Sun Protection Foods: Can Foods Help Prevent Sunburns?
As the sun comes out in spring and summer, most of us naturally spend more time outdoors. Whether that’s to hike, bike, swim, socialize at a BBQ, hang out in a hammock, or do yardwork, now’s the time to bask in the beautiful warm weather. Yet, that also means we’re more likely to be exposed to the damaging UV light from the sun. Sunscreen is important—especially when we’re outdoors for extended amounts of time. But is it possible to also help protect the skin from sun damage from within? In other words, are there sun protection foods?
The answer is absolutely yes! Here’s a look at 13 of the best foods for sun protection.
13 Sun Protection Foods
Berries—including strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries—are rich sources of vitamin C. And vitamin C is a phytonutrient that has been shown to help prevent sunburn. What’s more, berries are listed as six of the top 20 foods rich in antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that can lead to sun damage. 1 According to research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, one of the best times to consume antioxidants for sun protection is in the morning. 2 So go ahead and toss some berries into your morning smoothie or on top of your protein pancakes.
Guava may not be a common fruit for many diets, but it’s perfect for summer. It’s high in water and also provides tons of vitamin C—around five times more than an orange. Guava has a flavor that’s a bit like a strawberry mixed with a pear. For a refreshing summer treat, blend some guava with passion fruit and freeze for an exotic popsicle.
Another fantastic source of antioxidants, along with ellagic acid, is pomegranate. These nutrients may also help support the body’s healthy response to inflammation, which may, in turn, help the skin resist damage from UVA and UVB rays. Pomegranate may also help fight skin aging and sun damage.
There are so many good reasons to eat watermelon during the summer. First, it’s in season. Second, it’s so hydrating and refreshing. Third, it’s delicious. And fourth, it’s rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and lycopene, which may limit UV radiation damage to the skin. Lycopene, specifically, is a natural antioxidant carotenoid that helps fight free radicals and has been shown to protect against UV damage. 3 It’s found in the red to pink spectrum of produce, including tomatoes and red peppers. 4 Yet watermelon provides significantly more.
Just don’t expect it to help by eating an entire watermelon at the beach. It takes a few weeks of daily consumption for the lycopene to begin to protect from sunburn.
Another highly skin-hydrating option is cucumbers. Cucumbers are mostly water, but they also provide collagen-supporting, sun-protection nutrients like vitamin C.
With the potent combination of vitamin C with lycopene, tomatoes are a double threat of sun protection as they both keep the skin hydrated and protect against UV damage.
If you only eat a few of the sun protection foods on this list, carrots are one of the best choices. Research has directly linked the beta-carotene in carrots to a reduction in the skin’s reaction to sunburn. So, if you spent a little too much time in the sun, add carrots to your evening salad, have a side of steamed carrots, toss some into your morning smoothie, or if you want a real change of pace, try a carrot hot dog.
8. Leafy Greens
Another food high in beta-carotene includes leafy greens. They’re also loaded with the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to help protect against sun damage, including wrinkling and even skin cancer. 5
9. Cruciferous vegetables
Broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, etc., all provide abundant antioxidants to help nourish and protect the body. As a bonus, they also contain sulforaphane, which is a nutrient shown to help protect the skin from sun damage. 6,7
10. Sweet Potatoes
Another food that’s rich in vitamin C is sweet potatoes. This healthy spud also provides beta-carotene, another sun protection nutrient.
Free-radical-fighting antioxidants are considered antiaging nutrients for good reason. For one, they help prevent damage to the skin. So, enjoy your morning oatmeal for a healthy dose of antioxidants. (Throw some berries on top for even bigger sun-protection benefits.)
12. Green Tea
If you’d prefer to drink your sun protection, then look no further than green tea. Because of the polyphenols found in green tea, it’s been shown to protect against UV damage and may even help reduce DNA damage after sun exposure. 5, 8 In addition, green tea may help protect collagen, which is necessary for the skin’s integrity, elasticity, and firmness.
13. Fatty Fish
As a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish and some shellfish can help the body fight inflammation and free-radical damage caused by the sun. There’s even strong circumstantial evidence that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of some non-melanoma types of skin cancer. 9, 10 Finally, omega-3 fatty acids are needed to help maintain skin integrity. 11
In addition to fatty fish and shellfish, you can also find omega-3 fats in walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds to help protect the skin.
Best Foods for Sun Protection: A Wrap-Up
Even if you consume all of the best foods on this list for sun protection, it’s still important to limit your overall exposure to sun damage by avoiding too much time outside when the sun is at its strongest, and wearing hats and sunglasses to protect the most sensitive tissues (i.e., the face and eyes). That said, the sun protection foods mentioned above may provide some further protection to help keep your skin healthy and safe from damage.
Sunshine, however, also shouldn’t be completely avoided. It’s the primary way our bodies get enough vitamin D, which is vital for balanced immunity, mental health, healthy sleep, and more. Bottom line, it’s all about finding the right balance for your skin type.