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Eat Your Sunscreen!

Foods that boost the SPF of your skin - from the inside out!

Eating the right foods can help us improve our skin from the inside out - with some foods even providing a modest boost to the natural SPF of our skin! Foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and omega-3s can help to provide an added layer of protection for the skin from UV damage, and may also help to repair UV damage, and prevent the signs of aging.

Antioxidants - An Army Against Free Radicals

Antioxidants such as carotenoids give foods their vibrant colors, and are critical to the photosynthetic process, protecting a plant from damage by light and oxygen. By consuming plants or organisms that contain these pigments, people can gain a similar protective benefit. Antioxidants and other key nutrients protect cells from oxidation, encourage cell growth, fight inflammation and boost our skin’s ability to prevent free radical damage. When the skin is exposed to the sun or other sources of radiation, this causes free radicals to form - which can damage the membranes of skin cells and harm the DNA of that cell. Antioxidants slow or prevent the effect of free radicals and oxidation - which can lead to cell dysfunction. We can see oxidation in action when a sliced apple turns brown. But a little squeeze of lemon juice can prevent the oxidation - providing antioxidant protective-effects. Oxidative stress appears to be an important part of many human diseases - linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration, as well as the signs of aging. In addition to helping fortify cells against free radicals, antioxidants also encourage cell and tissue growth, helping the body to repair itself.

Eating an antioxidant-rich diet - commonly found in fruits and vegetables and other foods - can protect and repair the cellular walls. Important antioxidants for boosting the SPF of the skin include:


Important carotenoid antioxidants found in egg yolks and vegetables such as kale, broccoli, carrots, orange peppers, squash. and spinach that helps us to maintain healthful eyes, teeth, bones and skin as we age.

According to Dr Salvador Gonsalez of Harvard University, “Lutein has been widely recognized for its eye health benefits for several years. But, our data is the first of its kind to suggest that lutein may have the potential to act as a preventative agent against UVB-induced skin cancer. In addition, these data suggest that lutein protects the skin against damage caused by exposure to UVB light, further validating our position that lutein is a critical component to overall skin health."

Lutein appears to be sensitive to cooking and storage. Prolonged cooking of green, leafy vegetables appears to reduce the lutein content. Eggs are best when not overcooked to preserve more of the lutein in the yolks.

For individuals lacking sufficient lutein intake, lutein-fortified foods are available, or a sublingual spray is available.

A study published in the Journal of Skin Pharmacology and Physiology found that supplementation of lutein and zeaxanthin provided a four-fold increase in protection from UV radiation-induced skin damage, and a six-fold increase in protection when a topical application of the nutrients was added.

Beta-carotene/Vitamin A

Vitamin A is known as retinol, and found in many topical anti-aging skin care products. It is known for reducing wrinkles, fading brown spots, reducing acne, and more. Be careful using topical retinols during the daytime - skin should never be exposed to sunlight when retinols have been applied, as it has been shown to increase the risk of skin cancers. That is why most retinol products are just for use at nighttime, or also contain sunscreen.

Beta carotene is the vegetarian form of vitamin A, and consuming a beta carotene rich diet is believed to improve the body's ability to diffuse UV light, help prevent burning, and counteract the damaging and aging effect of the sun's rays. The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A, which is very important for immune health and skin repair.

Beta-carotene can be found in a variety of foods including sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mangos, cantaloupes, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme, romaine lettuce and broccoli.

Vitamin C - for Repair

Found in fruits and vegetables like strawberries, red pepper, and citrus fruits; vitamin C helps to boost the immune system to fight free radical damage that can come from exposure to the sun. Not stored in the body, vitamin C must be consumed regularly.

Vitamin C foods and topical skin products are best used after sun exposure, as it can cause skin to be slightly more sensitive to the sun when used before sun exposure. Also be careful consuming citrus before or during sun exposure - citrus if it gets on the skin can cause photosensitivity rashes.

