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9 Foods with UV-Protective Effects

iStock-490128382Evidence suggests that diet can significantly alter how the skin responds to sun exposure. The epidermis is a highly regenerative barrier that protects the body from the external environment, including protection from UV radiation and pollution.

Skin-healthy foods should be enjoyed raw (when possible) to benefit from their bioactive nutrients. Eating these nine foods will not only protect the skin from sun damage, they can also help heal skin that has already been burned.

Although these foods help naturally mitigate UV damage to the skin, reasonable precautions should still be taken on hot days, such as using sun cream, wearing a sun hat and UV protective clothing, as well as refraining from going out in the midday sun.

Here are our top 9 foods that offer protective effects from ultraviolet rays:

1.    Guava

When we think of vitamin C, oranges often come to mind. However, there’s a tropical fruit that contains five times as much vitamin C as oranges. Guava is overflowing with vitamin C - providing a massive 419% of the daily value (DV). Vitamin C-rich foods protect the skin from sun damage because the antioxidants act as a photoprotectant. The optimum intake of vitamin C in humans is a controversial topic; some researchers state that 200 mg per day will maximize the health benefits of vitamin C, whereas the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) suggests 90mg for adult males and 75 mg for females. Vitamin C also helps to produce collagen.

2.    Sweet Potatoes

Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, give fruits and vegetables a vibrant orange color and also provide the skin with antioxidants that act as a protective shield against solar rays. The body converts the phytonutrient beta-carotene to vitamin A, which has been shown to reduce sunburn. Beta-carotene also encourages the body to produce melaninm which helps protect the skin from sun exposure. All potatoes contain high amounts of starch, which is thought to draw the heat out of the skin. For this reason, potatoes can be used topically to soothe sunburn.

3.    Strawberries

Strawberries are a great natural sun block as they contain 108% DV of vitamin C as well as ellagic acid, which both mop up free radicals and reduce pigmentation caused by sun damage. The Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry published a paper on the photoprotective properties of strawberries. They stated that the anthocyanins in strawberries (flavonoids that give fruits their red color) might be the compound responsible for the fruit’s photoprotective properties.

4.    Green Tea

Green tea can be consumed internally or externally to soothe sunburn, while providing a wide range of healing benefits that range from detoxification, reducing blood pressure and enhancing relaxation. When it comes to the skin, green tea promotes DNA repair due to the polyphenol Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG). Green tea also contains catechins, which are polyphenols that have antibacterial qualities and help support healthy inflammatory pathways. Green tea is packed with vitamins B2 and E that hydrate and protect the skin.

5.    Oatmeal

Oatmeal soothes sunburn due to its antioxidant, antifungal and moisturizing properties. Oatmeal contains free radical scavengers called saponins. Oatmeal also stimulates T-cell production - boosting the immune system and helping regenerate the skin. Oatmeal can be mixed with water and used topically on sunburn or as an exfoliator prior to sun exposure.

6.    Cucumber

Cucumber helps the body produce collagen, the main structural protein in the skin. 96% of a cucumber is water, so cucumber is extremely hydrating. To benefit from cucumber’s skin care qualities the peel should also be consumed. The peel contains silica that firms up the skin. Additionally cucumber contains vitamin C, caffeic acid, potassium and vitamin K. Vitamin K helps the skin heal, so is great for soothing sunburn. Caffeic acid is high in antioxidants and helps protect the skin from oxidative stress and DNA damage.

7.    Tomatoes

Similar to strawberries, tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a carotenoid that gives the tomato its red color. Lycopene is an antioxidant that protects the skin from cellular damage. Tomatoes are also high in vitamin C – just one cup of tomato juice provides 188.9% DV of vitamin C. Tomatoes are also rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and help balance the body’s pH balance. One study showed how the phytochemicals in tomatoes mitigated sunburn in animal models.

8.    Watermelon

92% of watermelon is water, so they are great for keeping the skin hydrated. Watermelon is also filled with skin-healthy nutrients like vitamins A, B6 and C.  Watermelon also contains the antioxidant lycopene and the amino acid arginine. Both help protect the skin from photoaging while aiding in blood flow and protein formation.

9.    Carrots

Carrots are bursting with beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotene also reduces inflammation from sunburn. Sun exposure creates additional free radicals so the vitamin C from carrots is also great to protect the skin from sun damage. Carotenoids signal gene expression at a cellular level and offer photoprotective qualities that can mitigate sun damage.

All of the foods listed above can be used topically or ingested to yield skin-healthy benefits. 

So go outside and enjoy the sun, but don’t forget to pack your cooler with photoprotective foods! 


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