By Cat, June 2019
I have what is called an “allergy to the sun,” which means that I break out in a rash, get a bad headache and digestive upset when I am in the mid-day sun too long. It was worse when I was a child, but it can still happen. It is the primary reason I wear a hat whenever I’m outdoors. I learned early-on that applying sunscreen doesn’t help me much.
Because I have avoided the sun for most of my life, I’ve had a vitamin D deficiency (it is made by the sun’s UVB radiation interacting with cholesterol in the skin), and supplement my daily diet with vitamin D3 oil. But now, after reading a great article by Dr. Mercola (1A), I’ve learned I can protect my skin from the sun’s damaging UV radiation, and still get vitamin D from the sun, by what I eat and what supplements I take. Read on for my summary of that article, plus additional info.
Nutrients to Protect Your Skin From Summer Sun
The following is from an article from Dr. Mercola (1A) unless noted otherwise. He states, “Healthy skin and natural sun protection are created from the inside out.”
Scientists have identified several nutrients that have UV protective activity which can reduce your risk of sunburn and related skin damage. … The top contenders are (links are to my articles on Cat’s Kitchen):
- Carotene members of the vitamin A family: astaxanthin, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene.
- Vitamin D;
- Vitamin E;
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).
A great supplement that provides all of these, plus alpha and beta carotene plus gamma tocopherol is Jarrow’s CarotenAll (see iHerb code JRW-12018). I also eat a rainbow of fruits & veggies, to ensure I get all the vital nutrients they provide.
Astaxanthin specifically helps protect against UV-induced cell death. It does not actually block UV rays, so it doesn’t prevent UVB from converting into vitamin D in your skin; it simply protects your skin against damage from that radiation (whereas sunscreen does block UV rays and thus blocks conversion of cholesterol in your skin to vitamin D).
It is a member of the vitamin A family, and works primarily as an antioxidant. It is very effective as an internal sunscreen.
Mercola recommends a daily dose of 4 mg for most people, but for those who work and/or play in the sun for long periods a dose between 8 mg and 12 mg/day may be needed.
Food sources of astaxanthin:
- Seafood with a pink to red color, such as: salmon, rainbow trout, shrimp and lobster and other seafood with a pink to red color. Krill oil is an excellent supplement source of astaxanthin.
- Microalgae, typically found in supplements
Lutein, Lycopene and Zeaxanthin also have the UV protective properties of other carotenoids by improving the skin’s natural sun protective value (SPF). They provide a fourfold increase in protection when taken internally, and a sixfold increase when used topically as well as internally.
Lycopene also acts as an internal sunscreen, although it’s not nearly as protective as astaxanthin. A 2001 study found tomato paste helped protect fair-skinned individuals with a tendency to burn rather than tan.
It can also protect against certain forms of cancer, such as breast, prostate, kidney and lung cancer (2A).
Food sources of lycopene; this list provides amount per 100 grams of the listed food (2A):
- Tomatoes (see below for more about lycopene in tomatoes):
- Sun-dried: 45.9 mg
- Fresh: 3.0 mg
- Canned: 2.7 mg
- Tomato purée: 21.8 mg
- Guava: 5.2 mg
- Watermelon: 4.5 mg
- Fresh tomatoes: 3.0 mg
- Papaya: 1.8 mg
- Pink grapefruit: 1.1 mg
- Cooked sweet red peppers: 0.5 mg
One of the best food sources is cooked tomatoes (as in tomato sauce or paste), especially when the sauce/paste includes good quality oil such as real olive oil, because cooking improves the bioavailability of lycopene. Cat’s note: It’s best if you make your own tomato sauce/paste and remove the seeds before cooking, as the seeds of all nightshades contain toxic lectins.
Food sources of lutein and zeaxanthin: (2B)
- leafy green vegetables such as kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli (especially if cooked in butter or oil, or used in a greens salad with a dressing containing olive oil)
- peas (especially if cooked in butter or oil)
- red peppers, squash (especially if cooked in butter or oil)
- orange juice, honeydew melon, kiwis, and grapes
- durum wheat, especially if consumed with butter or olive oil
- egg yolk (especially if cooked in butter or oil)
Note: cooking the veggies makes these nutrients more available, especially if cooked in butter or oil.
It lowers risk of skin cancer. Despite the “misguided advice from most dermatologists and public health officials to stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer,” vitamin D is actually protective against skin cancer. “The key is to optimize your vitamin D level while avoiding sunburn, as sunburn is the factor that raises your risk of skin cancer (including squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma).” (1B)
I take Green Pastures fermented Cod Liver Oil, and a Vitamin D3 liquid (prescription) daily to get enough of this vitamin, since I avoid the sun.
Vitamin E absorbs energy from UV light, thus playing an important role in photoprotection, preventing UV-induced free-radical damage to skin, especially when combined with vitamin C. However, it is important to get all forms of vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), and the best source is in foods. Especially whole, fresh foods because processed foods typically only contain the tocopherol form, especially alpha-tocopherol. Following a low-fat diet can lower your vitamin E consumption because it is only fat soluble. (1A)
I take MRM Complete E which contains all the tocopherols and tocotrienols (see iHerb code MRM-81007).
Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) and other catachins
This antioxidant nutrient is found in green tea. It prevents genetic damage in skin cells exposed to UV radiation. To boost the benefits of green tea further, add a squirt of lemon juice to your cup. (1A) See also Mercola’s article on the benefits of green tea (1C).
Other good food sources include oolong and black tea, and carob flour (carob has a chocolate-like flavor). Raw apples, blackberries and cranberries, as well as nuts including: pecans, filberts, hazelnuts, and pistachios have moderate amounts. Raw peaches, avocados, plums, onions and raspberries have trace amounts. (3A, 3B)