When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, what you put on your plate may be just as important as what you slather on your body. "Foods that are high in antioxidants can help reduce your free–radical load and protect your skin from the sun's worst effects," says Homer Black, Ph.D., a professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Free radicals generated by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are the main cause of sun damage–like burns, premature aging, and liver spots–and certain skin cancers. Over the past decade, an array of studies has suggested that dietary antioxidants can mop up free radicals and significantly reduce your risk of sunburn, precancerous skin growths, and squamous cell carcinoma.
1. COLORFUL FRUITS
Too much sun can hurt plants as much as it can hurt humans. "When you and I go out in the sun, we put on sunscreen. Plants use color as sunscreen," says Ralph Felder, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Bonus Years Diet (Perigee Trade) and an internist in Phoenix. "The more colorful the plant, the higher its protection against unwanted rays." Some of the most colorful plants get their hue from lycopene, a naturally occurring pigment–or type of carotenoid–found in red and pink fruits. Carotenoids help people by clustering in those places most vulnerable to sunlight: the eyes and the skin.
Raw tomatoes are high in lycopene, but cooked tomatoes are even better for you, since cooking releases lycopene from its "packaging." In one study, volunteers who ate 40 grams (about 3 tablespoons) of tomato paste, plus 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) of olive oil (to aid absorption) daily for 10 weeks, were 40 percent less likely than their tomatoeschewing peers to get burned when researchers exposed a patch of their skin to ultraviolet rays.
Cooked tomatoes are in everything: tomato juice and paste, soup, sauce, and ketchup—all of which contain the highest concentrations of lycopene your body can use. You can also get helpful amounts of lycopene from watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit. Other carotenoids are easy to find: Stick to brightly colored fruits and veggies such as blueberries, strawberries, and red, yellow, and orange peppers.