Foods that fight sun damage

We all have heard the phrase, beauty begins on the inside. But did you know you can actually decrease the risk of sunburn by loading up on fruits and veggies and other nutrient rich foods? Its true!

The foods you choose to eat can significantly enhance your skin’s ability to protect itself from environmental damage, including sunburn. An organic, antioxidant rich diet that is filled with brightly colored, nutrient rich foods gives the skin cells an added measure of protection against free radicals.

What are free radicals? Simply put, it is a molecule that “steals” an electron from an oxygen molecule, destabilizing that molecule – which then seeks out an electron from a neighboring stable molecule causing a chain reaction called “oxidizing.” You’ve probably seen evidence of oxidization; its called rust when you see it on metal surfaces and it certainly isn’t something you want to encourage happening in your body. Science has linked free radical damage to DNA destruction and mutation, the aging process and a host of chronic health conditions.  Antioxidants are valuable nutrients that neutralize this process…stop it in its tracks on a molecular and cellular level. You probably recognize most of them:

  • Vitamins A including beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein
  • Vitamins C and E
  • Minerals Zinc and Selenium
  • EFAs a.k.a. Essential Fatty Acids or Omega 3s
  • Flavanoids such as pycnogenol, grape seed extract
  • Polyphenols from aromatic spices such as curcumin (found in curry)

Antioxidants are abundantly available in fresh fruits and vegetables and they work wonders to protect the health of skin and can help it heal more quickly. Organic fruits and veggies have an estimated 30% more antioxidant power and nutritional value than conventionally grown counterparts.  Keeping your diet loaded with antioxidant-rich foods – primarily from raw fruits and vegetables – can boost the skin’s resistance to sunburn by up to 30-40 percent in some cases.

This doesn’t mean you should go without sunscreen. But in the ongoing effort to achieve balance between free radical damage and important Vitamin D production (both require exposure to UV rays), it is good to know you have other options.   While UV exposure is the most efficient way for the body to get the Vitamin D it needs, there are dietary sources including fortified milk and butter, oils, wild tuna/salmon, and sprouted seeds.

But, let’s say you blow it and you and the kids get sunburned.  That same antioxidant-rich diet – with a few additions – can help speed healing. A few things to look out for:

  • The phytochemicals from brightly colored fruits and vegetables (think blueberries and bell peppers – YUM) help prevent infection and boost healing, providing protection from burns. I know when I’m hot – cool, crunchy and sweet really feel and taste great.
  • L-Cysteine is an amino acid found in high protein foods and garlic, broccoli and wheat germ promotes healing of burns.
  • Of course, hydration is key. And with a particularly bad burn you will want to look for those with some sodium and potassium and both are lost with your body’s effort to cool itself on overdrive.
  • Don’t go crazy, but add a few extra calories to your diet; your body needs the extra energy while it heals itself.

Something else to be aware of in preventing sunburn: Some prescription drugs can make the skin more susceptible to sunburn including: antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, antihistamines, sedatives, estrogen and acne medications (e.g., retinoic acid). If you are planning a sun-filled vacation, it is important to ask your pharmacist if any of your family’s medications have photosensitivity as a side effect.

Published on: May 13, 2010
About the Author
Photo of Kim Walls
Kim Walls, M.S., is the mother of two young boys and a serial entrepreneur. Kim has recently launched a new website - to educate expecting parents about the value of skin-to-skin contact in the newborn period.
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