With the sun shining brightly (for most of us), sunscreen lotion is pulled out of cupboards to do its duty. Preventing sunburns is important for a variety of reasons, the top reason being that sunburns can make us more likely to get skin cancer. I can also attest to the skin damaging effects of sunburns as I had one very terrible sunburn during High School that has left its mark on my body with certain patches of irregular, bumpy skin where the sunburn was worst.
The bottom line: We don’t want to get sunburns.
But do sunscreen lotions really prevent us from getting skin cancer, and are they all that great for us to use on a regular basis? One researcher found that sunscreen does not prevent skin cancer, although it does help prevent sunburn. And if you go to the EWG website, you will find that most sunscreen lotions contain ingredients most of us would rather not layer on our skin on a regular basis. In fact, one ingredient found commonly in sunscreen may help give you cancer!
Getting some sun everyday helps us build up vitamin D levels, which in turn may help prevent all kinds of cancers – including skin cancers, so I don’t worry about short amounts of time in the sun. And while sun exposure has been shown to age us, I also find that if I am never in the sun, my skin doesn’t look very nice (I do live in Oregon, and this has been known to happen for weeks on end).
So, when the sun in shining, how do we protect ourselves? First, as mentioned, I don’t worry about being in the sun for short amounts of time. We enjoy it and soak up vitamin D. For longer periods of time, I cover my youngest up, who has very pale skin, with light clothing and put a hat on her, so that her skin isn’t exposed to the sun’s glare. I do the same with my older daughter if it is especially hot, or we are out especially long. Only if we really need it, will I bring out the sunscreen, and then I try to use a brand that is as natural as possible.
But have you ever thought about protecting your skin by what you eat? The fact is, what you eat may help you prevent sunburn and skin cancer most effectively! And this is true for your children as well. There is some amazing research on this topic! Here are seven foods that will help protect you from the sun’s glare.
Tomatoes and Watermelon
Tomatoes contain high amounts of lycopene (especially when cooked). A study using tomato paste found that those who consumed tomato paste on a day-to-day basis had more protection against acute sunburn and potentially longer-term effects of photodamage. Not everyone does well with the nightshade family (which tomatoes are a part of), however there are other fruits that have high amounts of lycopene in it. One of which is watermelon! While I don’t know of a specific study with watermelon preventing sunburn, it is quite probable that it would have a similar sunburn protection aspect because of its high lycopene content.
What I love about this connection is that watermelon and tomatoes are at their peak during the sunniest periods of time. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
When green tea is drunk daily, it protects you from “ultraviolet injury”. Several studies support this view. This study found that topical applications helped prevent sunburn. Another study supports both topical and internal green tea in preventing skin cancer. For the best of the best, drink matcha tea, which has a host of benefits. Here are some matcha recipes to get you started.
Butter (whipping cream or other sources of saturated fats)
And you thought butter was bad for you? Well according to one study, if you want to get skin cancer, eat plenty of polyunsaturated oils. However, a diet high in saturated fats helps prevent skin cancer. True, the study was only done with mice, but it is certainly promising. Of course, make it at least organic butter to avoid high amounts of pesticides, and if at all possible, butter from grass-fed cows. It will have higher vitamin levels and a host of other benefits.
Salmon with Basil Romesco Sauce
Salmon and Fermented Cod Liver Oil
I have heard many, many reports of people who say that taking Blue Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil (the cod liver oil I use and recommend) consistently has helped them not sunburn in the summer. If something is working for you, there is no reason to have a study prove to you why. But I did find a study that found that Omega-3 fatty acids helps prevent sunburns and that it might also reduce the risk of skin cancer. Wild Alaskan salmon would also be helpful.
Other reason this brand of cod liver oil could be especially helpful could be because it contains the natural vitamin A and D levels found in cod liver. So many other vitamins, such as C and E have been found to be helpful in preventing sunburn or cancer, so it would make sense that vitamin A and D could be helpful as well.
