Have you ever had a sunburn so bad that you couldn’t heal it? Most of us have had at least one or two of these sunburns. Aside from causing pain and discomfort, excessive sun exposure can also cause lasting damage to the skin; don’t forget that UV rays from the sun can cause skin cancer . Proper care of your skin when it is exposed to the sun is a must. In summer, adequate sun protection is as important as ever, but there is also the right diet to prevent skin cancer.

Applying sunscreen, protective clothing, and limiting time in the sun are all good preventative measures, but optimal sun protection should begin well before heading out for a summer day at the beach. Keeping your skin healthy internally and externally can help prevent sun damage as well. This summer, make sure your body is getting the nutrients it needs to keep skin healthy and free from damage, helping to prevent skin cancer.

How the sun damages the skin

Sunburn is an inflammatory response and an outward symptom of underlying skin damage that occurs when overdosed on UV exposure. UV exposure causes the formation of free radicals and oxidative damage, and can also lead to DNA mutations and the formation of cancer cells. UVC rays are the most carcinogenic, but UVA (which is the type of ray you are exposed to the most) can also cause great damage to the skin; it is responsible for most cases of melanoma.

The role of diet in sun protection

Antioxidants, in particular, are good for protecting healthy skin, as they help clean free radicals produced when our skin is exposed to UV radiation. Antioxidants including carotenoids, polyphenols, and much more can help prevent sunburn and the lasting damage that can occur when you’re out in the sun. Other nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties can also help.

Diet to prevent skin cancer


Tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene, a specific type of carotenoids. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that help scavenge free radicals in the skin after sun exposure, and consuming tomatoes is a great way to get enough of these nutrients for healthy skin. In one study, people who added 40g of tomato paste and 10g of olive oil to their main meal for ten weeks showed a 40% reduction in sunburn levels compared to people who added 10g of oil olive, but without tomato.


Carrots, another great source of lycopene and carotenoids, can also protect against sunburn . Four hundred ml of carrot juice a day (containing 10 mg of lycopene and 5.1 mg of β-carotene) led to a 45% reduction in sunburn in one study.
Green tea is a popular health drink consumed in the world. Aside from its health benefits (including those for weight loss, depression, cardiovascular disease, and more), green tea is one of the best foods for sun protection and thus preventing skin cancer. Green tea leaves are rich in polyphenols, which inhibit carcinogenesis caused by UV radiation. Drinking green tea helps protect against skin cancer, acting as an antioxidant, preventing immunosuppression, preventing tumor growth, and more. Researchers indicate that five to six cups of green tea a day can have important protective effects against sun damage.


Seafood, especially fish, have high levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) belonging to the omega-3 fatty acid. This polyunsaturated fatty acid is a healthy form of fat that has powerful anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Studies show that Omega 3s help prevent sunburn , too. Within one study, people who took four grams of EPA a day for three months reduced sunburn more easily. The results showed that the threshold for sunburn formation in people who took EPA supplements was significantly lower than those who took placebo. Further analysis showed that EPA also decreased DNA damage markers in the skin.


This delicious treat has become a favorite superfood. It is rich in antioxidant polyphenols (flavanols), which can help fight high blood pressure, cognitive decline, and much more. Eating chocolate (high-quality dark chocolate) can protect your skin from UV rays, too.

One study examined the difference between eating dark chocolate high in flavanols and dark chocolate low in flavanols (treated with high temperatures that reduce flavanol content) for 12 weeks. People who ate chocolate with a lot of flavonoids burned less in the sun compared to people who ate low-flavanol chocolate. The authors believe that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity of cocoa flavonoids helps protect the skin from UV damage. When choosing healthy chocolate, it is sure to be dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa (around 70%).

Other foods with protective qualities of the skin

Foods rich in other antioxidants, including vitamin E and vitamin C, are good options to protect your skin from UV rays. Try kale, red cabbage, berries, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, bell peppers, broccoli, chard, almonds, and many more. When in doubt, remember that brighter, darker, more colorful foods generally contain more antioxidants that are excellent skin protectors and also help prevent skin cancer.

When you are going to be out in the sun, pack on these protective foods, use a non-toxic sunscreen, and limit your exposure to the sun. Together, these strategies will keep you safe and free from sunburn.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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