By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC
With summer quickly approaching, you may notice your local stores stocking up on sunscreen. It’s also the time that a lot of people stop getting outside to avoid getting sunburnt. However, avoiding the sun is not the answer, in fact getting some sunshine can be excellent for our health! While protecting our skin is an integral part of preventing skin cancer and even premature aging, what if I told you there was another way you could be protecting your skin right now?
As it turns out, you can actually “eat your sunscreen.” Not literally, but yes, certain foods will better help protect our skin from UV rays.
I like to encourage others to focus on skin protection through diet and not solely focusing on slathering toxic filled sunblock on the skin. While sunscreen may be able to help form a barrier and prevent sunburn, it also reduces the bodies ability to produce vitamin D and as I mentioned before sunscreen is packed full of chemicals you don’t want to be putting on your skin.
If you think about where we stand today with skin cancer, the rates continue to rise despite the extra education made available about sun protection and even despite the fact that more people are starting to use sunscreen. So, what’s causing sunburn, and why is our skin still not protected even with the use of these toxic ridden sunblock products?
The Problem Lies Within
If it was as easy as applying sunblock to protect our skin from skin cancer every day, skin cancer would be virtually nonexistent, right? So, what is the underlying problem here?
If you look at what sunburn actually is, it’s inflammation. This is where diet comes in. When we focus our diet on anti-inflammatory foods, we better protect our skin from inflammatory sunburn. We have to address diet and the source of the inflammation and not just provide a temporary fix which in this case is sunscreen.
Now, don’t get me wrong. If you do plan to be outside for extended periods of time, it’s never a good idea to expose your skin to direct sunlight for long periods of time. You will also want to be mindful of protecting your skin by wearing appropriate clothing and even making your own sunscreen or using a non-toxic variation. However, on top of the preventative steps you will take once outside in the sun, you will want to be focusing on how to improve your diet to naturally reduce your risk of burning.
How to Eat to Prevent a Sunburn
So, what is this “anti-sunburn diet?” How does it all work, and why does it work? As I mentioned before, it’s taking an anti-inflammatory approach to the foods that we eat. The great thing about this diet is not only will it help to reduce your chances of getting a sunburn, but it will also benefit your health in so many other ways. Inflammation is at the root of nearly all disease, so an anti-inflammatory diet is an excellent way to safeguard your health for a number of reasons.
When it comes to protecting your skin internally from sunburn, here are some dietary tips to follow:
- Vegetable oils
- Processed and fast foods
- Dark leafy greens
- Omega-3 rich foods: Salmon, sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts
- Healthy fats such as coconut oil
- Tomato paste
- Foods rich in Polyphenols can help protect the skin from sun damage. Some great sources include: Grapes, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries.
If you notice many of these foods such as berries, and tomatoes are commonly found in the summer months. These foods are put into nature during the summer months when the sun is shining bright as opposed to the winter when the sun is at its lowest. They are put in the summer months to counter the effect of sun; we just have to learn to eat and enjoy them and learn to live in nature! This is what we call in Ayurveda, “eating in season.” There is a reason why strawberries are not grown in the winter. This is nature’s sunscreen and diets deficient in these, especially in the summer months have skin that tends to burn.
My husband who is light skinned (Blond hair, green eyes) could literally look at the sun and get burnt, but when we changed our diet, he rarely got burnt. We used to live in Texas and the summers were extremely hot. He used to cut the grass and I noticed after about 4 hours one day, he was not red. His diet consisted of fresh berry smoothies in the summer.
Another natural supplement you could take is Asaxanthin. (My husband was also taking this). Asaxanthin is the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes to free radical scavenging giving it the ability to reduce free radicals higher than most other antioxidants. Asaxanthin is 65 times more powerful than vitamin C, 54 times more powerful than beta-carotene, and 14 times more powerful than vitamin E. It works as in internal sunscreen and helps reduce UVA damage. Basically “Nature’s strongest antioxidant “
When my children were babies, I would opt for physical barriers like thin shirts/blouses and hats instead of chemicals. As they got older, I incorporated lots of berries and real food into their diet with lots of high pigments to protect their skin.
Not all Sunscreen is Created Equal
While I am encouraging a dietary approach to protecting your skin from sunburn, I am in no way saying to completely rely on this if you plan to be in the sun all day. There will be some preventative steps you will need to take.
Unfortunately, most of the store-bought sunblock’s are packed with chemicals. Sunscreen can also cause an allergic reaction especially for those with skin sensitivities.
If you do wish to purchase a sunscreen, here’s why you should stay away from chemical based sunscreens:
- Skip the ones with vitamin A. Vitamin A can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the UV rays from the sun.
- Avoid products that contain oxybenzone. These sunscreens can penetrate deep into the skin and in large amounts. Oxybenzone has been linked to hormone disruption as well as allergies.
- Chemical sunscreens contain other chemicals such as PABA, and cinnamates which have been shown to react with the sun’s rays which can create free radicals and lead to an increased risk of skin cancer as opposed to protecting you from it.
- Skip the spray bottles to prevent breathing in the particles from the sunscreen.
- Some sunscreens have been linked to hormone disruption. Studies have shown that some sunscreens can act like estrogen in the body which can cause hormonal disruption in the body.
- Keep an eye on the SPF as high SPF products tend to have larger percentages of chemicals. These higher SPF products can lead to further hormone disruption and even allergic reactions. SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” SPF measures the protection against UVB rays and not UVA rays. The problem with SPF is that people think that the higher the better and that the higher the SPF, the longer they can stay out in the sun. However, remember it doesn’t take into account the UVA rays which can be even more damaging. This is not to mention the added chemicals found in high SPF products. For skin protection, it’s best to go with a broad-spectrum sunscreen instead of just looking at the SPF level.
So, what’s the alternative? Here are some things to watch out for when choosing the right sunscreen for you.
- You will want to use a “physical sunscreen” such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These are referred to as “physical sunscreens” as opposed to chemical sunscreens. These are made of natural elements and are considered to be safer options as they do not contain hormone disruptors like the chemical sunscreens do.
- Choose a broad-spectrum SPF. These protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- If you are only going to be out in the sun for a short period of time, you can try to use some coconut oil for light protection.
- If you have a sunscreen at home that you think may be “safe” check out the Environmental Working Group to see where it’s ranked. It’s best to stick with a product that has a rating of 0-2.
- Some natural sunscreen brands include: Badger, Seventh Generation, Sunology, and California Baby.
The Importance of Enjoying Some Sunshine
The bottom line is that although summertime often comes with the fear of getting too much sun, getting some sun is actually really good for us! Plus, you can do so in a safe manner with a new anti-inflammatory approach to your eating habits.
It’s important to soak up some sun to help promote vitamin D production and to help activate natural enzymes in the body. Plus, the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D can certainly help boost our mood! Who doesn’t love a warm and sunny day? I think we all feel better when we get out in the sun even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.
This summer, take a different approach to protecting your skin from the sun. Ditch the toxic sunscreens, and go for a safer more natural option but also start eating an anti-inflammatory diet. So ditch the barbeques, alcohol and sugar this summer and go for a high plant based and and whole foods diet. I guarantee you skin will thank you for it.
You will also want to keep your skin moisturized as the stronger your skin, the more resilient it’s going to be.
Start your anti-sunburn anti-inflammatory diet this spring to have strong and healthy skin all summer long!