Dark chocolate not only helped volunteers not sunburn, but it also made their skin smoother, moister and overall nicer than the volunteers who didn’t get chocolate (poor souls). You will need to eat about 3 ounces of dark chocolate to mimic this study’s effect. I haven’t heard any complaints yet.
And the above foods are just a small portion of foods that help you fight against getting sunburned or skin cancer! You will notice a theme of healthy, real foods, with a special emphasis on antioxidant-rich foods being helpful. It is just one more reason for eating a healthy diet. I can imagine many delicious meals being made with these ingredients. Enjoy the sun with real food, and you may find that sunburns and other health issues are a thing of the past.
Photo Credit: Top Photo-davedehetre/flickr. All other photos by Kimi Harris. All rights reserved.
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Thanks so much for this great article! I have been worrying about my sun exposure a lot lately and will for sure use these suggestions. 🙂
6512 and growing
So happy to hear of another reason to eat my daily dose of dark chocolate. 🙂
Kimi, I applaude your effort on this topic, but as a source of information for MANY people, I think a couple of things need to be clarified. ALL sun exposure is not bad, but it is best to avoid it between 10am and 4pm when the rays are the strongest and the most damaging. Also it is of extreme importance that we are vigilant in protecting our children as ages 0-20years are the most critical. A severe burn during this period of life exponentially increase the risk of skin cancer. Also, a cotton tee only offers about 10 UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). Of natutral materials, denim offers the most. Unfortunately nylons and polyesters are supreme. It is indeed important to keep some quality sunblock on hand. It is expensive, but if you use mostly physical blocks (like rashguards, sun-umbrellas, etc), it is less common when it will be needed. It is imortant to avoid nano-technology that will carry the block into the bloodstream, not to mention other “additives”. I love the EWG site for their help. I am 13 months Melanoma-free. Last year was one of the scariest times in my life. My children have only had to be sunblocked 1x this summer (swimming at a friends), for we have a sun shade over our pool, and they don’t go outside (when the UV index is moderate or more) without sun-hat, sunglasses, and a sun shirt. As far as food is concerned, we have eaten most of the above in copious amounts for years and I still would not rely on that. For example, we go through over 300 lb. of tomatoes in a year. Thanks again for your article, I simply felt like I had to clarify.
First of all, thanks for sharing your knowledge with us all. I appreciate that. And, as always, I’d love to hear from more of you! I know that there is a lot of other foods out there, and methods of screening yourself from the sun then mentioned by either of us.
I read through my post to make sure that it didn’t appear like I was trying to say that this post contained all of the knowledge you need to prevent sunburn or skin cancer. At least to me, I don’t think that is how it came across. So, if anyone read it that way, my apologies!
The main thrust of this article is sharing how food, a topic not mentioned a lot, can be on of the greatest defenses against all kinds of cancer. It is not as simple as that, yet, it is still true in many senses. That is why some of my fair friends, after eating a high nutrient, omega-3 rich diet can go all day in strong sun and not get sunburnt. It is an exciting aspect of eating well that most of us aren’t aware of. That doesn’t mean that’s the only thing to do, for sure, to prevent sunburn. But it can be invaluable knowledge.
If I was going to be completely thorough about the topic of skin cancer, something which just got a passing few remarks, I would have been sure to discuss its link with pesticides, the differing opinions on whether you should go out in the sun during the peak to get Vitamin D, or stay out of it from ten to four (like you mentioned), which, if you do, means you should never rely on getting vitamin D from the sun (which could in turn make you vulnerable to cancer). I would have discussed some of the natural prevention and treatments for skin cancers along with my thoughts.
And if I would have been really thorough in this post, I would have talked more about the pro’s and con’s of some of the food mentioned in the post, such as chocolate and green tea. If I had wanted to more carefully list the reasons why I don’t fear saturated fats, I could have certainly done a better job of convincing skeptics. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I get another comment berating the recommendation of chocolate without the caveat of it being a high phytic-acid food (which can cause problems for many), and over-stimulating to others. .
