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What To Eat for Sunburn Prevention

Independence Day is paramount with summer.  This holiday is barely over, which means we are in the thick of summer, vacations in the sun, and sunburn.  When I think of the 4th of July, I think of fireworks, picnic food, fireflies, and sunburn. Since we just passed our countries’ celebration of freedom, this means we are now in the dog days of summer, I thought is would be appropriate to talk briefly about how you can prevent sunburn,  and give you a different perspective…a “food” perspective.

When we think of protection from the sun, most of us think of suntan lotion (30 SPF and above), avoiding the sun between 10:00 am and 3 pm on a sunny day, covering up while in the sun, and of course…staying hydrated.   You want enough sun exposure to help your body convert cholesterol to Vitamin D3, but not too much so as to prevent sun damage.  And if you slather your skin with suntan lotion, not only are you exposing your body to toxins, but you will not absorb enough sunshine in order to convert to Vitamin D3.    Now, don’t get me wrong…all of this is good, and I recommend some of these.

But what if I were to tell you that there are foods you can eat and consume that will help prevent sunburn!   And better yet, these are foods that are easily grown in your backyard throughout hot summer months when you need the protection the most!


Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage by Eating Your Vegetables

There is now new research, and several studies out that suggest certain types of foods can help prevent sunburn, and skin damage.  Studies have shown that consuming foods rich in anti-oxidants, such as high fruit and vegetable consumption along with fish, and daily green tea help prevent sunburn and skin cancer, like melanoma.  And there is now research showing that slathering the skin with suntan lotions can actually harm the skin, causing cancer, as well as preventing Vitamin D absorption.

Sunburn occurs because the body is unable to make enough melanin to protect the skin.  When the skin is repeatedly exposed to the sun, causing many sunburns over a period of time, skin cancer results.   Most serious skin cancers usually occur later in life, usually as a result of multiple blister-producing sunburns as a teen.  In fact, a study shows that each serious sunburn occurring in adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma.

I was one of those teens, staying hours and hours in the sun, and have had many blistering sunburns.  Now, I watch my skin carefully and take steps to protect myself in the sun.  I still love the sun, and spend many hours out in the yard as an avid gardener.  But I do believe that my diet consisting of 8-10 servings of vegetables (mostly garden vegetables), and lots of fish, and green tea have kept me from any skin cancer to date.

Dr. Mercola mentions that one of the many benefits on consuming large amounts of fresh vegetables daily is protection from sun damage.  Vegetables are a rich source of anti-oxidants, and are the key component in a diet high in antioxidants, and play a major role in helping you avoid sunburn.   The more antioxidants in your skin, the less your risk of getting burned by the sun.  Although it is unknown exactly how vegetables and fruits protect your skin from sun damage, specialists say that it is most likely related to the antioxidants’ anti-inflammatory properties that fight the inflammatory process the sun has upon the skin.

The best kind of fruits and vegetables to consume for sun-protection are those harvested fresh from the garden that contain the deeper more vibrant green and brighter colors, and are high in Vitamin C.   Store-bought vegetables usually are not ripened in the sun, and have lost many of their nutrients by the time they reach your kitchen table.

Examples of dark leafy greens for sun protection include collards, kale, cabbage, bok choy, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce,  as well as many herbs.  Also let’s not forget about the deep red, orange and yellow vegetables as well as purple vegetables in the garden:  tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, yellow squash, melons, eggplant, even strawberries and blueberries, as well as many more fruits from a tree that come in  bright delicious colors. All can be grown and consumed to help the body prevent sunburn.

