Summer brings the promise of relaxed routines, backyard barbecues, long days on the water…and sunburn. For those of us not blessed with an abundance of melanin, summer sunburn can seem like an inevitable fate. Standard wisdom says that the only way to avoid sun damage is to slather on sunscreen. But this has some disadvantages, including blocking your ability to absorb vitamin D.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. Try these natural ways to strengthen your skin’s resistance to UV rays from the inside out.
Eat Your Greens
We’ve all been told, growing up, that eating our greens will make us big and strong. But what our mothers probably didn’t mention was that they’ll also make us less likely to get sunburned. Dark leafy greens are loaded with skin-loving Vitamin E, and come with a whole host of other health benefits that make it well worth a daily salad.
If a straight bowl of greens isn’t your thing, try sneaking a handful of spinach into a smoothie, add chopped kale to casseroles or pasta salads, or eat your tuna salad on a bed of mesclun instead of between slices of bread. Fresh herbs like basil and rosemary count, too.
And Your Reds
Lycopene is a powerful internal sunblock. It’s also one of the things that gives certain foods their pink or red color. Fortunately for us, most of those foods are delicious! Refreshing tropical fruits like guava, papaya, and grapefruit contain high levels of lycopene. And the icy cold watermelon that’s a staple of summer picnics? Loaded with it. True to its name, watermelon also has a high moisture content, making it an ideal choice for both hydration and sun protection on warm days.
If savory is more your thing, tomatoes, with their fiery red shade, are another great source of lycopene — and cooking makes it even easier for our bodies to utilize it. One sun-warmed, lightly salted tomato or a handful of cherry tomatoes straight from the garden provides about 5 mg of lycopene, but a mere two tablespoons of tomato paste delivers almost three times that amount. Tomato paste is easily added to most savory dishes, and you can feel great about slathering ketchup on your burger during a backyard barbecue. Sip on a Bloody Mary (or even a Virgin Mary) for a healthy dose of poolside lycopene.
Use Healthy Fats
Ditch the vegetable oil and dive into the world of healthy fats, like coconut and olive oil. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which not only help keep your skin hydrated in dry weather, they also have powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies suggest that omega-3s can improve the way your skin responds to UV rays, helping to minimize sun damage.
Expeller-pressed coconut oil doesn’t taste like coconut, so you won’t even notice the difference when you use it to sauté vegetables. If you’re handy in the kitchen, try a few vegan recipes, which often replace butter with coconut oil or even avocado, and which tend to use fewer highly-processed ingredients. Oh, and while you’re eating that salad of dark leafy greens we talked about earlier, try drizzling it with olive oil and vinegar instead of using bottled dressing.
Indulge in Treats
While manmade candy can’t claim to do much more than corrode your teeth, Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she made her own brand of candy: berries. Aside from being loaded with juicy sweetness, fiber, and vitamins, these little packages are also brimming with antioxidants, the enemy of those free radicals that are responsible for skin damage. Maybe that’s why berries come into full swing at the same time the sun does — just in time for you to eat them by the handful, sprinkle them on your breakfast cereal, or use them to deck out your favorite dessert.
While we’re on the subject of dessert, another antioxidant-packed indulgence is dark chocolate. Even if you find its full flavor a little strong, it’s hardly a sacrifice to work an ounce or two of decadently dark chocolate into your day. For a real one-two antioxidant punch, sprinkle roughly chopped chocolate onto a bowl of fresh berries and luxuriate in the beautifully balanced flavors of dark and bright. Natural unsweetened cocoa powder contains antioxidants too, so you can make your own chocolatey paste by mixing it with honey and milk, then gradually add more milk until you have the perfect post-workout beverage.
In addition to being tasty and high in protein, almonds also have high amounts of vitamin E, omega-3s, and antioxidants to help nourish and protect your skin. For increased sun tolerance, replace peanut butter with almond butter (a bit more expensive, but far healthier) and make raw almonds a regular part of your snacking experience. They’re an easy and delicious add-in to smoothies, salads, cereals, and snack mixes.
If you’re having trouble working the above into your diet regularly, supplements are an easy way to make sure you’re getting plenty of skin-protecting vitamins and minerals into your system. Vitamins C, D, and E are especially good for your skin, as are omega-3s.
Remember that any good skincare routine has multiple steps. Eating these healthy foods on a regular basis for several weeks, before the sunshine really starts pouring it on, will strengthen your skin’s tolerance to sunshine much more effectively than trying to devour an entire watermelon the morning of your family picnic.
Commonsense precautions, like wearing light layers of clothing and seeking shade when the sun is at its hottest and strongest, are still important steps to follow — as is wearing that darned sunscreen if you’re going to be in the sun for any length of time. If you’re worried about undoing all your good work on the health front by dousing your skin with chemicals, try a natural brand of sunscreen that uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient.
Whatever your plans for this summer, boosting your skin’s sun tolerance with these healthy, natural (and yummy!) ingredients is the perfect way to make sure you don’t have to pay a painful price for your fun in the sun. Enjoy your summer!