The problem is, I would never get anything written if I was weighed down with writing all of that in every post. In the end, I don’t think that we have all of the answers, even if we did share every single thing we knew on a topic.
But I certainly love pooling our knowledge together and we are all on the learning adventure together. I hope you all feel welcome to do that. 🙂
I’d love to hear from some of you on what has worked for you! I’ve heard from some of you in the past with how you wouldn’t burn as easily in the sun after making changes in your diet. And if any of you have had experience with skin cancer, please share your knowledge with us too. 🙂
A clarification of your clarification: Your body will only produce Vitamin D from the sun’s UVB rays when the sun is at a 50 degree angle or higher. The atmosphere blocks out UVB rays when the sun is lower than 50 degrees. Where I live, the sun is at 50 degrees and higher between 10:30am and 4:30pm (roughly). If I get sun exposure outside those times, it will only be the harmful and photo-aging UVA rays. High Vitamin D levels is one of the best-known anti-cancer measures.
Dr. Mercola has a great explanation of this on his website as well as a chart where you can find out the times for the best vitamin D production in your city. He definitely agrees that you should never burn.
Actually if you go on Dr. Mercolas website he says you should be outside when the rays are the strongest to get the uvb rays. Theres a website you can go to and put in your city to get the longitude and latitude of your location and see when the uvb rays are there. So theres more clarification.
I have read about eating coconut oil and also the supplement Astaxanthin both being helpful in preventing sunburns/damage.
I’ve read that coconut oil has a natural SPF factor. Have you heard any benefits linked to eating it and preventing sunburn? I wouldn’t be surprised. 🙂
And yes, astaxanthin is something else that there is research linking it to preventing sunburn! Thanks for bring that up. Pretty neat.
We’ve found that since we’ve been eating a mostly Nourishing Traditions style diet for the past four years we hardly ever need to use sunscreen. Granted, we also live in Oregon and have a shady back yard, so it’s not like we’re getting maximum sun exposure, but we’ve also spent several weeks in tropical areas and found we’re much less prone to sunburn than we used to be. From everything I’ve read on the topic, I don’t think it’s a coincidence! Thanks for this list of foods. Good to know!
Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet
That’s great Rebeca!
I take krill oil supplements and have noticed that I never sunburn now. Dr. Mercola recommends krill oil for its astaxanthin which is antiinflammatory–so fights sunburn, as well as helping joints.
Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet
Thank you for sharing!
Hi Kimi, I’ve read on several occasions that eating lots of green foods are a great natural sunscreen. I regularly lay in morning and afternoon sun to get all the vitamin D levels I need.I live in Australia .I believe it’s good for our health to be in the sunshine most days on as much of our skin as possible…
Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet
I’ve heard personal testimonies about dark greens in the past too. 🙂
I forgot to add it’s so easy to get lots of fresh raw healthy greens by making green smoothies and they taste delicious
Since switching to a real foods diet I have definitely noticed that it takes way longer for me to sunburn than it used to. I used to sunburn really fast. I credit the decrease in bad fats and the increase in good fats for the change
Great! I’d be interested to hear the specifics of what fats/oils you switched. 🙂
Great post Kimi! Thank you!
I am interested in trying the matcha green tea. Does anyone know of a good source/brand for purchasing? Also, I will be breastfeeding soon…will this be ok for baby in moderation?
Actually, disregard the first question. I saw your post on mnn, Kimi. But the second question I am wondering about…
Thank you so much for this information. I’m Re-tweeting and posting on my FB wall. Glad to know the foods I love the most remain the foods that are best for me and my family.
I used to burn very easily, and then go back to white- never tan. Since I started talking CLO regularly, I don’t burn anymore, and I have a nice tan.
We also don’t use sunscreen regularly, we use a good sun hat and shade and minimizing time spent in sun. Neither of my two children, ages 6 and 2 have ever had a sunburn.