The sun is shining brightly now for most of us, and the sunscreen is being pulled out of the cupboard. Preventing sunburns is important for a variety of reasons, the top one being that sunburns can make us more likely to get skin cancer. I can attest to the damaging effects of sunburns; I had one very terrible sunburn during high school that left its mark on my body with patches of irregular, bumpy skin where the sunburn was the worst.

The bottom line: You don’t want to get a sunburn.

But do sunscreens really prevent us from getting skin cancer, and are they healthy to use on a regular basis? One researcher found that sunscreen does not prevent skin cancer, although it does help prevent sunburn. And if you go to the Environmental Working Group's website, you'll find that most sunscreen lotions contain ingredients most of us would rather not put on our skin on a regular basis. In fact, one ingredient found commonly in sunscreen, vitamin A, may help give you cancer!

Getting some sun everyday helps us build up vitamin D levels, which in turn may help prevent all kinds of cancers — including those of the skin — so I don’t worry about short amounts of time spent in the sun. And while sun exposure has been shown to age us, I also find that if I'm never in the sun, my skin doesn’t look very good. (I live in Oregon, where the sun can disappear for weeks on end.)

So, when the sun is shining, how do we protect ourselves? For short periods of time, I enjoy it and soak up the vitamin D. For longer periods of time, I cover up my youngest — who has very pale skin — with light clothing and put a hat on her. I do the same with my older daughter if it is especially hot or if we're outside for an especially long period of time. Only if we really need it will I bring out the sunscreen, and then I try to use a brand that's as natural as possible.

But have you ever thought about protecting your skin with what you eat? The fact is, what you eat may help you prevent sunburn and skin cancer most effectively. There is some amazing research on this topic. With that in mind, here are some foods that can help protect you from the sun’s glare.

Tomatoes and watermelon

Persian Watermelon Salad

Persian Watermelon Salad. (Photo: Nourishing Gourmet)

Tomatoes contain a lot of lycopene (especially when they're cooked). A study found that those who consumed tomato paste on a daily basis had more protection against acute sunburn and potentially longer-term effects of photo damage. Not everyone does well with the nightshade family (of which tomatoes are a part), however there are other fruits that contain high amounts of lycopene, one of which is watermelon! While I don’t know of a specific study about watermelon preventing sunburn, it's possible that it would have a similar sunburn protection quality because of its high lycopene content.

What I love about this connection is that watermelon and tomatoes are at their peak during the sunniest periods of time. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Green tea

Iced matcha tea

Iced matcha tea. (Photo: Nourishing Gourmet)

When green tea is consumed daily, it protects you from "ultraviolet injury." Several studies support this view. This study found that topical applications helped prevent sunburn. Another study supports both topical and internal green tea in preventing skin cancer. For the best of the best, drink matcha tea, which has a host of benefits. Here are some matcha recipes to get you started.

Butter, whipping cream or other sources of saturated fats

Strawberry Fool

Strawberry Fool contains whipped cream, which contains saturated fat. (Photo: Nourishing Gourmet)

And you thought butter was bad for you? Well according to one study, if you want to get skin cancer, eat plenty of polyunsaturated oils. However, a diet high in saturated fats helps prevent skin cancer. True, the study was only done with mice, but it is certainly promising. Of course, make it at least organic butter to avoid high amounts of pesticides, and if at all possible, butter from grass-fed cows. It will have higher vitamin levels and a host of other benefits.

Salmon and fermented cod liver oil

Salmon with Basil Romesco Sauce

Salmon with Basil Romesco Sauce. (Photo: Nourishing Gourmet)

I have heard many, many reports of people who say that taking Blue Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil (the cod liver oil I use and recommend) consistently has helped them not sunburn in the summer. If something is working for you, there is no reason to have a study prove to you why. But I did find a study that found that omega-3 fatty acids helps prevent sunburns and that it might also reduce the risk of skin cancer. Wild Alaskan salmon would also be helpful.

Another reason this brand of cod liver oil could be especially helpful is because it contains the natural vitamin A and D levels found in cod liver. Other vitamins, such as C and E, have been found to be helpful in preventing sunburn or cancer, so it would make sense that vitamin A and D could be helpful as well.


Deep Dark Chocolate Tart

Deep Dark Chocolate Tart. (Photo: Nourishing Gourmet)

Volunteers who ate dark chocolate didn't sunburn, but they also enjoyed other positive effects: it also made their skin smoother, moister and nicer overall than the volunteers who didn't get chocolate. You will need to eat about 3 ounces of dark chocolate to mimic this study’s effect. (I haven’t heard any complaints yet.)

And the above foods are just a small portion of those that help you fight against getting sunburned or skin cancer. You'll notice a theme of healthy, real foods, with a special emphasis on antioxidant-rich foods. It's just one more reason to eat a healthy diet. I can imagine many delicious meals being made with these ingredients. Enjoy the sun with real food, and you may find that sunburns and other health issues are a thing of the past.

Related on MNN:

Can you prevent sunburn with food?
Could the foods and beverages you consume help protect your skin from the harsh glare of the sun? Research says yes.