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It is important to be aware of the risks that are associated with sunburn. You’re probably used to managing sun exposure through sunblock and by covering up with clothing, but you may not be familiar with protecting yourself from sun damage from the inside out with targeted nutrient intake.

In this article, we’ll explore five powerful nutrients backed by scientific research that help your body soak up the goodness from the sun while reducing risk of sun damage.

The Benefits of Sun Exposure

Sunlight has a substantial impact on both our mental and physical wellbeing. Exposure to sunlight plays a vital role in regulating our circadian rhythm, which helps to maintain healthy sleep-wake cycles (1).

A young girl with a sun burn gazes at the ocean while wearing an orange swimsuit and blue goggles.Additionally, the sun is an important source of vitamin D – a crucial nutrient that supports bone health, immune function, and overall well-being (2,3). Furthermore, sunlight exposure has been associated with a reduced risk of certain diseases, including cardiovascular issues, certain cancers, and autoimmune conditions (4).

The Risks of Sun Exposure

In order to enjoy the sun mindfully, we need to be aware of any potential risks. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun can lead to painful sunburns and skin damage, causing redness, pain, and inflammation on the skin’s surface. Even more concerning is the potential  DNA damage caused by excessive UV exposure (5), which can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma (6). 

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In 1992, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified UV radiation as a Group 1 carcinogen, and since then, many avoidance programs have been developed. Recently, the medical world has begun to settle into a more moderate position, understanding now that complete sun avoidance may carry more risk than benefit. 

In my practice, I tend to advise my patients to enjoy plenty of sunlight, while managing the risks through the use of clean sunscreen, clothing, time management, and nutrient intake.

The Role of Micronutrients in Natural Skin Protection Against UV Radiation

For most people, the majority of UV radiation we receive comes from non-vacation settings, where sunscreen may not be applied. During such times, our skin’s protection heavily relies on its own natural defenses. Fortunately, micronutrients found in various sources can play a crucial role in safeguarding the skin against UV damage. These micronutrients can function as UV absorbers or antioxidants, or they can modulate signaling pathways triggered by UV exposure, offering valuable support in enhancing our skin’s resilience under natural conditions (7).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because our skin produces it when exposed to sunlight. It’s also found in food sources like cod liver oil, fish, beef liver, dairy, and more. Interestingly, vitamin D supplementation can also play a role in protecting against sunburn. One study revealed that participants who took a high dose of 200,000 IU of vitamin D one hour after sun exposure experienced less redness, swelling, and skin inflammation 48 hours after being burned. Additionally, researchers noticed an increase in gene activity associated with skin barrier repair, suggesting that vitamin D can aid in skin recovery after sun exposure (8)!

To learn more about vitamin D, see: Top Sources of Vitamin D + Kid Friendly Recipes – Dr. Green Mom. 

Vitamins C & E

Antioxidant vitamins C and E have demonstrated potential in reducing the sunburn reaction, as evidenced in one study involving a cohort of ten individuals who took 2 g of vitamin C plus 1000 IU of vitamin E daily for 8 days. When compared with a similar group who took a placebo instead of vitamins, the vitamin C and E treated people experienced less of a sunburn reaction when exposed to UV light (9). While the study’s sample size was small, previous evidence from in vitro and animal studies consistently supports the photoprotective effects of these antioxidants (10). Antioxidants play a crucial role in neutralizing harmful free radicals generated by UV radiation, thereby preventing oxidative damage to the skin. By incorporating vitamins C and E into our regular diet, we can harness the power of these two antioxidant vitamins to defend against sunburn and support overall skin health. 

Look for vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, cruciferous vegetables, and white potatoes. Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils, as well as in many fruits and vegetables. 

Astaxanthin

Astaxanthin is an antioxidant found in red or pink colored sea food such as salmon, crab, trout and shrimp.

A bowl of various pink sea foods rests on a table. It has shown promising potential in protecting the skin from damage caused by exposure to UV rays (11). This nutrient has been studied for its ability to enhance the skin’s defense mechanisms against harmful stressors, including UV radiation (12). By incorporating astaxanthin into our diet, we may be able to strengthen our skin’s natural protective barrier, allowing for healthier and more resilient skin in the face of environmental challenges. Astaxanthin’s potential benefits extend to reducing moisture loss and improving skin condition, making it an attractive option for maintaining overall skin health.

Carotenoids & Flavonoids

Carotenoids and flavonoids are phytonutrients found in various fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits, and onions; they are also found in green tea. These phytonutrients provide vibrant colors and numerous health benefits. One benefit is their ability to help protect the skin from oxidative stress that is generated when our skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun (12). Consuming a diet rich in carotenoids and flavonoids can contribute to a reduced risk of sunburn and support overall skin health. Be sure to consume these nutrients regularly, as carotenoids and flavonoids have been shown to take about 10-12 weeks of regular dietary consumption to build up in the body and travel to the skin and eyes where they begin to offer UV protection (13).