Top 10 Vegetables to Consume for Sunburn Prevention

  • Tomatoes are high in lycopene and Vitamin C. Lycopene is an anti-oxidant that works against harmful rays.  Lycopene can also be found in lesser amounts in grapefruit, mango, asparagus, rutabaga, carrots and papayas. Vitamin C helps make the skin more resistant to ultraviolet rays which keep burns from getting worse.  Tomatoes hydrate the skin and reduce the inflammatory response.
  • Cucumbers contain Vitamin C and are 95% water, and therefore, hydrate the cells and skin. The inside of a cucumber is approximately 25% cooler than the outside, which makes this watery vegetable soothing for the skin.  Cucumbers ease the pain from a sunburn and reduce swelling.  When applied directly to the skin, cucumbers help to decrease dryness and pain, and have a cooling, calming effect.
  • Carrots are high in beta-carotene and lycopene. One study showed that eating 5 servings of foods high in beta-carotene for at least 10 weeks reduced sun damage from over-exposure, and even worked to reduce the ability to be sun-burned by 50% and prevent skin from reddening when exposed for long periods.  This works best when consuming a variety of vegetables, including daily carrots, for at least 12 weeks.
  • Broccoli is high in carotenoids and phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals all of which work together to keep skin healthy, and reduce skin damage when exposed to sun. Be sure to see my article on the health benefits of broccoli.   Broccoli, A Superfood You Can Grow
  • Watermelon is high in lycopene and Vitamin C, both helpful in reducing skin damage working against harmful rays.
  • Pomegranate is a tropical tree that grows easily in the warmer climates.  Pomegranates are high in anti-oxidants that protect cells from damage and death after over exposure from the sun.  Pomegranate trees are not difficult to grow and are more easily grown than other tropical fruits.  They grow well in pots because of the shallow root system.  They are hardy in zones 7-10.
  • Almonds provide omega 3 fatty acids which are known to reduce inflammation. Omega 3’s reduce the risk of skin cancer, and help protect from sunburn.  Almonds grow from a tree that provide plenty of almonds and shade.  Almond trees are very easy to grow and are hardy in zones 2-6.  In order to produce nuts, you must have two separate cultivars planted.  These trees are one of the earlier flowering spring trees.
  • Avocados are a delicious fruit high in Vitamin E that can help prevent and repair cellular damage caused by sun exposure. Avocado trees are hardy in zones 9-11, and are easy to grow, and you need only one cultivar to produce fruit.  I planted an avocado this past Spring, and I can hardly wait to get my first fruit.
  • Mushrooms, especially Chagas mushrooms, have proven successful in suppressing tumor growth in mice, and its extract can cause cell death in melanoma cancer.  I love this natural Mushroom tea!  Sometimes I add it to my morning coffee!  It is delicious!
  • Milk Thistle seed contains a compound called silymarin studied for its effects on liver protection.  But it also contains compounds that protect the skin from UVB radiation.   When applied to exposed skin, milk thistle seed was shown to prevent the development of skin cancer.  This suggests that milk thistle seed can block cancer pathways, and therefore “act” as a cancer prevention food.  I use this brand:
  • BONUS*  Green Tea and black tea are high in polyphenols, plant compounds know to be exceedingly high in anti-oxidants.  These polyphenols protect against UV radiation, as well as protect the body from aging and from free radical damage.

Should You Wear Sunscreen?

Adding the above foods, plus others not mentioned here, like green tea, is a delicious  way to not only protect the skin from excess sun exposure, but also protect the body from the ravages of aging and other chronic diseases.  However, it is still a good idea to wear sunscreen for additional skin protection when out in the sun for long periods of time.

When choosing a sunscreen, it is recommended that you avoid chemicals such as PABA, cinnamates, and oxybenzone or avobenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, and octinosate as well as fragrance.  Studies show that they can react with UV rays creating a higher risk of malignant skin cancer.  These chemicals actually can damage DNA which increase the risk of cancer.  When such chemicals are absorbed through the skin, the UVA light is converted to heat in the basal layers of the skin causing damage to growing skin.  PABA, cinnamates and oxybenzone and others not only increase the risk of skin cancer, but are also associated with hormone disruption and increase cancer risk.  In fact, new studies by the FDA, as of January, 2020 show these chemicals can stay in the systems for days at levels well beyond FDA recommendations.  The sunscreen I use and recommend is, Dr. Mercola,

I also caution you against heavy use of the mineral-based sunscreens which include high zinc and high titanium, as these minerals and metals (titanium is a metal)  can accumulate in the body causing a mineral imbalance.  Since mineral imbalance is my niche, I know first-hand how having a mineral imbalance can impact the health of the body.  In fact, when a client shows high levels of zinc, and/or titanium, one of the first questions I ask is in regards to sunscreen usage.

There are many benefits to spending time in the sun, and having a balance between sun exposure and sun protection is a must to staying healthy.  Eating foods rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals as well as avoiding chemicals known to cause damage to skin and health will not only protect against sunburn, but will prevent damage to the body leading to further health issues.

For my watermelon slushy recipe:

Two natural sunscreens I use and recommend:




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