When I was in high school and college, I got a summer job as a lifeguard. All those hours in the sun gave me what I thought then was a beautiful, bronzy tan.
Today I realize the sun exposure just accelerated my skin’s aging process. Truth be told, I did wear sunscreen, but not always as much as a dermatologist would recommend. (Find foods to keep your skin looking younger and lower your risk of skin cancer here.)
Turns out, the vast majority of UV light that I was soaking up was UVA. UVA is a major contributor to premature skin aging (think: fine lines and wrinkles) because it penetrates deeper than UVB light and damages skin cells before there’s any visible sunburn.
Even worse, collagen—the fibrous protein that keeps skin firm, youthful-looking and wrinkle-free—begins to decline starting in your twenties!
Now that I’m older and wiser—and not anxious to look the part—I’m wearing more sunscreen to protect my skin from the outside in. And because I’m a registered dietitian and nutrition editor, I’ve seen the science that shows eating more of these foods will protect my skin from the inside out.
Keep your skin looking younger—for the rest of your life—with these 4 foods:
Strawberries: Eating more vitamin C-rich foods, such as strawberries, may help to ward off wrinkles and age-related dryness, suggests research from 2007 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin C’s skin-smoothing effects may be due to its ability to mop up free radicals produced from ultraviolet rays and also its role in collagen synthesis. (Vitamin C is essential for collagen production.) You can find vitamin C in a multitude of cosmetics—of which some have been shown to be effective in protecting skin—but why not go straight to the source for a tasty boost of C: red bell peppers, papaya, broccoli and oranges are other excellent sources. (Try these sweet strawberry recipes for better skin.)
Tomatoes: 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. Boost your lycopene intake with fresh summer produce like watermelon and carrots too. (Find tomato recipe ideas here.)
Tofu: Tofu and other soyfoods, such as edamame and soymilk, may help to preserve skin-firming collagen because they are 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. (Find tasty 30-minute dinners using tofu here.)
Tuna: Eating tuna—and other omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon, sardines and trout—may help keep your skin looking youthful thanks to the omega-3 fat EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). EPA has been shown to preserve collagen. (Enjoy tuna in Mediterranean Tuna Antipasto Salad and more healthy tuna recipes here.)
How do you keep your skin healthy? Tell us what you think below.