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by Christina Wilson

I was rich, if not in money, in sunny hours and summer days -Henry David Thoreau.

While a daily dose of sunshine is healthful, too much can take a toll on our biggest organ, our skin. Our skin is the first line of defense from the outside world, exposed to everything from sunlight, hot and cold temperatures, air pollution, bacteria, and potential chemical irritants. Chronic stress, smoking, a high glycemic diet, sleep deprivation, environmental toxins, and those ultraviolet (UV) rays, especially in the summertime, cause cellular damage to mitochondria, reduce collagen, and compromise skin.

Read on to see how diet plays a role in sun protection by providing nutrients that ward off UV harm and help our skin become more resilient. 

Health Benefits Of The Sun

The sun is our primary source of Vitamin D. Skin is unique in that it is the site of vitamin D synthesis upon sun exposure. While we can obtain Vitamin D from foods and supplementing, the sun is one of the simplest and no-cost ways to get it.

Sunlight also helps to regulate our circadian rhythms. When we are exposed to sunlight in the morning, our sleep hormone melatonin production occurs sooner, and we can fall asleep more easily at night. Our "good mood" neurotransmitter, serotonin, is also optimized by exposure to daylight.


Safe Sun Exposure Tips

Sun is like Goldilocks and porridge. The right amount is beneficial to our health. Still, too much of it can be detrimental, especially without practicing safe sun exposure. As a result, skin cancer is the most common cancer, and current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. 

Some of the things you can do to enjoy the sun safely include:

  • Enjoy the sun during non-peak hours, such as the early morning or later in the afternoon/early evening. Keep in mind that Vitamin D is absorbed best from noon to 2 pm – so if you'd like to get your optimal dose of Vitamin D, a short 5 to 10 minutes in the sun can help.
  • Gradual, moderate, and safe sun exposure greatly benefits vitamin D levels. Sunburn is never good!
  • Find a non-toxic sunscreen and use it! (gone are the days when some of us used baby oil. Ahem)
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day with hydrating foods and beverages.

 

Sunscreen 101

General rule of thumb is to use a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher to also protect you against UVA rays. 

Sunscreen is generally considered safe when used as directed. However, some sunscreen products may contain certain ingredients that can potentially cause adverse reactions or have environmental concerns. It's important to be aware of these ingredients and make informed choices when selecting sunscreen. Sunscreen ingredients with potential for concern are:

-Oxybenzone

-Octinoxate

These ingredients are also unsafe for the environment, and harmful to the ocean’s reef structures.


Best Foods For Sun Protection 

While you can't nosh a sunburn away, a wide array of produce offers sun protection, most of which are readily available in the summertime. Nature is thoughtful like that.

Vitamin C and E both have antioxidant properties that may protect the skin from sunburn due to free radical–producing ultraviolet rays. In addition, combined vitamins C and E reduce the sunburn reaction, indicating a consequent reduced risk for UV-induced skin damage. Produce that contains both C and E include berries, broccoli, dark green leafy veggies, and tomatoes. 

Tomatoes

In addition to vitamins C and E, thanks to lycopene, a carotenoid and an antioxidant, tomatoes have been shown to shield against UV light-induced erythema, or skin reddening, a study in The Journal of Nutrition found. So make Caprese salad for the skin win!

Watermelon 

Another rich source of sun-shielding lycopene is your go-to summer snack: watermelon. The juicy fruit contains abundant lycopene, and vitamin C.

Make a watermelon, feta, and mint salad or the watermelon gazpacho from our July 4th blog. 

Walnuts 

Antioxidants, vitamin E, and polyphenols make this nut helpful as a natural skin sun protectant. 

Blueberries 

They're loaded with vitamins C and E and are a great source of anthocyanin. This purple pigment is one of nature's best antioxidants. Add berries to our SuperFoods protein powder for a perfectly balanced smoothie. 

Sweet potatoes 

Beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A) is an antioxidant found in brightly colored foods, like sweet potatoes and carrots. A 2007meta-analysis found that beta carotene provided natural sun protection after ten weeks of regular supplementation.

Leafy greens 

Suitable for all healthy concerns, leafy greens are also high in the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to protect against wrinkling and sun damage.

Green Tea 

Green tea is rich in polyphenols, which can fight against free radicals responsible for 80 percent of skin aging. In addition, green tea prevents non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair.

Avocado 

Everyone's favorite, the magical avocado, is packed with vitamin E, essential for preventing photodamage. 

Nourishing yourself properly, getting enough sleep, managing stress, getting exercise, plenty of water, and proper sun protection go a long way toward keeping your skin healthy. So while eating a salad may not protect you entirely from sunburn, an extra boost of UV-protective antioxidant nutrients can't hurt!

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Christina Wilson
Christina Wilson

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