I've long been quite controversial on the topic of SPF.
I'm a proponent of getting out into the sunshine (conservatively -- for 10 to 20 minutes of screen-free, morning or evening sun, per day, depending on skin tone and closeness to the sun) and not listening to the scare campaigns of sunscreen manufacturers. We ALL benefit from exposure to sunlight, and for most people 10 to 20 minutes a day is essential to the production of vitamin D in the body -- it supports immunity, bone health AND mental health through boosting levels of serotonin. That said, too much, excessive, exposure to UV rays can lead to damage and spots, so it's important to limit your time in the sun and wear protective clothing. But don't be afraid of the sun. DO be afraid of the chemicals in your sunscreens -- that actually cause cancer! The good news though, is that there's plenty of natural SPF out there -- in your food. That's right, new studies show that you can actually protect your skin from sun damage with your diet.
Of course, we've known forever that we can help reduce our internal risk for cancer significantly in so many ways by altering our diets, but knowing there are superfoods out there that can reduce our topical cancer risk is empowering, isn't it? Here are the top five foods that help enhance your skin's ability to protect itself:
Rich in antioxidants that neutralize free radicals, pomegranates have been part of a healing tradition that dates back to ancient Egypt. Today, this exotic fruit has become a superfood darling, finding its way into juice, bath products and more. Its secret weapon is the high content of powerful antioxidants called polyphenols, specifically ellagic acid, a potent free radical scavenger. It helps boost levels of glutathione, which is a kick-ass antioxidant that the body produces on its own. And with higher glutathione, comes better protection from free radical damage. In one research study, when pomegranate extract was used in conjunction with sunscreen, it increased the SPF by 20 percent. I say, skip the sunscreen, and just take the pomegranate extract!
Load up on lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits -- all fruit with high levels of vitamin C. Research suggests that a sufficient, long-term intake of vitamin C, together with vitamin E, can reduce the sunburn reaction to UVB irradiation. Along with vitamin C, citrus fruits are also full of antioxidants, which work to protect your cells from the changes that lead to skin cancer.
Carrots are rich in carotenoids, one of the few foods that provide a source of vitamin A. Carotenoids are pigments that give many fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors, and they provide increased protection against sunburn, especially when combined with vitamin E. In addition to carrots, other food sources of carotenoids include sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens, papaya, bell peppers, and tomatoes. According to one study, a daily intake of five tablespoons of tomato paste (rich in lycopene) served with olive oil increased the protection against sunburn by 33 percent (estimated to correspond to a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 1.3).
Nuts, especially Brazil nuts, are rich in the trace element selenium. Selenium actually works together with vitamin E, vitamin C, glutathione and vitamin B3 as an antioxidant to prevent free radical damage in the body. Other foods high in selenium include crimini mushrooms, cod, shrimp and halibut.
Flax seeds pack a punch when it comes to delivering omega-3 fatty acids. A mere two tablespoons gives you 132 percent of the Daily Value. Omega-3s have terrific anti-inflammatory properties and research suggests that they could protect the skin from UV damage. Today, most modern diets in Western countries just don't get enough anti-inflammatory omega-3 acids. In addition to flax seeds, other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, soybeans, and cold-water fish like salmon, cod, and halibut.
As always, the best defense against skin damage is common sense and natural, healthy living. So the next time you head to the beach, along with your sun hat and cover-up, pack some carrots and pomegranate juice to help protect your skin from the inside out!