6 Nutrients to Relieve Your Sunburn

Nothing beats a little tropical vacation time, right? Relaxing in the sand with a good book and some tasty beach snacks… Ah, I miss Florida already. But, if you’re anything like me and maybe overdosed on Vitamin D over Spring Break, you might be dealing with the dreadful cycle of repercussions from sun overexposure: sunburn → dry skin → peeling → back to your pale self. Sometimes no matter what SPF you use or how often you reapply, it is simply not enough to keep the sun’s harmful UV rays at bay. In fact, here I am trying to literally push them away with my bare hands! Spoiler alert: it didn’t work quite like I’d hoped.

Luckily, there are tons of nutrients out there to help prevent burning before you get in the sun and relieve the after-effects if it’s too late for that. If aloe and after-sun lotion aren’t enough, you can find these 6 key nutrients for healing sun-exposed skin in many of your favorite foods!

1. Antioxidants 

These are the superstar of protecting against sun damage because they bind to free radicals to take away their damaging properties. Wait, free what?! Free radicals are dangerous molecules with an extra electron that wants to attack other cells in your body, and they ultimately contribute to increased cancer risk. Think of them as the bully in your elementary school class who picked on everyone because he secretly felt like he had no friends. But that’s where antioxidants come in, like the ultra-nice boy who sat with lonely kids at lunchtime. As soon as the friendly antioxidant joined the mean free radical, they became friends and the free radical bully never picked on another kid in his life! The end.

All analogies aside, antioxidants essentially protect your body from the cancer-inducing effects of cigarette smoke, certain chemicals, and sun exposure. They are abundant in fruits, vegetables, and many other types of food and can also be manifested as other forms of vitamins and chemical compounds. These are some of the most antioxidant-rich foods shown to be beneficial specifically for skincare:

  • Tea (matcha and green teas are known for their high antioxidant
    contents – try them iced when the weather gets warm!)
  • Oatmeal (you can also make a cool face mask or body soak out of this to soothe the sting of sunburn)
  • Berries (especially goji and acai berries – so go check out that trendy new acai bowl restaurant in town!)

2. Carotenoids

The beginning of this word should remind you of CARROTS, which are a good source of which vitamin again? If you remember anything from health class, you might already know the answer: Vitamin A. This vitamin comes in multiple forms and precursors, but the one that is most effective in preventing and treating sunburn is called lycopene. Lycopene is also an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that should reduce some of the sting and redness of sunburn. This chemical is most prominent in tomatoes, and is actually more abundant in processed forms of the fruit (yes, tomatoes are a fruit) like ketchup and tomato juice. So, if you’re legal, you can feel good about enjoying a cold Bloody Mary on the beach now that you know that Clamato is protecting your skin. Other sources of carotenoids include most produce with a yellow-orange color, like:

  • Cantaloupe (great for cubing and snacking on at the beach)
  • Sweet potatoes (try slicing them and making sweet potato toast)
  • Mangoes (nothing better than a juicy mango in paradise)

Since Vitamin A is fat-soluble, try combining these foods with a source of healthy fats like nuts or seeds. Cantaloupe also tastes great with cottage cheese, which is high in protein and super satisfying if you buy a higher fat content.

3. Vitamin E

This vitamin is known for its skin-enhancing effects like smoothing stretch marks, evening skin tone, and healing sunburn. With the help of other antioxidants and Vitamin C, it acts as a photoprotectant, literally shielding your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Many people apply it topically in the form of oil or lotion, but you can also find it in many common foods, including:

  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Avocado

Good sources of Vitamin C to pair it with include citruses like oranges, lemons, and limes; kiwi, which has nearly twice as much Vitamin C per serving as citrus fruits; and bell peppers if you’re looking for something that won’t make your lips pucker.

4. Flavonoids

These substances are responsible for giving many plants their beautiful colors. They also act as antioxidants and are particularly good at absorbing UVB rays, the kind that are most likely to give you sunburn, before they can damage your skin. They are found in a variety of foods and beverages, but here are some of the most potent sources:

  • Dark chocolate (just look for something 70% cocoa or higher to maximize the benefits of the flavonoids and minimize your sugar intake)
  • Green tea (seriously, what can’t this stuff do?)
  • Grapes (for anyone 21+, red wine DOES count! A glass of Merlot anyone?)

5. Omega-3 fatty acids

By now, it’s fairly well-known that the right types of fat are beneficial and in fact will NOT make us fat. Omega-3s are full of benefits, and just one of them is their ability to moisturize skin, keeping it soft and supple. Some clinical studies have even shown it could reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer! What are you waiting for? You don’t need a fat wallet to buy these rich sources of healthy fat:

  • Salmon (if you’re vacationing, why wouldn’t you treat yourself to some fresh seafood?)
  • Flaxseeds and chia seeds (perfect for blending into your smoothie or topping an acai bowl on a hot day!)
  • Walnuts (the perfect crunchy snack to tide you over on the beach between lunch and happy hour appetizers)

6. Ellagic acid

This compound is known for being anti-inflammatory AND anti-carcinogenic. In one study, subjects who consumed supplemental doses of ellagic acid before sun exposure had more hydrated skin, greater skin elasticity, and improved acne compared to subjects who didn’t. An extra plus: many foods that are high in ellagic acid are easily portable, making them perfect for snacking on the beach or by the pool:

  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Berries
  • Walnuts

Don’t forget about water, the key component to staying hydrated while you’re outside and keeping your skin hydrated after sun exposure. If you’re sick of drinking the stuff, try foods with high water content like cucumber or watermelon. Combining sufficient water intake, a quality after-sun lotion, and some of these nutrient-rich foods should have you on your way to healthier, glowing skin in no time.

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