A Comprehensive Approach to Sun Protection

Nutrient intake alone will not provide the same protection as sunscreen and protective clothing and is not a substitute for topical sun protection. It is important to be aware of the signs of heat related illness and dehydration. If you get a sunburn, this DIY After-Sun Spray works great to help soothe discomfort!

Keeping our skin moisturized and nourished is important year round. Many people notice extra dryness during the months of heavy sun exposure. Both Cleanest Care™ Nourishing Daily Lotion and Literally The Cleanest™ Moisturizing Body Lotion contain Vitamins E & C, as well as other skin nourishing ingredients like aloe vera and calendula. 

Summary

Harnessing the natural power of the nutrients discussed in this article can bolster our skin’s resilience against sun damage. Sunlight offers a multitude of benefits, including supporting our circadian rhythm, providing essential vitamin D, and reducing the risk of certain diseases. 

However, prolonged exposure to UV rays can lead to sunburns and potentially increase the risk of skin cancer. To counteract these risks, micronutrients vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin C act as UV absorbers and antioxidants, helping to protect the skin from oxidative stress and sun damage. Astaxanthin, found in seafood, showcases promising potential in safeguarding the skin from UV radiation. Additionally, carotenoids and flavonoids, present in fruits and vegetables, contribute to reduced sunburn risk by countering oxidative stress. 

While these nutrients fortify our skin’s natural defenses, it is crucial to remember that they complement, rather than replace, sunscreen and protective clothing in sun safety. To ensure overall skin health, maintaining proper skin hydration is also essential. By adopting a comprehensive approach to sun protection, we can embrace the sun’s benefits while protecting our skin from harm.

References:

  1. Yamanaka Y. (2020). Basic concepts and unique features of human circadian rhythms: implications for human health. Nutrition reviews, 78(12 Suppl 2), 91–96. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuaa072
  2. Kulda V. (2012). Metabolizmus vitaminu D [Vitamin D metabolism]. Vnitrni lekarstvi, 58(5), 400–404.
  3. Bartley J. (2010). Vitamin D: emerging roles in infection and immunity. Expert review of anti-infective therapy, 8(12), 1359–1369. https://doi.org/10.1586/eri.10.102
  4. van der Rhee, H. J., de Vries, E., & Coebergh, J. W. (2016). Regular sun exposure benefits health. Medical hypotheses, 97, 34–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2016.10.011
  5. Mullenders L. H. F., (2018). Solar UV damage to cellular DNA: from mechanisms to biological effects. Photochemical & photobiological sciences : Official journal of the European Photochemistry Association and the European Society for Photobiology, 17(12), 1842–1852. https://doi.org/10.1039/c8pp00182k
  6. Lergenmuller, S., Rueegg, C. S., Perrier, F., Robsahm, T. E., Green, A. C., Lund, E., Ghiasvand, R., & Veierød, M. B. (2022). Lifetime Sunburn Trajectories and Associated Risks of Cutaneous Melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma Among a Cohort of Norwegian Women. JAMA dermatology, 158(12), 1367–1377. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamadermatol.2022.4053
  7. Sies, H., & Stahl, W. (2004). Nutritional protection against skin damage from sunlight. Annual review of nutrition, 24, 173–200. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.nutr.24.012003.132320
  8. Scott, J. F., & Lu, K. Q. (2017). Vitamin D as a Therapeutic Option for Sunburn: Clinical and Biologic Implications. DNA and cell biology, 36(11), 879–882. https://doi.org/10.1089/dna.2017.3978
  9. Eberlein-König, B., Placzek, M., & Przybilla, B. (1998). Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and d-alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 38(1), 45–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0190-9622(98)70537-7
  10. Lin, J. Y., Selim, M. A., Shea, C. R., Grichnik, J. M., Omar, M. M., Monteiro-Riviere, N. A., & Pinnell, S. R. (2003). UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 48(6), 866–874. https://doi.org/10.1067/mjd.2003.425
  11. Ito, N., Seki, S., & Ueda, F. (2018). The Protective Role of Astaxanthin for UV-Induced Skin Deterioration in Healthy People-A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 10(7), 817. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10070817
  12. Anbualakan, K., Tajul Urus, N. Q., Makpol, S., Jamil, A., Mohd Ramli, E. S., Md Pauzi, S. H., & Muhammad, N. (2022). A Scoping Review on the Effects of Carotenoids and Flavonoids on Skin Damage Due to Ultraviolet Radiation. Nutrients, 15(1), 92. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15010092
  13. Stahl, W., & Sies, H. (2007). Carotenoids and flavonoids contribute to nutritional protection against skin damage from sunlight. Molecular biotechnology, 37(1), 26–30. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12033-007-0051-z
Dr. Green Mom

Dr. Mayer is a naturopathic medical doctor and an expert in nutrition and wellness as it relates to pediatrics and families. Her passion for prevention of disease as cure fueled her desire to immerse herself into specializing in adult onset chronic conditions, as well as childhood chronic illness.

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