Foods that Fight Sun Damage


It is understood that sun exposure is among the top causes of skin damage. But did you know that scientific evidence shows eating certain types of foods could help to prevent the damage that sun does to our skin and decrease the risk of sunburn? In most cases, you need to start eating those foods 8-10 weeks before you hit the beach in order to get the best results. This means that now is most probably the best time to get started! Don’t skimp on the sunscreen though, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends at least one ounce (two tablespoons) to cover the entire body surface applied a half-hour before going outside and reapplied at least every 2 hours outdoors.

Here is a list of foods you should be stocking up on:

1. Dark Chocolate

Believe it or not chocolate lovers, dark chocolate actually acts as a shield from the sun. It contains phenol compounds that help to decrease the risk of developing cancer, and antioxidants called flavonoids. Antioxidants help protect our skin from sunburn and skin cancer by canceling out the free radicals in the body that are created by prolonged sun exposure. Look for chocolate made of 65 percent or more raw cocoa, and aim to eat one square a day.

2. Tomatoes

According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, 20 healthy women, ages 21 to 47, who ate a quarter cup (or four tablespoons) of tomato paste in olive oil every day for three months were more protected against sunburn than those who consumed olive oil alone. Side note: olive oil can help to reduce reddening from sun exposure by 35%, according to an article from World’s Healthiest Foods. Tomatoes and tomato-based products are a major source of an antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene helps to neutralize the damaging effects of UV light and eating lycopene-rich foods can help prevent your skin from aging. Add tomatoes to your salad or sandwich, or enjoy pizza with tomato sauce.

3. Green Tea

Green tea holds numerous health benefits for the immune system and metabolism, and it also helps to soothe sunburns. Drinking one to two cups of this antioxidant-rich tea a day helps to reduce the redness of sunburn. Green tea also contains EGCG, a natural chemical that fights free radicals, decreases inflammation from the inside out, and may ultimately prevent the development of skin cancer. Look for decaf tea, because caffeine is a dehydrating agent. Your skin stores fluid, and if your internal core is fluid-depleted the body will try to scavenge all the fluid it can from its surface which dries out the skin.

4. Red Peppers

Bell peppers contain an antioxidant called capsiate, which decreases skin damage caused by UVB rays. Peppers also help to reduce inflammation from sun exposure. Add red peppers to pizza, try some rep pepper hummus, or try this recipe for stuffed bell peppers.

5. Garlic

Not only does garlic detoxify and reduce bloating, it also can protect the skin from the aging effects of UV radiation. Garlic contains a natural compound called allicin, which has strong antioxidant and healing properties. Add garlic to your pasta for some extra flavor or saute some veggies with garlic.

6. Pomegranates

Pomegranate seeds have polyphenols, which protect skin from UVA and UVB rays. Scientists have discovered that nutrients in pomegranates can reduce the ability of UVB radiation to cause cancer-promoting damage in skin cells, including alteration of NF-kappa, a pre-cancerous biomarker. Pomegranates also have high antioxidant content, and have been found to offer anti-inflammatory benefits to the skin.

7. Carrots 
& Sweet Potatoes

These orange veggies have carotenoids (plant pigments that are rich antioxidants), which help to protect against sunburn because of their antioxidant properties. Both carrots and sweet potatoes are a major source of skin-protecting beta-carotene.

8. Watermelon

Watermelon contains lycopene—also found in tomatoes— that can decrease your chance of redness from sunburn. Enjoy a summer salad with these four ingredients: cubed seedless watermelon, crumbled or diced feta, whole mint leaves, and extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

9. Strawberries, Kiwis, and Oranges

High in vitamin C, these fruits are great for killing off free radicals that your body produces in response to the cellular damage caused by exposure to sunlight. Kiwi packs more vitamin C per ounce than any other fruit. Citrus fruits like oranges contain large amounts of the skin-cell protective compound called limonene. These fruits also contain flavonoids, which improve the skin’s ability to recover from sun damage.

10. Almonds and Sunflower Seeds

Top off a salad, yogurt, or smoothie with slivered almonds or sunflower seeds—both contains vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant that protects against sun damage. This vitamin has also been proven to slow the aging of skin cells and diminish the appearance of scars


Find these foods and more at the UC Davis Dining Commons and look out for some exciting special events going on during the spring quarter!

13 thoughts on “Foods that Fight Sun Damage

  1. Dear Healthy Aggies,
    For two reasons, this is the best blog entry ever.
    1) You refer to scientific journals to back up your suggestions. That gives me assurance.
    2) Your recommendations just happened to be foods that I like.
    Chocolate, tomatoes, bell peppers, green tea, bring them on.

  2. This is a great blog entry, all of the foods are ones I love and all great this time of year. The recommendations are completely doable and it’s great to have these suggestions 8-10 weeks, as recommended, before summer fully hits. Great job!

    • I’m so glad you liked it! You can definitely incorporate these foods into your diet super easily. For example including peppers or tomato in your omelet for breakfast, or making a salad with watermelon.

  3. I will take up your suggestions in consuming these food that protects against sun damage and help reduce free radicals in my body. I always put sunscreen daily to prevent UV lights and sun damage.

    • That’s great that you wear sunscreen every day, and you should definitely keep that up! It’s one of the best things you can do for your skin to keep it looking young. And eating healthy doesn’t hurt either 😉

  4. This is such a cool post! I never knew that there were foods that worked against sun damage, but now that I’m aware I’ll be conscious of them and telling my friends too! Thanks!

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  6. I definitely did not know that eating certain types of foods could help to prevent sun damage, which is amazing. When the sun comes out, I’m definitely going to try eating more of these foods, and see how it works out. Great post!

  7. As everyone else, I was surprised that there were foods that did this! I’ll definitely be making smarter choices at the store from now on, especially because my skin is very prone to redness! Thanks 🙂

    • I’m the same way, if I forget to put on sunscreen on a sunny day and I’m outside for a long time you can bet I’ll turn as red as that watermelon. So I definitely thought this was very cool and practical at the same time! You are welcome 😀

  8. Great tips! I eat a majority of these foods already! It’s good to know I’m on the right path! Thanks!

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