Can your diet actually help to prevent skin damage caused by the sun and environmental pollution? The answer, it turns out, is a definite yes. Especially if you're one of those people who, due to a genetic predisposition, unfortunately experience accelerated skin ageing when exposed to sunlight.
“We are all a result of the interaction between our genes and environmental factors. Our lifestyle, our diet, our levels of physical activity and stress all contribute to modulating our genetic susceptibility," explains Dr. Marcelo Sady, geneticist and general director of the Laboratory Multigene. "For example, the MMP1 genotype is associated with a collagen degradation that is eight times more severe after sun exposure. The COL1A1 genotype is also linked to reduced collagen production, while the absence of genotypes such as SOD2 and CAT compromise the antioxidant capacity of the skin in responding against free radicals."
"While food should not replace proper SPF protection, as the use of sunscreen helps protect against harmful ultraviolet rays and prevent skin cancer and photoageing, diet is nevertheless an important element in making the skin more resistant to environmental factors and avoiding collagen degradation," says medical nutritionist Dr. Marcella Garcez.
Below, we list the foods that Dr. Garcez recommends to strengthen the natural protective qualities of your skin:
A study by the University of Michigan revealed that lycopene, the antioxidant present in tomatoes, can help prevent the harmful effects of sunburn on the skin. Researchers discovered that people who consumed 40g of tomato paste every day (that is, about 16mg of lycopene), were better protected against ultraviolet rays as compared to those who consumed none.
"Tomatoes also contain a pigment called lutein, which reduces harmful free radicals that originate from sun exposure, thus minimising the risk of oxidative stress on the skin," says Dr. Garcez.
Another good source of lycopene is watermelon. “Ultraviolet rays promote the formation of free radicals that damage skin cells. Lycopene acts as a protective shield to defend cells from this attack. Additionally, watermelon is made up of 90 per cent water, which helps to keep your body and your skin hydrated," explains Dr. Garcez.
Rich in antioxidants and Vitamin C, which help to protect the skin from environmental damage, berries also nourish our bodies with the nutrients necessary for the production of skin-supporting proteins, such as collagen and elastin.
Cacao is an excellent source of antioxidants, including polyphenols and catechins, which research has proven to be effective in shielding the skin from sun damage. “Cacao contains four times more polyphenols and catechins than tea. But be careful not to go overboard — stick to a daily dose of 25g to 30g of dark chocolate," says Dr. Garcez.
Rich in antioxidants, black grapes can help to block out ultraviolet rays, thus preventing wrinkles and increasing skin elasticity. “The fruit is also an excellent source of Vitamin E and Vitamin C, which keep the skin hydrated and revitalise skin cells, respectively," says Dr. Garcez. "What's more, black grapes also contain resveratrol, a polyphenol with anti-inflammatory properties."
In addition to these foods, you can also take oral supplements to aid in photoprotection. "Recently, there has been a lot of talk about prebiotics and probiotics associated with skin defense and immunology," says dermatologist Dr. Claudia Marçal. "They function as protectors of the skin's immune cells, helping to preserve the structure and prevent the denaturation of cellular DNA, and in turn, reversing the inflammatory damage caused by overexposure to the sun."
"Oral supplements to take note of include polipodium leucotomus, pycnogenol, astaxanthin, lutein, white and green tea extracts, resveratrol and pomegranate ellagic acid, along with organic silicon Exsynutriment, which improves the appearance of sagging, as well as Bio-Arct for antioxidative action and immunological and mitochondrial energy improvement," concludes Dr. Marçal. "However, they still do not replace topical protectors like sunscreen!"