You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream for Natural Sunscreen!

Summa summa time is here and that means, you guessed it (I hope!), skin protection season.

Did you know there are foods that naturally protect your skin against UVA and UVB rays? This is important as skin cancer is the most common cancer and free radical production is activated after only 5 minutes of exposure to direct sunlight. Though these foods do not replace sunscreen, they do offer up some protection against Mr. Sun’s feel-good rays. And the winners are:

Lycopene-containing foods. According to research published in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, lycopene may help protect our skinski from sunburn. Tomatoes (contain a remarkable amount), pink grapefruit, papaya, carrots, watermelon, guava, apricots (fresh & dried but dried apricots contain more) and red peppers are all foods that naturally contain lycopene. In one such study, subjects exposed to ultraviolet light had nearly 50% less skin reddening if they had consumed 75 ml of tomato paste (or 420 ml of carrot juice) for 10-12 weeks prior to UV exposure. Interestingly, lycopene is further activated when consumed with fat (ex. olive oil) and the lycopene content of foods doubles when the foods are cooked. It is important to note that lycopene supplements aren’t as efficacious as real foods at protecting our skin.

Vitamin C-containing foods. Vitamin C can help shoo away wrinkles and dryness related to age. Vitamin C-rich foods include: peppers (especially red), broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, guava, papaya, kiwifruit, oranges and lychee. You’ll notice many of these vitamin-C rich foods also contain lycopene, as mentioned above.

Foods containing beta carotene. Beta carotene may reduce skin sensitivity. To get some beta carotene into you, nosh on sweet potatoes, peppers, squashes (pumpkin), spinach, cantaloup and carrots.

Soy. Foods like tofu, soy beverage and edamame beans contain isoflavones. Research is pointing towards the fact that isoflavones help prevent collagen breakdown (a fibrous protein that contributes to skin’s firmness, that starts to break down in our 20s). Remember, it is best to go organic when purchasing soy-based foods.

Dark chocolate. As mentioned in my post on dark chocolate bark, chocolate with a high cocoa content increases oxygen and nutrients supplied to your skin by means of increased blood flow. Dark chocolate helps you protect the skin you’re in.

Corn. Bingo! Corn is in season right about now! In the same manner as lycopene, the lutein contained in corn protects your skin against sun damage.

Coffee. Research suggests caffeine in tea and coffee could help guard your skin against skin cancer. According to Dr. Paul Nghiem, a dermatology prof at U. of Washington med school, caffeine kills skin cells that are precancerous and damaged by UV by inhibitting a protein they require for division.

Honourable mention: olive oil. Compounds in olive oil like vitamin E and polyphenols do not protect against the sun per se but help us self-repair once damage is done. Olive oil works best when applied directly to your skin.

An interesting study carried out by Australian and Swedish researchers compared lifestyle and signs of skin ageing for four groups: 1) Greek people living in Melbourne 2) Greek people living in Greece 3) Swedish people living in Sweden and 4) “anglo-Celtic” (of Irish or British descent) people living in Australia.The researchers evaluated diet and lifestyle of the subjects, all while assessing wrinkles and other signs of skin ageing using specialized equipment. The results? For equivalent sun exposure, food was the factor with the most impact on preventing or speeding up skin ageing. According to this study, vegetables, olive oil and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, etc) confer significant skin protection and can reduce signs of ageing by 20-32%. On the other hand, subjects who ate more meat, dairy and sugar showed the most signs of skin ageing.

Remember, these foods do not present a carte blanche to ditch sunscreen. Also remember that sunscreen can create a false sense of security, meaning that because we are protected, we might stay out in the sun longer than we should.

Now boost your body’s natural defenses, why don’t you? Stay safe, my friends.


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