As the weather warms and we all start spending more time outside, chances are you’re upping your sunscreen usage. But did you know that certain foods also shield your skin from the sun—and the damage it wreaks on your skin? It’s true (though that doesn’t give you carte blanche to ditch the sunscreen!).
Boost your defenses against skin cancer (the most common type of cancer) and help keep your skin looking younger with these 6 foods.
—Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., Nutrition Editor
A cup of strawberries delivers about 150 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C—and eating more vitamin-C-rich foods may help to ward off wrinkles and age-related dryness, suggests research from 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Tomatoes get their red hue from lycopene, a carotenoid that may help to keep your skin smooth. In a study published in 2008 in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics and Biopharmaceutics, researchers found that of the 20 individuals studied, those who had higher skin concentrations of lycopene had smoother skin. Consuming more lycopene may also protect your skin from sunburn. In one study, participants who were exposed to UV light had almost 50 percent less skin reddening after they ate 2 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste (or drank about 1 2/3 cups of carrot juice daily), in addition to their regular diet, for 10 to 12 weeks. Supplements, however, weren’t as effective: in the same study, those who received a lycopene supplement or synthetic lycopene weren’t significantly protected against sunburn. You can also get lycopene from pink grapefruit, carrots, watermelon, guava and red peppers.
Tofu—and other soyfoods, such as edamame and soymilk—may help to preserve skin-firming collagen because it is rich in isoflavones. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, mice fed isoflavones and exposed to ultraviolet radiation had fewer wrinkles and smoother skin than mice that were exposed to UV light but didn’t get isoflavones. The researchers believe that isoflavones help prevent collagen breakdown.
Tuna—and other omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon and sardines—may help keep your skin looking youthful and prevent skin cancer. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), one of the omega-3 fats in fatty fish, has been shown to preserve collagen, a fibrous protein that keeps skin firm. And EPA in combination with the other omega-3 in fish, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), helps to prevent skin cancer by reducing inflammatory compounds that can promote tumor growth, says Homer S. Black, Ph.D., professor emeritus in the department of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Aim to eat two servings of fatty fish each week: not only are the omega-3s good for your skin, they’re good for your heart too.
Drinking a single cup of coffee daily may lower your risk of developing skin cancer. In one study of more than 93,000 women, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, those who drank one cup of caffeinated coffee a day reduced their risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer by about 10 percent. And the more they drank—up to about 6 cups or so per day—the lower their risk. Decaf didn’t seem to offer the same protection. (Find more health reasons to drink coffee, plus cons to consider, here.)
This one may be the most surprising of all, since some people say chocolate gives you acne. Turns out studies have unequivocally shown there is no connection between chocolate and skin problems, and that some types of chocolate, in fact, may even be good for your skin. Cocoa contains a type of flavonoid called epicatechin (so do tea and red wine). In a study of 24 women, published in the Journal of Nutrition, drinking an epicatechin-rich cocoa beverage daily for 12 weeks improved skin texture. The authors explained that epicatechin increased blood flow to the skin, boosting nutrient and oxygen supply—both factors essential for keeping skin healthy. (Learn more benefits of eating chocolate, plus drawbacks to be aware of, here.)