an antioxidant that has been shown to increase the skin's capacity to defend against free radicals and shield itself from the sun by about 33 percent.
Flavonoid-rich Beverages and Foods (green tea, cocoa, dark chocolate). A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that a flavanol-rich cocoa drink increased the body's ability to tolerate UV rays and improved skin health; at the end if the study, it took double the amount of UV to turn the high-flavonol group's skin red. The women who drank the high flavanol drink also had increased skin density and better skin hydration at the end of the study. Many studies suggest that the polyphenols in green tea provide a similar boost to the ability to reduce the damage caused by ultraviolet rays and protect it from photo aging.
Foods High in Beta Carotene (cantaloupe, peppers and leafy greens). People with high levels of beta-carotene and lycopene are less prone to premature aging. A German study also showed that supplementing with beta-carotene supplements for at least 10 weeks offered protection against sunburn.
Foods High in EPA (Cold water fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel). This type of omega-3 fatty acid helps prolong the time that it takes skin to get burnt during sun exposure, and also helps reduce the risk of skin cancer.
Foods High in Vitamin C (bell peppers, citrus, kiwi, berries). While it doesn't necessarily act as an internal sunscreen, this antioxidant helps build collagen and also prevents wrinkles and photo damage through its anti-inflammatory action. Women who ate the most vitamin C foods were 11 percent less likely to have wrinkles, according to one study.
While eating antioxidant rich foods will never replace the need for topical skin sun protection, they will add an additional boost to it. Studies suggest that you'll need at least 10 weeks of daily ingestion of these foods to optimize the benefits.
And if you aren't getting enough of these antioxidants on a daily basis, it is recommended that you supplement with a nutritional formula such as Basic Nutrient Support that contains the full spectrum of basic antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as well as essential fatty acids, super antioxidants and a fruits and vegetables complex to provide whatever you may be missing.