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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Food as Medicine: Sunburn

My husband (stubborn genius that he is) REFUSES to wear any sunscreen EVER. As a result he gets burnt. A lot. Pretty much at least once a summer. This means he has obvious stark tan (, burn) lines and looks ridiculous. He also feels that itchy tightness of skin from the sunburn.

Now, I am not one to wear SPF every single day, mind you. I don't think I will get skin cancer going about my day, exposed to the sun at short intervals, like from the house to the car, car to grocery store. In fact, I think getting some sun exposure is important. It can be especially important depending on your diet; vitamin D2 is most easily found in alfalfa and mushrooms while vitamin D3 is most easily found in fatty fish like catfish, salmon, mackerel, eggs and beef liver. (source) D2 is not a problem for vegetarians or vegans, assuming they eat alfalfa and/or mushrooms, but D3 can be. So I do take advantage of the easiest source of all- the sun- by going for walks with the kids, walking the dogs, jogging in the morning, and running errands throughout the week. After all, lack of vitamin D has been associated with actually contributing to cancer, causing softening of bones, and lower immunity. Vitamin supplements can be hard for the body to assimilate. So the best sources are foods rich in the nutrient, and the sun of course. (source)

However, if I know I will be in the sun (direct sun) for longer than 30 minutes straight I put on sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher. One, I don't want to deal with an uncomfortable burn. Two, whether or not it is true burns increase your chance of getting skin cancer, I do believe a sunburn changes the make up of skin cells, and over time those permanent changes have to manifest as something. 

But enough about me, back to the husband. Yesterday he was digging out what will eventually be our driveway, and my father in law was here to help. (By the way, can I just say I am SO excited to be getting a driveway! Very grateful :) Chris (my husband) as per usual wore no sun protection whatsoever. No hat, no sunglasses, no SPF. He didn't even wear a shirt. My father in law didn't wear any sun protection either, but I think his skin has adjusted to all the exposure he gets as he is pretty brown, even in the dead of winter. He never seems to be burned red, although that doesn't mean his skin has no permanent damage. 

They were outside in direct sun for at least 5-6 hours. Chris came in lobster red, unsurprisingly. I proceeded to berate him as he dug out the aloe vera gel from the bathroom closet. While applying a topical treatment like aloe can help to temporarily soothe the burn, that burn could have easily been prevented, I told him. (I know, I sound like a mom...) He of course used this statement and my passion for nutrition against me. Ha. He googled foods that help to protect the skin from the sun from the inside out, and has been gorging himself on those foods. Here is what we discovered. 

Certain antioxidants have the ability to prevent and treat damage from ultraviolet radiation, specifically vitamins C and E. Thing is, you have to have these nutrients in your body at the same time for them to do their work. (source) So what foods contain these vitamins? Well most foods only contain one or the other, not both, so some combining has to be involved. Foods high in vitamin C include strawberries, Acerola cherries, citrus, papayas, black currants, kiwi, bell peppers, and guava. (source) Foods high in vitamin E include various oils, seeds, nuts, and legumes (peanuts), as well as broccoli, spinach, kiwi, mango and tomato. (source) Almonds, being the best whole-food source of the nutrient, specifically have 35% of your daily value of vitamin E. (source)

Also, lycopene is powerful in protecting skin against damage from the sun, being an antioxidant and free radical scavenger. It is abundant in tomatoes, as well as watermelon, papaya, grapefruit and guava. (source) The catch with tomatoes is that it is bound to indigestible fiber in raw tomatoes. To get enough lycopene for it to have any true affect, one would have to ingest 3.5 oz of tomato paste a day. (I don't think that's all that much, but I love tomato sauce.) The reason lycopene is so good for skin is that it is fat soluble, and skin is a fat lipid-rich organ. (source)

To apply what he discovered in an attempt to treat his burn, Chris has been eating tomato, avocado, sunflower seeds, spinach, strawberries, mango and oranges. He made a salad of avocado, tomato and sunflower seeds. I made him a smoothie of spinach, banana, almond milk and strawberries. We also went to the store to pick up more avocado, papaya, mango and watermelon, so he can continue to feed his skin. (I should mention, he usually eats lots of fruit anyway. He is just focusing on eating to treat an ailment at the moment.) He does not like whole (or chopped) raw almonds, so he checked our almond milk and discovered it has 50% of your daily value of vitamin E in an 8 oz serving, so he drank 16 oz in one go. 

The thing is, while it is possible to consume enough of certain nutrients in order to prevent the damage, he is not eating enough of them regularly to make a difference that he could forgo protection altogether, and we probably eat more fruits and vegetables than most people. While eating like this won't turn back the clock and and reverse his sunburn, it can't hurt. At the very least, he is feeding his cells nutrients they would need for other functions, if not to repair and protect his skin.   'Course, I would still prefer he use some SPF on days when he is going to be out in the sun for hours at a time. One battle at a time. 


  1. Could you convince him to just slather on an oil like coconut oil on that has an SPF instead of trying to sell him on sunscreen?

    1. I offered to come up with a homemade recipe with coconut oil, cocoa butter or shea butter and something that naturally has SPF (I read somewhere that carrot seed oil and red raspberry oil both do), but it's the slathering on and the feel of it that he hates... :-/

    2. Ay, there's the rub. Or not.

  2. Oh boys! They never listen. You're a good wife though- this burn should teach him

  3. Ha, let's hope! And thanks for visiting and commenting :)

  4. Fascinating! There's so much here I didn't know...thank you for sharing!