The skin is the largest organ of the body. It’s also the most exposed one, so it’s more vulnerable to attack from environmental influences like the sun. One of the ways to protect yourself against the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is to work from the inside with nutrients. Essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients can help the skin through their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating activities. A recent article published on June 26, 2018, reviewed research on several nutrients for their skin health benefits.
Here are some nutrients that may have skin-protective effects:
The first nutrients to consider are those that are colorful and are present in the skin: these are the carotenoids, which are pigments found throughout plant foods such as fruits and vegetables. Cell and animal studies have shown carotenoids to be effective at reducing the damage that can occur in the presence of UVR. About 50 types of carotenoids are found in the typical human diet, but the carotenoids that have been most well studied for their skin effects are lycopene (red), astaxanthin (red), beta-carotene (orange), and lutein/zeaxanthin (yellow). In a variety of studies, these colorful compounds (tested mostly in dietary supplement form) have been shown to decrease skin redness, inhibit DNA damage and oxidative stress, and reduce inflammatory markers in the skin.
Here are some food sources of these skin-protective carotenoids:
- RED: Lycopene is in red-colored foods such as tomatoes (especially cooked tomatoes and tomato paste), watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava (but not strawberries or cherries). Astaxanthin is mostly found in fish and shellfish. It is what gives shrimp its pinkish color.
- ORANGE: Beta-carotene is in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, cantaloupe, mangos, apricots, and peaches.
- YELLOW: Food sources of zeaxanthin include corn, and certain bacteria can produce it. Lutein is found in green vegetables such as parsley, basil, kale, spinach, and broccoli.
There is some research to support the benefit of vitamins C, D, E, and nicotinamide (form of vitamin B3) for the skin. Some newer research on supplemental nicotinamide suggests that it may help to reduce the risk of cancerous skin growths in those who may be more susceptible. More research is needed to draw definitive conclusions, however. Food sources of nicotinamide include liver, meats, yeast, legumes, nuts, coffee, tea, grains, and green leafy vegetables.
Omega-3 fats may protect the skin from the effects of UVR as indicated in some preliminary (mostly) cell studies.
Some initial work on various probiotic strains is indicating that their effect on the immune system may help with recovery from UVR damage.
Green tea, green tea catechins plus vitamin C, cocoa extract, citrus plus rosemary), pomegranate, silymarin from milk thistle, quercetin, and resveratrol, have all been shown in a variety of studies (cell, animal, human) to have some effect on skin health and promoting its photoprotection.
Dr. Deanna’s Takeaway
Eating colorful, plant-based foods will provide you with a broad spectrum of nutrients, particularly the carotenoid pigments, to help protect your skin from UVR from the inside. You’ll also need to take protective strategies on the outside by wearing non-toxic sunscreens, long-sleeved shirts, and wide-brimmed hats for external protection, too. Consult with a qualified health professional on what is best for you. If you would like to choose a dietary supplement for healthy skin, ask your health provider.
Parrado C, Philips N, Gilaberte Y, Juarranz A and González S (2018) Oral Photoprotection: Effective Agents and Potential Candidates. Front. Med. 5:188. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2018.00188