With summer in full force, many of you are setting your sights to frolicking on an exotic Caribbean beach, sinking your toes in the powdery white sand and soaking up some rays. Or you're already indulging in some sun bathing at your local beach, park or pool. But along with that pleasure of experiencing the warming rays of the sun, we also have the fear perpetuated by the medical establishment and the media to shun the sun and most of us have a case of "sun-o-phobia."
What’s gotten lost in the shuffle is the fact that there are a plethora of benefits to sun exposure in limited doses. Recent studies have shown that optimizing your Vitamin D levels may actually help prevent as many as 16 different types of cancers. And how do you get your Vitamin D? From safe exposure to the sun for 10-20 minutes sans those chemical-laden, greasy sunblocks that imbue a very unbecoming pallor to your skin (not to mention that most commercial sunscreens contain toxins and endocrine disrupters that actually promote skin cancers!)
Here's the kicker: The sun rays strike your skin and react with the cholesterol to help you metabolize vitamin D, which in turn protects you from too much sun. Nature has provided such an elegant model to harness the healing power of the sun. The key is to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production while at the same time protecting yourself from damage that occurs from overexposure to the sun. Always use common sense and if you notice your skin turning pink, then throw on a cover up, get in some shade and cool it.
What can you do to use the sun to your advantage? Mother Nature has provided us with sunscreens that don't come in plastic bottles, but rather sport their own yummy, colorful and biodegradable packages. Below are my top ten nutrition/supplement strategies to boost your internal sunscreen by eating antioxidant dense foods that fortify the skin and increase its ability to become more tolerant to ultraviolet (UV) exposure:
10 Ways to Eat Your Sunscreen
Go Ga-Ga for Greens: Leafy greens such as leeks, artichokes, broccoli, kale, romaine, spinach, cilantro, celery and parsley are optimal for preventing and repairing sun damage. A recent study indicates that eating spinach, kale and Swiss chard may reduce risk of squamous cell skin cancer by 50 percent. Simply blend your way to sun protection by mixing up your favorite greens with some frozen berries and/or a banana. Added bonus: Scarfing these green veggies can give you a significant leg up in the attractiveness department as you radiate that glow from within.
Love your Lycopene: Watermelon, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit, tomato and all red fruits contain lycopene, an antioxidant which can enhance the skin’s natural defense against free radicals by 35%. Recent studies have shown that healthy women, aged 21-47, who ate 55 grams of tomato paste containing 16 mg of lycopene every day for 12 weeks experienced significant protection against acute--and potentially long term--sun damage. Remember that cooked tomatoes, and tomato products like paste and sauce, offer far more bioavailable lycopene than raw tomatoes. Watermelon is especially rich in lycopene, and contains 40% more lycopene than tomatoes.
Indulge in some dark chocolate or raw cacao: Dark chocolate (with at least 70% cacao) contains 4 times as much phenols and catechins as tea. These antioxidants protect our skin from sunburn and skin cancer. Be aware, though, that milk chocolate does not have the same effect because milk prevents the absorption of polyphenols, or plant chemicals that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial capabilities.
Tea up your UV protection: Black, white and green teas all contain polyphenols that help fight the battle against UV rays. However, green tea has more epigallocatechin–3–gallate (EGCG), the most powerful polyphenol of them all. You can say EGCG is a multitasking chemical that slows down sun-related skin aging, prevents skin cancer, and inhibits tumor cells. What’s also interesting is green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that helps you relax. It also means that it can stop the over production of the stress hormone, cortisol, from destroying the collagen fibers in your skin, so you can flaunt tighter skin.
Broccoli bites: Broccoli is rich in an antioxidant called sulphoraphane that helps protect our cells against the ravages of UV radiation. You can incorporate the benefits of broccoli for protection from skin cancer from the sun by eating one half cup daily. Simply add some broccoli on a salad or some broccoli sprouts to your sandwich.
Get your om on: Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation, protect your skin from sunburn and melanoma (a deadly form of skin cancer). Salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, algae/seaweed, flax, hemp and chia seeds are rich sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.