Vitamin C aids in your body's production of collagen, which is the protein that forms the basic structure of your skin. Collagen breakdown can leave your skin saggy, and vitamin C will help tighten it back up.

Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit contain vitamin C. But even better sources of vitamin C are papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and strawberries. It is important to replenish dietary vitamin C after too much sun exposure, because levels are likely to depleted from extended sun exposure.

Vitamin C is a popular ingredient in topical skin care serums, lotions, creams, and oils because it has a powerful ability to repair skin.


It might be the least well-known member of the carotenoid family, but astaxanthin is poised to be the new superstar of antioxidants. Derived from algae, astaxanthin may potentially 100 times more effective than vitamin E in free radical scavaging.

Astaxanthin reduces the harm caused by UV radiation, so it works as an internal nutritional sunscreen - boosting the skin's tolerance to ultraviolet radiation.

Wild fish like salmon get their deep color from eating krill and shrimp - which are high in astaxanthin due to their diet high in algae.

Wild salmon are 400 percent higher in astaxanthin than farmed salmon, and 100 percent of their pigment is natural astaxanthin, rather than synthetic. Farmed salmon color is typically added from artificial sources. Synthetic astaxanthin is used to supplement fish feeds in order to obtain the desired pinkish to orange-red color. But synthetic astaxanthin is made from petrochemicals. Natural astaxanthin is better for the health of the animals, and it's far superior for pigmentation. Animals fed fish food with natural astaxanthin have higher survival rates, better growth rates, better immunity, fertility and reproduction.

Astaxanthin multiplies the effects of vitamin C and E in the body. It also lowers LDL cholesterol and protects lipid peroxidation.


Perhaps best known for it's heart health benefits - lycopene is also from the carotene family, and is an excellent free radical scavenger - it is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta-carotene.

A 2008 study found that consuming a lycopene-rich tomato paste had 33% more sun protection than the control group (who consumed olive oil).

Found in tomatoes (absorbed better cooked), watermelon, grapefruit, guava, and red cabbage - lycopene may also help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the severity of allergy symptoms.

The recommended amount is 25 to 75 mg of lycopene each day in your diet.


Powerful botanical antioxidants, polyphenols offer protection against free radical exposure to help prevent skin aging and boost the skin's antioxidant protection from the inside out.

Green tea, black tea, cacao or dark chocolate are good sources of polyphenols.

Recommended dose - 2 ounces of dark chocolate a day! Now that is a prescription I can handle! The higher the cacao content in the dark chocolate, the most polyphenols.


A trace mineral that increases the potency of vitamins C and E and prevents damage from free-radicals.

Brazil nuts are by far the richest source of selenium, only about 3 freshly shelled brazil nuts is probably

enough to get your daily RDA for selenium (note: selenium content within batches of brazil nuts can vary). In fact, Brazil nuts are such a potent source of selenium, that you can eat too many of them. One should be careful to not consume too many brazil nuts - as toxic levels of selenium could occur - so stick to just 5 per day.

The incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer is found to be significantly higher in areas of the United States with that has low selenium content soil.

Selenium was studied in seven dermatology clinics in the U.S. from 1983 through the early 1990s.

Taking a daily supplement containing 200 micrograms of selenium was found to significantly reduce the occurrence and death from total cancers. The RDA of selenium is only 55 mcg. a day. Trace minerals are measured in micrograms (not milligrams) as only very small amounts are needed by the body.

  • If you don't like Brazil nuts because they tasted bitter - that just means they have gotten rancid, which you don't want. These are the only Brazil nuts that I like: Sunfood Brazil nuts, because I don't think they ever taste rancid.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is used topically in many skin products, because it protects all the cells in the body from free radical damage. Vitamin E applied topically can also help to heal the damage caused by overexposure to sun.

