Posted by Heather McCartney

When it comes to sun safety, the saying “you are what you eat” could not be more true! Do you want to look like a dried-up old raisin or a luscious, juicy peach when you are older? The control is in your hands.

Although applying a good sunscreen daily (and even hourly when at the beach or
in the sun) and covering up with UV Protective Clothing is essential, what most people don’t know is that you can protect your skin through what you eat as well. A good sunscreen plus the right foods before sun exposure can mean the difference between a burn and a healthy glow and can determine how you will age.

Ultraviolet radiation, otherwise known as UV rays, is invisible energy emanating from the sun. UV rays can travel through glass (think a car windshield) and clothing and can penetrate deeply within your skin, causing wrinkles, discoloration and even skin cancer. Because you don’t see UV rays, they can damage your skin when you least expect it—on overcast days.

In addition, UV rays react with the cells in your body to create unstable molecules called free radicals, which damage proteins in your skin such as the elastin and collagen that keep skin looking healthy and firm. Does it sound like a toxic combo? Well, it is!

Aside from wearing a good sunscreen (and actually applying it throughout the day) and wearing protective clothing and a good wide-brimmed hat when you are at the beach or outside for long, begin supplementing your diet with foods that provide extra UV protection and see a difference in how your skin responds in the sun. How do I supplement my diet to protect my skin from the sun?

The magic word is antioxidants! While many know antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, most of us don’t know that the free radical protection can be applied to sun exposure and damage as well.

In general, fruits and vegetables are foods high in antioxidants and help us fight free radicals and sun damage, while foods such as meat, dairy products, simple carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods cause inflammation and can contribute to making our sun damage worse.

We should all look for foods high in vitamin C (think oranges, lemons, grapefruit and blueberries), lycopene (think cooked tomatoes, red peppers, raspberries, strawberries, apricots and papaya), carotenoids (think carrots and sweet potatoes), flavonoids (think beans, grapes, apples, red wine and dark chocolate) and polyphenols (think blueberries, onions and green tea). Not only will eating more of these foods enhance your overall health, but they also will provide protection from as well as treatment for sun-damaged skin. In addition, studies have shown that combining vitamin C with lycopene, polyphenols, flavonoids and other antioxidants actually helps our bodies assimilate more of the nutrients, thus maximizing their benefits.

There’s a whole roster of beneficial antioxidant foods. Make sure that you include plenty of greens in your diet, but be mindful of what you put into your body prior, during and after sun exposure and you will see a difference with how your skin reacts.

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 Written by: Katherine Pennington, holistic health counselor and founder of Be in Balance, which helps women and men lose weight, reduce stress and achieve more balance in their lives.

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