Boost your saturated fat intake: A recent study shows saturated fats actually protect the skin from the inflammatory response (sunburn) after too much sun exposure and that these good fats also reduce the risk of some skin cancers and increase the time it takes to become sunburned, very similar to what sunscreens do. So, if you want to enjoy your time out and about in the sun, add in healthy sources of saturated fats, such as butter (made from grass-fed raw, organic milk) and coconut oil.
Go apes for astaxanthin: Astaxanthin is perhaps the most powerful antioxidant ever studied. It is 550 times more powerful than Vitamin E, and it has been shown to protect the skin and eyes against ultraviolet radiation. It is derived from microalgae and is the part that gives salmon, shrimp and pink flamingos that eat the algae their characteristic orange or pink coloring. It may be difficult to get therapeutic amounts of astaxanthin through food alone. You’d have to consume three-quarters of a pound of wild-caught sockeye salmon, so supplementing with 12 mg per day will boost your internal sun protection. It does take some time, around 2-4 weeks, to build up adequate sun protection.
Pump up your pomegranate intake: You can also boost your internal sunscreen by popping a pomegranate-extract supplement (up to 60 mg, at health-food stores). This can enhance skin's sun-protective properties by 25 percent, says L.A. dermatologist Howard Murad. You can also drink pomegranate juice, or eat the pomegranate fruit. Quick tip: If you’re deseeding the pomegranate yourself submerge the entire fruit under water and then remove the seeds. This keeps the splatter casualties way down.
Rev up your Resveratrol levels: Resveratrol gets a lot of publicity for its possible anti-cancer, cardioprotective, and lifespan enhancing qualities, but it’s also gaining steam as a potential photoprotective agent. A study found that once incorporated into skin cells, resveratrol protected them from UV damage.
Must-Avoid Foods to Prevent Sun Damage
Now that you know what to eat to boost your internal sunscreen, make sure you also avoid these two food groups that are plentiful in the Standard American Diet (SAD):
Sugars: A diet that is full of foods that contain sugar is more likely to contribute to the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). AGEs on their own promote the breakdown and aging of connective tissue and vasculature in the body and we see things like wrinkles and cellulite. According to the Journal of Oncology and the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, one study showed that UVA rays are far more toxic to skin that has an excessive buildup of AGEs. So do your body and skin a huge favor by eschewing sugars. Remember, sugars aren't just in sweets but also in grains, breads, pastas, cereals, and potatoes. It's also lurking in much of the processed food on supermarket shelves, including innocuous foods such as salad dressings, pasta sauce and baby food.
Processed foods: If it comes in a wrapper, don't eat it. Most processed, convenience foods are loaded with cheap omega-6 fatty acids that have displaced the healthy omega 3s.So ditch the rancid polyunsaturated oils, such as corn, canola, soybean, sunflower and safflower (that are ubiquitious in restaurant food).
Recipe: Natural Homemade Sunscreen
If you're in the sun for extended periods of time this summer, here's a natural option that's great for really young children, those taking medication that increases sun burn risk, or those who burn very easily:
1/4 cup coconut oil
5 tsp Zinc Oxide (stay away from the nano-particles)
1 tbsp Beeswax or emulsifying wax
3 tbsp pure 100% aloe vera gel
1/2 cup distilled water or brewed green tea (strained)
2-3 capsules of Vitamin E oil (optional)
10 drops Grapefruit Seed Extract (optional)
Heat oil and beeswax on double boiler until just melted. Remove from heat, and add vitamin E. Put into bowl that will not be used for food, and add zinc oxide powder, set aside. In small pan, heat water or tea and aloe vera until just warm. Add the water/aloe mixture slowly while whisking vigorously or use an immersion blender. Optional: Add any additional essential oils (except citrus that can cause burning) for your signature scent.
Note: This recipe has an SPF of about 20, though adding more Zinc Oxide will increase the SPF. Also, I don’t recommend using it daily since the Vitamin D you get from the sun will be more beneficial in the long run.
This summer, remember that the most colorful foods tend to provide the most UV protection. Eat vibrant colors, and you’ll be doing your body and skin good in more ways than one. Also, if you’re buying topical sunscreen, look at every ingredient and search the EWG database to check safety first.
Your skin is your largest organ and everything you put on it gets absorbed into your blood stream. So, if you can’t eat the ingredients, don’t put them on your skin.