Don’t Burn, Baby, Burn
Natural Ways to Boost Your Skin’s SPF

By Sherry Swensk

Summer will eventually fade, like your tan, but the sun’s harsh and damaging ultraviolet rays will hold on well into fall and beyond. Not everyone likes to slather on the sunscreen, but if you’re spending any time outdoors between now and winter, you still need to protect your skin from those deep penetrating UVA and UVB rays. The good news is you can get your sun guard on by noshing on nutritional supplements and fabulous foods that can beef up your body’s own natural sun protection factor—and most of them are found right in the produce aisle of your supermarket.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that up to 50 percent of Americans who reach their mid-60s will have skin cancer at least once and an overdose of the sun’s brilliance is mainly to blame. You’ve seen those leather-skinned senior sun worshippers at the pool and beach, right? Fast forward yourself 30-plus years, sun goddess, after skimping on the sunscreen without a high-enough SPF or building your bod’s own natural defenses, and that’s you, girlfriend. While UVA rays give you that nice, golden bronze color, they also dig deeper to break down the skin’s collagen and elasticity that keep it soft and smooth. UVB rays are responsible for the that salmon-pink burn, which stirs up the free radicals in your body and can lead to skin cancer.

So build up your sun shield now from the inside out with this colorful array of yummy summer foods. Chances are you’re already eating some of them, but didn’t realize they also pack a powerful sun-blocking protection punch. Most anything red, orange, yellow or green contain antioxidants that fight off damaging free radicals. Tomatoes, bell peppers and carrots to name just a few. These foods are rich in lycopene and beta-carotene, which have been shown to help reduce skin’s sensitivity and irritation to sunlight, especially if you’re on medication. It also helps reduce your reaction to sunburn. Pink and orange citrus fruits are high on the SPF-building list, too.

Munch on the melons! Cantaloupe is especially slurpy good and rich in vitamins A and C, beta-carotenes and other antioxidants. Slice up the watermelons and casabas, as long as they’re in season, then look for deep orange pumpkins and colorful squash in early fall; all rich in beta-carotenes.

Greens—both leafy and cruciferous—are packed with antioxidants and cancer-fighting agents. Veggies like dark, leafy spinach and kale help protect the skin, but herbs like rosemary, oregano and dill can deliver superhero defenses. In fact, oregano has 42 times more antioxidant activity than apples, 12 times more than oranges and four times more than blueberries! That should have you ordering Domino’s pronto. And crunchy greens like broccoli, cabbage and bok choy are known naturals at preventing many types of cancer, including skin and other organs.
Summertime is tea time. And green and black tea lovers have a great advantage when it comes to sun exposure. Studies have shown that the polyphenol antioxidants in both leafy-born beverages inhibit cellular damage set off by time in the sun. It also boosts your immune system during time in the sun. Brew it fresh yourself, then pour it over ice and cool off knowing you’re a step ahead in the SPF game.

And there’s nothing fishy about the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids—found in shellfish and other fatty fish like salmon—fighting off skin inflammation and thwarting cell damage from too much time in the sun. Omega-3s are also known to protect against non-melanoma types of skin cancers, which are less deadly but more common. If you’re not a fish eater, you can always add fish oil supplements to your vitamin regimen. They even make them in the “burp-free” capsule, if you’re really squeamish.

Definitely the most sinful eat of the SPF list: dark chocolate. The flavonoids found in this decadent power booster are known to improve the skin’s ability to protect against some types of damage like sunburn. Flavonoids have solar crime-fighting compounds also found in fruits and vegetables. But don’t go crazy on the chocolate bars; six full servings a day might help protect that exposed skin in your bikini, but only if you can still fit in it.

Another great powerful UV blocker is grape seed extract. Its antioxidant benefit is 50 times greater than vitamin E and 20 times more than vitamin C. It also brags of anti-inflammatory and anti-mutagenic properties, which can mess up your cells from overdosing on the sun. This skin-loving extract has been shown to rebuild the collagen and elastin in your skin from premature aging caused by sun exposure.

So keep eating your SPF superfoods and supplements right on through the summer, and you’ll welcome the chance to be outdoors on a super sunny day because you’ve loaded up your beautiful body on powerful, natural UV protection.