Everybody loves to get out and play on a sunny day. But when the sun is out in full force it can be somewhat dangerous. That’s why it’s important to cover up with hats and long sleeves or apply loads of natural sunscreen to your exposed face, arms, shoulders, and legs.
But just in case you’d like some backup, here’s another tip that might help protect you if you spend lots of time out under the sun — eat your sunscreen. Sounds crazy, right?
Nobody’s suggesting you literally squirt actual sunscreen into your mouth. But, there are some excellent foods that might help defend your skin from the sun’s dangerous rays. So…
What does it mean to “eat your sunscreen?” Learn all about healthy foods that can support skin health and potentially protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Eat Your Sunscreen: The Bad And The Ugly About Sun Damage
Not only is your skin your body’s largest organ, but it is also your most exposed organ. Because of that, the health of your skin can be significantly influenced by various environmental factors. Through the course of your lifetime, it’s possible to experience different types of sun damage brought about by sun exposure and UV light.
Sun damage from UV light can come in various forms: redness, puffiness, changes to your immune system, elongated recovery from certain kinds of wounds, and DNA damage that can affect your skin cells.1
In fact, your skin is always directly exposed to environmental forces like air, the sun’s rays, pollutants in your environment. And these forces can sometimes bring about the generation of free radicals which are known far and wide for potentially harming your skin.2
In fact, the sun’s rays are responsible for the biggest percentage of environmentally induced skin health issues. Of course, there are sunscreens out there to help protect you from sun damage.3 But, are there other ways to help protect your skin? Indeed, there are.
The Gut Skin Axis: The Microbiome Of Your Digestive System And How It Affects Your Skin Health
Now, you’ve likely read about the gut skin axis, but here’s a refresher: Your gut houses a plethora of bacteria. They tend to reside mostly in your lower gut. But your gut and your skin, believe it or not, are in constant communication with one another. And each organ relies on the other in certain ways to carry out their individual functions.
For one thing, your skin and your digestive system are your first points of interaction with your environment. And therefore both the skin and gut are essential to maintaining functions such as your body temperature.4,5
Furthermore, research suggests that there is bidirectional communication between your gut and your skin. Moreover, several studies link your gut health to such things as —
- Skin protection
- Sensory reception
- Water balance
- Vitamin absorption
- Hormone regulation6
For instance, let’s say your body temperature drops, your sweat glands will constrict and sweat production can decrease. Also, gut health concerns are often accompanied by skin health issues.7
Thus, it should follow that your gut — and what it digests — might have a direct effect on your skin health. Feed your gut healthy foods, and it should help your body absorb nutrients that can also help protect your skin, right?
So, how can you actually eat your sunscreen?
Nutrients That May Help To Fight Free Radicals And Sun Damage
Beta carotene is one nutrient that can aid in the maintenance of your skin health. Beta carotene is also one of the carotenoids that give fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and mango their natural colors. Primarily, the role of beta carotene is to boost vitamin-A activity in your body and to act as a plant-derived photo-protector (aka sunscreen).
Furthermore, adding beta carotene to your diet might help scavenge free radicals. And beta carotene metabolism takes place in your skin. Further evidence of the gut-skin axis. So, what beta carotene-rich foods should you eat?
- Raw carrots
- Sweet potatoes8
Think about your favorite nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables: carrots, kale, Swiss chard, spinach… these tasty veggies are summer veggies. It’s almost like nature knows when you’re going to be outside more and so it offers helpful foods up for the taking. The β-Carotene in certain leafy greens like kale and spinach can also be good when hoping to protect yourself from the sun’s rays.9
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats and they can be important when it comes to maintaining healthy cell membranes and helping your body defend itself against DNA changes brought about by exposure to the sun. Some great sources of omega-3 fatty acids are:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Hemp seeds
- Leafy greens
Foods that contain astaxanthin are another way to eat your sunscreen. That’s because astaxanthin has shown significant photoprotective effects.11 Foods that contain astaxanthin are:
- Wild-caught salmon
- Wild-caught trout12
Foods with the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are also helpful. Again, you’re looking at leafy greens like spinach, kale and omega-3 egg yolks.13 The polyphenols in your beloved olive oil are also great when it comes to helping protect your skin — just look at the regions where olive oil is produced.14 They’re some of the most sun-kissed regions on the planet.
The catechins in green tea might also help protect you from the sun’s harmful rays.15 You might try washing your edible sunscreen lunch down with a large glass of iced green tea. Or you can make a green tea smoothie — use green tea ice cubes and blend them with kale or spinach for a zesty photoprotective pick-you-up.
Finally, foods with ellagic acid have also exhibited photoprotective effects when it comes to collagen breakdown, redness, and swelling in UV light irritated human skin cells.16 So, the best ellagic acid foods are —
Just remember to only eat these foods in moderation and only when they are in-season.
A Word About Vitamin D Levels And Staying Protected From The Sun
One more thing, when your skin is exposed to the sun’s rays it manufactures vitamin D. And you need vitamin D to promote calcium absorption in your gut, enable the mineralization of bone, and to prevent low blood calcium. Vitamin D production is also needed for the growth of your bones and to keep them from becoming brittle, misshapen, or thin.18
So, how do you maintain high enough vitamin D levels if you are actively protecting yourself from the sun? Easy — you can obtain vitamin D through your diet.
If you’re wearing long sleeves, hats, and sunscreen often, you may be able to help compensate for a lack of sun-produced vitamin D by eating:
- Omega-3 egg yolks
- Cod liver oil
- Wild-caught salmon
- Wild-caught sardines
- Wild-caught swordfish
- Wild-caught tuna
- A2 yogurt (unsweetened)19
- Shiitake mushrooms20
Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to get proper amounts of vitamin D.
Eating Natural Sunscreen
In the end, nature is doing her best to give you loads of foods to help protect you from UV light. It’s a blast to be outdoors in the spring and summer. Just be smart about it. You’ll still need to use tried-and-true methods of sun protection and cover up when you can with hats and long sleeves.
And, utilizing topical sunscreen can be a big help to your skin — but by eating a few sun-protective foods, you might be able to boost your ability to enjoy fun in the sun more often.