Sun Safe Foods: Beta-Carotene for Internal Sun Protection
In Part 3 of our Sun Safe Foods Series with Dr. Will Clower we’re heading to the garden for some fresh veggies. Carrots specifically, as well as yellow and orange peppers, are packed with beta-carotene, an unsaturated hydrocarbon that gives these veggies their warm, bright pigments as well as help us get the vitamin A we need. In addition, beta-carotene is great for internal sun protection!
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, eat too many carrots and your skin will turn a slight shade of orange. This condition is called carotenemia, and happens because the beta-carotene you eat, those same ones that give carrots their vibrant orange color, get deposited in your skin. Step away from the sweet potatoes, carrots, and beta-carotene-packed veggies for a few days and your skin will go back to its normal undertone. However that same beta-carotene is also responsible for delivering an internal dose of sun protection to your skin! Beta-carotenes found in all yellow and orange veggies, as well as kale and leafy greens, absorb both natural and artificial UV radiation, which is the same function of the naturally occurring melanin in your skin.
While you’re munching on your carrots, you might want to add something red to your plate as well. Tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, and cooked tomatoes all have another species of carotene called lycopene. The equivalent of 2.5 tablespoons of tomato paste (16 mg lycopene) over 8 weeks can produce measurable protection from sunburn.
Before you reach for supplements to get your daily dose of beta-carotene know this: Recent studies have found that high dose pills actually increase the risk of lung cancer among those who smoke. Lesson? Whole food sources are your best option! So include orange and red foods like tomatoes, carrots, and squash every chance you get, to boost your skin’s ability to prevent damaging sunburn.