Beyond Sunblock: 7 Ways to Protect Your Skin This Summer
Think summer skin health starts and ends at sunblock? Think again. The health of our skin depends on many factors, from what we eat to what we drink to what we put on our skin in the morning. There's so much that we can do every day to fight the signs of aging and reduce the risk of skin cancer, but following these 7 simple yet powerful tips is a great way to start. So stop fearing the sun this summer. Make the most of every sunny day—and look great while doing it!
1. Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods. It may sound far-fetched that certain foods can protect our skin from UV rays and even cancer, but more and more research is putting this idea firmly in the realm of reality. Eating antioxidant-rich foods helps our cells fight free radicals, which in turn reduces the risk of cancer (including skin cancer) and delays the visible signs of aging. So to protect your skin this summer, be sure to eat plenty of:
Vitamin C-rich fruits like berries (especially blueberries), as well
as cherries, citrus fruits, apples, and plums
Red (lycopene-rich) produce like red bell peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit
Orange (carotene-rich) produce like beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and papayas
Nutrient-packed green vegetables like broccoli, artichokes, and leafy greens
Beans, especially red beans, which have been found by the USDA to be the most potent food source of antioxidants
Dark chocolate, which contains polyphenols and catechins, antioxidants that protect against sunburn and skin cancer
Polyphenol-rich black and green teas, which have been shown to reduce the occurrence of squamous cell skin cancer
2. Get enough essential fatty acids and healthy dietary fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and help prevent sunburns and melanoma. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as seeds like flax and chia, are good sources.
Eating foods rich in omaga-6 fatty acid (such as processed foods, fast foods, vegetable oil, and margarine) increases inflammation in skin cells and may contribute to the development of skin cancer. To balance your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, boost your consumption of whole, natural foods and avoid anything processed.
3. Boost your biotin & silica intake. Biotin, a B-vitamin that is found in foods like nuts, sweet potatoes, and eggs, helps build up fatty acids in your skin cells, which in turn protects the cells from sun damage. If you don't get enough in your diet, take a high-quality B-vitamin complex to access its benefits.
Silica plays a role in the formation of connective tissues and collagen formation, which promotes smooth skin, boosts elasticity, and fights the formation of wrinkles. To get enough silica, add green beans, cucumbers, celery, asparagus, and strawberries to your grocery list, or find a high-quality silica supplement.
4. Use coconut oil instead of lotion. Many common chemical ingredients in personal care products (such as parabens) have been linked to skin cancer. Lotions are especially dangerous, because they are often applied multiple times a day and are designed to be absorbed into the skin, from where they enter the bloodstream. Coconut oil moisturizes the skin just as well as lotion, and without the negative health effects. And as a bonus, coconut oil has a natural SPF protection of between 2 and 8—not enough to replace sunblock on a scorching July afternoon, but enough for you to reap some sun protection benefits.
5. Drink plenty of water and avoid too much alcohol. Staying hydrated—and avoiding the dehydrating effects of alcohol—keeps your skin naturally moist and protects it from environmental factors like sunlight. This a great rule to follow any time of year, but it's especially important to keep in mind as the mercury rises in midsummer.
6. Take sun baths. Though it may sound counterintuitive, limited amounts of sun exposure boosts the body's stores of vitamin D, which protects against all cancers, including sun cancers. Enjoy sitting outside in the sun for 20 minutes in the morning or evening, when the sun's rays aren't too harsh and you can get the benefits of vitamin D without the risk of sunburn.
7. Choose a mineral-based sunblock. When it's time to slather on the sun lotion, be sure it's a mineral-based lotion (one that uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), rather than a chemical-based lotion. Mineral-based lotions sit on top of the skin and physically block the sun's rays; chemical-based lotions work by entering the skin, where they are then absorbed into the bloodstream. Many chemicals in sunscreen are known to be endocrine disrupters, which contribute to the development of certain cancers. Check the Environmental Working Group's database to see if your sunscreen is safe.