We all crave the warm sunshine on our skin. But overexposure can bring on wrinkles and sizzling sunburns that can lead to skin cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute estimates that 40 to 50 percent of Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once, and overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the primary cause. Fortunately, taking a few precautions before you head outdoors can reduce your risk. And it’s never too early or too late to start.
A diet that neutralizes free radicals formed by UV exposure can help counteract the sun’s damaging effects. While most fruits and veggies offer some antioxidant protection, when it comes to sun protection, pomegranate is a real superstar. According to a study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, drinking pomegranate juice or taking a pomegranate extract effectively protects skin from UVB rays thanks to its high level of polyphenols and anthocyanidins. Brazil nuts, tuna, and other foods with selenium can also guard against sun-induced skin damage. Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that is associated with a reduced risk of non-melanoma skin cancer. Reducing the amount of total fat in your diet is another way to neutralize free radicals and help prevent precancerous skin conditions. According to a study conducted by the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, people who eat a diet consisting of 36 to 40 percent fat are nearly five times more likely to develop premalignant skin lesions than those who keep their fat intake to 20 percent or less.
Slathering on sunscreen is essential. However, many conventional sunscreens rely on chemicals to protect against UV rays. A number of these chemicals may disrupt hormonal balance by acting like weak estrogens. Other chemical sunscreen ingredients generate free radicals when exposed to sunlight. A safer option is to choose a sunscreen that contains UV-blocking minerals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. The key to their efficacy, however, is to apply them properly. The average person needs to apply at least one ounce, about enough to fill a shot glass. It’s also critical that you reapply it every two hours or so when you’re outdoors. And, don’t forget your ears, lips, and the tops of your feet. Look for a sunscreen that offers a minimum of 15 SPF. If you do suffer from sunburn, soothe painful redness by applying aloe gel to the affected area.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that neutralizes free radicals and may also help protect you from harmful ultraviolet light. One clinical evaluation found that taking supplemental astaxanthin for just two weeks reduced skin sensitivity to the sun. Typical dosage: 4 mg per day.
Cocoa polyphenols may help you avoid sun-induced skin damage before it even occurs. A study in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that a bit of dark chocolate every day shielded study participants from several types of sun damage including skin cancer. For protection without the calories, look for a supplement that provides cocoa polyphenols. Typical dosage: 1,400 mg daily.
Green tea is packed with polyphenols that neutralize free radicals. According to researchers at the Birmingham Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, green tea enhances DNA repair in skin cells that have been exposed to harmful UV rays. Typical dosage: 500 mg per day of a supplement standardized to provide 97 percent polyphenols content. This is equivalent to drinking four cups of green tea. Many of these standardized products are decaffeinated.
Lycopene is an antioxidant-rich carotenoid from tomatoes that, over time, helps the skin become less sensitive to sunburn. It’s so effective that one clinical trial found that volunteers eating lycopene-rich foods were 33 percent less likely to become sunburned. They also had higher levels of pro-collagen, a structural molecule important to younger-looking skin. Typical dosage: 10 to 30 mg taken twice daily with meals.