Foods that protect your skin from the sun

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Brierley Wright, R.D.

By now, you probably already know that you should be protecting your skin with at least SPF 30 sunscreen to keep it healthy and younger looking.

But here’s another tip: What you eat can also help protect your skin from the sun — and even help keep it looking smoother and more youthful. Here’s what to eat to help your skin glow.


Eating more vitamin C-rich foods may help to ward off wrinkles and age-related dryness, suggests research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin C’s skin-smoothing effects may be due to its ability to mop up free radicals produced from ultraviolet rays, and also its role in collagen synthesis. Collagen is fibrous protein that keeps skin firm, and vitamin C is essential for collagen production.

Other research suggests that vitamin C may also protect skin cells by promoting the repair of DNA that’s been damaged by UV rays.

You can find vitamin C in a multitude of cosmetics, or go straight to the source for a tasty boost of vitamin C: strawberries, red bell peppers, papaya, broccoli and oranges are all excellent sources.


Good news for coffee lovers! In one study of more than 93,000 women, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, those who drank even a single daily cup of caffeinated coffee reduced their risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer by about 10 percent. And the more they drank — up to about 6 cups or so per day — the lower their risk. Decaf didn’t seem to offer the same protection.

These findings add to a body of research that suggests caffeine, in both coffee and tea, is the protective ingredient. The effects of caffeine on skin are modest, so it’s not a reason to start drinking coffee. It’s just one more reason to enjoy it if it’s already part of your routine.

Tomatoes and carrots

Consuming more lycopene — the carotenoid that makes tomatoes red, carrots orange and gives pink grapefruit and watermelon a pink-red hue — may keep your skin smooth and protect it from sunburn.

In a study published in theEuropean Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, researchers found that of the 20 individuals studied, those who had higher skin concentrations of lycopene had smoother skin.

And in another study, participants who were exposed to UV light had almost 50 percent less skin reddening after they ate 2 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste or drank about 1 2/3 cups of carrot juice daily, in addition to their regular diet, for 10 to 12 weeks.

Lycopene isn’t the only carotenoid that shields your skin from UV damage. Others, including lutein — found in corn, kale, spinach, summer squash and egg yolks — and beta carotene — found in pumpkin, sweet potato, spinach and carrots — also appear to have a protective effect.


The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids) found in fatty fish (tuna, sardines, trout and salmon) may shield cell walls from free-radical damage caused by UV rays, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those same fish may help keep your skin looking youthful, too, as EPA has been shown to preserve collagen.

Aim to eat two servings of fatty fish each week: Not only are the omega-3s good for your skin, they’re good for your heart as well.

EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at

© 2016 Eating Well, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.