Vitamin E strengthens the immune system, and has anti-inflammatory effects. Found in cold-pressed vegetable oils (especially wheatgerm), seeds, nuts like macadamia, and oily fish. Also avocados contains some Vitamin E. Vitamin E is destroyed when heated, so it should be consumed cold pressed or raw. The vitamin E in nuts - especially almonds - fights skin-aging free radicals, and also helps your skin hold in moisture.

Eat a Rainbow

It is important to eat a variety of colors of the rainbow - because antioxidants work best when taken in conjunction with each other - they are better absorbed that way, and can magnify each other's effects. The American Heart Association recommends obtaining antioxidants from a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than just from supplements.

The body absorbs antoxidants from whole food sources better than most supplements. But many people can benefit from a good multivitamin as well as a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables. When supplementing, just be aware that more is not always better when it comes to vitamins - the fat soluble vitamins are not readily excreted like the water-soluble vitamins and can accumulate in the body if too many are taken.

Omega 3s - Key Inflammation Fighter

Omega-3 rich foods protect our cells from inflammation, oxidation, and free radical damage, and also offer important heart protective-effects. Research shows that omega-3 fats are inhibitors of development and progression of a range of human cancers, including melanoma. The National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review indicating that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is the key to preventing skin cancer development. The Standard American Diet is high in inflammatory omega-6s, and low in anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Inflammation can also increase the likelihood of DNA damage, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and mood disorders like depression.

The three most nutritionally important omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

  • An Australian study completed ten years ago, showed a 40% reduction in melanoma for those who were eating fish and therefore consumed higher levels of omega-3s.

  • Omega-3s also offer internal hydration to the skin, so people that suffer from dry skin or dry eyes might be deficient in omega-3s.

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids - which means the body can not make them, so we must obtain them from the foods we eat or supplements we take.

Omega 3 Rich Foods:

  • Fish and fish oils, especially wild caught cold-water fatty fish (sardines, salmon, tuna, halibut, herring, krill)

  • Chia, hemp hearts, and Flax Seed/Oils

  • Some nuts such as walnuts

  • Algae

Omega 3s are important for focus and brain development, mood, and heart health too.

Niacin (nicotinamide)

Niacin is a type of vitamin B3, one of eight B vitamins. Niacinamide is a common ingredient in topcial skin care products, known for it's skin calming and hydration effects, as well as anti-aging and lowering brown spots and skin pigementation. Niacin/nicotinamide can also be taken as a supplement.

  • Nicotinamide (vitamin B3) may help prevent skin cancer recurrence in high risk populations

  • An Australian year long study that included people that had been diagnosed with at least 2 non-melanoma skin cancers in the past - they found that the people who took 500 mg of nicotinamide (vitamin B3) twice a day cut their chances of developing new skin cancers by 23 percent.

  • The group taking the Nicotinamide twice daily had 20% fewer diagnoses of basal cell carcinomas, and 30% less squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Niacin is a pretty powerful vitamin - talk to your doctor to see if it right for you. Niacin may also lower cholesterol, fight candida infections, and help reduce symptoms of depression. It can cause a temporary flushing (redness) in the face - but that generally resolves in a short period of time. Starting with a low dose, and gradually increasing the dose over time can help to reduce the flushing reaction.

Foods to limit/avoid for Healthy Skin:

Sugar - Skin's #1 Enemy

Consuming a diet high in sugar not only contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance, it also damages our skin. When sugar enters the bloodstream, it attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs damage collagen and elastin - the proteins in the skin that keep it looking young and healthy. AGEs also causes the body to covert the more stable form of collegen into collagen that is more fragile and prone to wrinkles and sagging. Finally - AGEs deactivate the body's natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving us more vulnerable to sun damage. No more than 10% of daily calories should come from added sugar (which is about 9-10 teaspoons a day), the WHO recommends more aggresive targets - no more than 5 tsp daily from added sugars. The good thing is that reducing dietary sugar consumption can quickly reverse some of the AGEs and collagen damage to result in more youthful looking and functioning skin. Read Chapter one of my book 'The Perfect Metabolism Plan' to learn how & why to Break up with Sugar!

