Slather on sunscreen, wear a hat…and eat? That’s right: Certain foods may help protect your skin against sun damage. Bonus: They’re all delicious, and some are hydrating as well—perfect for your summer table. Now, we’re not saying you shouldn’t be slathering on natural sunscreens, but these yummy healthy foods can give your regular sun-protection routine a boost.
Why it helps: Red grapes contain resveratrol, an antioxidant that may inhibit or delay the growth of skin tumors, says Katherine Mitchell, a registered dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. You’ll also find it in right-in-season blueberries.
Enjoy it: Add red grapes to your fruit salad or smoothie, or toss them into a green salad for a hit of sweetness. Pop some in the freezer and grab a few when you’re craving a frosty treat.
Why it helps: “Onions contain a special flavanol called quercetin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects,” Mitchell says.
In fact, “quercetin has also been studied for its potential topical sunscreen protection in humans,” and the results have been positive, making it a great addition to broad-spectrum sunscreen formulas, as well. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that quercetin might be an ingredient in your go-to SPF. You’ll also find it in leafy greens, berries and tomatoes.
Enjoy it: “Onions contain some of the highest concentrations of this compound, so add them to your salads,” she suggests. But here’s a tip: Eat onions raw or just lightly cooked to reap the benefits. Potency can diminish by roughly 25% when cooked.
Why it helps: “Citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges, and tangerines contain a compound called apigenin, which has been studied for its effects for possible prevention of UVA/UVB-induced skin cancer tumor formation,” Mitchell says.
Additionally, these foods are also a good source of vitamin C, which may help protect skin from sun damage topically as well as through digestion.
Plus, “A recent review suggests that a combination of vitamins E and C protects the skin against UV damage,” registered dietician Natalie Rizzo says.
Enjoy it: Squeeze lemon or lime on grilled chicken or fish, mix it with olive oil for a dressing, or simply add some to your water bottle. Plus, almonds and sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E, while spinach is a good source of vitamins E and C, so make a spinach salad, sprinkle some nuts or seeds on top and toss with a citrus dressing, Rizzo says.
Why it helps: They’re not just good for your eyes—carrots are a rich source of carotenoids, pigments such as beta-carotene and lycopene, which may offer UV ray protection and protect cell membranes in the skin, Mitchell says.
Enjoy it: Slice up some carrots and red or yellow bell peppers (which also have vitamin C) to serve with guacamole or hummus, she suggests. The guac will give you a dose of healthy fats, which will keep inflammation at bay and keep your skin glowing and fresh. Another great source of lycopene: Watermelon.
Additionally, some researchers have found that the main active ingredient in green tea (EGCG) may reduce inflammation and protect skin from sun damage, she adds.
Enjoy it: Swap your morning cup of coffee with green tea, sip iced green tea on hot days, and, if you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen, try adding it to everything from chia pudding to ice pops.
Why it helps: “Berries, along with other red, purple, and blue fruits and vegetables, contain special compounds called anthocyanins, which are being studied for their potential ability to protect skin from free-radical damage,” Mitchell says. They also may help slow tumor growth, which can speed up when the skin is exposed to sun damage. Along with berries, you’ll find anthocyanins in eggplant, grapes, cherries, black rice, and red cabbage.
Enjoy it: Grill some eggplant, toss red cabbage into a tasty slaw, or enjoy a handful of berries for dessert.
Why it helps: Salmon, like all oily fish, is well known for its benefits to the heart and skin, as the omega-3 fatty acids can fight inflammation and provide anti-aging perks, says Rizzo. According to some studies, fish oil has been found to provide a sun protective effect, such as lowering risk of melanoma, says Rizzo. Mitchell recommends consuming two 6-oz. servings of oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, or halibut, per week, or taking a 500mg fish oil supplement daily instead. As supplements can vary, it’s a good idea to look at the label and find one that has the least amount of excess fats (beyond the fatty acids themselves) and the fewest number of pills per serving (to maximize the benefits and cut down on costs).
Enjoy it: Salmon is so versatile, you can grill it, turn it into patties, roast it, or order some at your favorite sushi bar. But, remember, it’s best to eat wild, over farmed, as it’s lower in toxins. Either way, make sure you’re buying sustainable salmon.