Sunburn, Sun Protection, Food and You

There are almost two more months left in the northern hemisphere’s summer season as I write this. Summertime is a great time to get outside and soak up some of the sun’s rays. It is especially important for those living in cold weather climates to soak up some of the sun’s rays to build up their vitamin D concentrations.

Unfortunately the sun is a double edged sword. Precautions should be taken to avoid overexposure and sunburn. It is not a bad idea to get out in the sun for about 20 minutes a day without sunscreen (except on your face, although a wide brimmed hat will save you some money and avoid any unpleasant chemicals found in some sunscreens). For many of us though, this is difficult to do on a daily basis or we want to spend longer amounts of time in the sun.

Sunscreen is a good way to protect yourself from some of the sun’s damaging rays, but research is showing that some wavelengths of the sun’s rays that are not blocked by sunscreen actually can cause harm to our skin cells.

The website The World’s Healthiest Foods does a great job at compiling scientific on, among many other things, foods that will help your body repair itself after too much sun and food that will provide a bit of extra skin protection. You can visit The World’s Healthiest Foods (WHF) page on sunburn and food by clicking on name in this sentence.

The WHF article on sunburn and foods explains that some antioxidant rich foods can reduce the risk of sunburn. Two of the foods at the top of the list for helping our bodies naturally prevent sunburn, according to scientific research, are olive oil and tomato paste.

A study carried out by German researchers focused on these two foods and came up with impressive results. By the end of the 10 week study, the individuals that included about 2 teaspoons of olive oil and about ¼ cup of tomato pasted in their diets were experiencing 35% less reddening of their skin when exposed to a sunlamp than the group that did not get this extra dietary additive.

The olive oil and tomato paste weren’t found to give a large amount of skin protection, but the results impressed scientists in the short amount of time that the study was conducted (10 weeks). Olive oil and tomatoes are already great foods to have in your diet consistently, so this is just one more reason to keep them in your diet or start adding them if you are already not eating them.

The WHF sunburn article then goes on to mention that vitamin C, vitamin E, and the mineral selenium are all valuable in helping our bodies prevent sunburn. You can find a great list of foods on the WHF site that are rich in the aforementioned vitamins and mineral.

Bell peppers, papaya, Brussels sprouts, strawberries and broccoli are all great sources of vitamin C. Delicious and fantastic sources of Vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, olives, and leafy dark green vegetables. Selenium can be found in mushrooms and many types of fish including cod, tuna, snapper, halibut, shrimp, and salmon. Organic sources of all these foods are the best choice as pesticide and antibiotic leftovers can harm your antioxidant supplies a bit.

Eating foods with certain phytonutrients has been found to be beneficial for sun damaged skin cells through research. Raspberries and blueberries are definitely stars in this regard. Cherries, oranges, lemons and limes are other great fruits to consume for this purpose. Green tea is mentioned as being wonderful and dark green leafy vegetables including kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, broccoli, corn, peas, Brussels sprouts and romaine lettuce are great choices for getting in phytonutrients compounds.

When I go play in the water for an extended period of time, I like to bring a few oranges for vitamin C. I’ll also drink orange juice and put aloe on my skin after a lot of sun exposure.

The foods mentioned here are not a substitute for a high SPF and UVA/UVB sunblock. They will simply help your body’s natural defense system work like a well oiled machine. If you haven’t heard the news by now, sunbathing is not good for you. It will lead to skin cancer. Tanning salons are just plain ridiculous. I love the sun but respect its power to seriously mess up my skin. Sometimes I go fully Asian style. This means wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirt and wide brimmed hat when in the sun for an extended period of time—even when it is blazing hot out. But be warned, the sun’s rays can penetrate that fabric after a period of time. This especially depends on the type of fabric you are wearing. SPF clothing is a newer option to combat sunburn.

Remember to protect your skin and especially your children’s skin. Sunburn is annoying and painful. Severe sunburns are dangerous. And skin cancer is no laughing matter. It is really an easy thing to protect yourself, so do so and enjoy the sun!