Seed Oils

For years we were told to replace animal fats with "healthier" vegetable oils, but we know now that this was very bad advice, based on bad science. "Seed oils" is an umbrella term for seed and vegetable-based oils like cottenseed, rapeseed (canola), sunflower, corn, soybean, vegetable, and safflower, rice bran, peanut, and other cooking oils. Seed oils are predominantly made up of omega 6 fats, which are considered inflammatory. Inflammation is linked to higher risks of diseases like cancer and heart disease.

Its nearly impossible to elminate all seed oils, so reducing them is is key, along with increasing omega 3 foods - to lower inflammation. The ideal ratio of omega 3:6 is 1:3, but the Standard American Diet is more like a 1:30 ratio, which is highly inflammatory. To reduce intake of seed oils, limit processed foods, cook with olive oil, avocado oil or butter/ghee, and use coconut oil or butter for baking. Read: Chapter two of my book 'The Perfect Metabolism Plan' to learn more about healthy fats.

Alcoholic beverages

Did you know that drinking alcoholic beverages in the sun can cause your skin to burn faster? According to research, consuming alcohol reduces the time you can spend in the sun before getting burned. Researchers aren't sure why this happens, except they believe that alcohol reduces the body's concentrations of carotenoids like beta carotene. Heavy alcohol consumption can also cause skin to look more ruddy, dehydrated, puffy, and certain alcoholic beverages may cause a histamine reaction in some people.

Prevent Sunburn & Overexposure

What we put on our plate is important to the overall health and appearance of our skin - and it can boost the SPF of our skin. But it does not mean we can sit in the sun for too long. Consuming the above antioxidants can provide a modest level of SPF. Too much time in the sun can be very damaging. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer affects 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime - making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. If you plan to be in the sun for an extended period, these 4 tips can help prevent overexposure to the sun:

  • wear sun protective hats & clothing (look for an SPF factor on the label)

  • wear sunscreens that contain a physical barrier as opposed to chemicals (like titanium oxide and zinc) - keep reapplying regularly, especially after swimming. Avoid suncreens that contain oxybenzone (an endocrine disruptor), and the retinol form of vitamin A (although touted as anti-aging, it is linked to an increase in skin cancers).

  • limit the amount of time spent in the sun, and pay attention to the UV index (look on your weather app on your phone).

Make sure to consider Vitamin D

Because the sun of the best source of vitamin D, wearing sunscreen all the time could have an unintended side effect - it could potentially reduce our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is a very important nutrient for our immune system and overall health. And low levels may raise our risk for bone fractures and several different cancers - including breast, colon & skin cancer.

More research is needed on the topic of sun, sunscreens, antioxidants and omega-3s - but it appears that a limited amount of time in the sun (approx 15 -20 mins. for fair-skinned people, more for darker skinned individuals), actually could have protective effects against skin cancer because it can boost vitamin D levels.

Whether or not we decide to get a limited amount of unprotected sunlight or not - we can all boost the natural SPF of our skin, and boost our skin's ability to fight free radicals and the signs of aging - by getting more antioxidants and omega 3s in our daily diets. A diet rich in antioxidants, obtaining the right balance of essential fatty acids, and limiting processed or foods with high levels of sugar, preservatives and chemicals - will help protect our skin, and our overall health.

Additional resources:

  • Want to Look Younger? Take Astaxanthin Every Day for 2 Weeks

  • How Supermodel Gisele Bundchen "Infuriated Cancer Experts"...

  • Look to Lutein & Zeaxanthin for Healthy Skin

  • Skin Cancer Foundation Position: nicotinimide could help prevent skin cancer.

  • Vitamin B3 reduces the risk of cancer

  • For skin cancer facts and information, visit the The Skin Cancer Foundation.


  • Oral Sunscreen Reduces Skin Cancer Risk

Note: Article updated on May 22, 2017 to include niacin.

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