Can Food or Supplements protect you from the Sun?

Besides slip, slop, slap, seek and slide factors, can food or supplements protect you from the harsh reality of our African sun? Dr Sandi Nye believes that they can.

An ice-cold drink in a tall, frosted glass or a fruity sorbet will help keep you cool, but how about adding some protection from the summer sun… from the inside? Here, in alphabetical order, are my top 10 tips on what to pop in your mouth or down your throat.

  1. Astaxanthin is a potent anti-oxidant and UVA-damage protecting compound. It is found in algae and the ‘pink-fleshed’ creatures that eat it, like salmon and shrimp.
  2. Carotene-rich carrots and other carotenoid-rich foods like dark green leafy vegetables (which also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin) help to protect the skin against sunburn – so get your veggie juice down the hatch daily!
  3. Chocolate – not the sugar-laden milk variety, but real dark 70 – 80% chocolate! A few squares a day have great anti-oxidant properties, plus claiming to protect you from skin cancer and sunburn. And if you’re not a sun-worshipper, and thereby miss out on feel-good pineal gland stimulation, this delicious treat should lift your spirits anyway!
  4. Lycopene is the red carotenoid and anti-oxidant found in tomatoes (and watermelon), which is particularly bio-available in cooked tomatoes and tomato paste (with olive oil). If you don’t enjoy them as foods, mashed cold tomato or watermelon, along with cucumber, makes very soothing anti-inflammatory masques or poultices for sunburn.
  5. Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids, plentiful in the vitamin D-rich fish mentioned above, have many other virtues. A recent study related to DHA and EPA and p53 expression indicates that a good intake of omega-3 could provide some UV resistance to skin.1 There’s also an interesting animal study that hypothesises about the value of certain saturated fats (butter, and coconut and palm oils) as opposed to polyunsaturated fats in terms of UV resistance and prevention of melanoma tumour development.2
  6. Proanthocyanidins are the yummy compounds found in wine, grape seeds and blueberries, among other foods. So whether you prefer to take these compounds in fruit, seeds3 or fruit of the vine form, you can lower your risk of skin cancer (particularly squamous cell carcinoma), it seems. Cheers!
  7. Resveratrol, possibly better known for its anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti- ageing, anti-cancer and cardioprotective properties, is also becoming known as a potential photo-protective agent.
  8. Tea, especially green tea and our own indigenous rooibos tea, has potent polyphenols4 and anti-oxidant powers purported to inhibit the development of skin tumours, boost immunity, and keep free radicals at bay. We can indeed be proudly South African when it comes to anti-oxidant compounds in tea,5 since our rooibos tea espresso (Red-espresso®) wins hands down in that category. Red-espresso has a high oxygen radical absorbency capacity (ORAC) value (the value for measuring antioxidants, i.e. a food or beverage’s ability to reduce free radicals in the body). It has five times more antioxidant power than green tea and 10 times more than regular rooibos tea. The topical benefits of tea are also evident when it comes to sunburn remedies.
  9. Vitamin D is an example of Mother Nature at her synergistic best, especially with regard to sun protection from inside and out! Not only do the sun’s rays provide us with the means to synthesise this vitamin, but eating foods rich in it, such as herring, mackerel, tuna, salmon and sardines, also protects us from the effects of too much sun. Loads of shiitake mushrooms, or vitamin D supplements, are an alternative option if fatty fish doesn’t float your boat.
  10. Vitamins A, C and E also have sun- protective properties. For vitamin A, think carrots, sweet potatoes and spinach. For vitamin C, add bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pawpaw and strawberries and top that up with almonds, sunflower seeds, olives and dark green leafy veg for a scrumptious dose of vitamin E.

Bon appétit!


  1. Van der Pols JC, et al. Serum omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and cutaneous p53 expression in an Australian population. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2011;20(3):530-536.
  2. Erickson KL. Dietary fat influences on murine melanoma growth and lymphocyte-mediated cytotoxicity. J Natl Cancer Inst 1984;72(1):115-120.
  3. Asgari MM, et al. Supplement use and risk of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;65(6):1145-1151.
  4. Meeran SM, et al. Inhibition of UVB-induced skin tumor development by drinking green tea polyphenols is mediated through DNA repair and subsequent inhibition of inflammation. J Invest Dermatol 2009;129(5):1258-1270.
  5. Joubert E. Analysis of Tea Extracts for Determination of Total Antioxidant Activity and Soluble Solids. Stellenbosch: ARC-Infruitec/Nietvoorbij, 2005.


Please follow and like us:

Can Food or Supplements protect you from the Sun?

Dr Sandi Nye
About The Author
- Dr, ND. She is a naturopath with a special interest in aromatic and integrative medicine, and is dual-registered with the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa (AHPCSA). She serves as editorial board member and/or consultant for various national and international publications, and is in private practice in Pinelands, Cape Town.