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Ways to protect yourself from skin cancer from the inside out

Girl on the beach in the sun

Skin cancer is the 5th most common cancer in the UK with approximately 16,000 new melanoma skin cancer cases reported in the UK every year, that's 44 every day! (2014-2016).

Adding to this, since the early 1990s, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have more than doubled (134%) in the UK. Doubling in females (100%) and almost tripling in males (181%)!

Courtesy of global warming we are experiencing some of the best summer weather we’ve seen in the UK in decades. Despite its origin, it’s lovely to be able to enjoy the summer months outside, swim in British waters without risking hypothermia and enjoy more than one meal outside a year. As a nation not readily accustomed to the challenges of a hotter (albeit fleeting) climate however, we need to get real about the risks we’re taking with our skin.


Let’s be honest we’re all guilty of getting caught out now and again. You forget the sun cream or stay out too long and before you know it you’re lobster pink and dodging the hot water in the shower to avoid the inevitable pain that follows.

You should know though that skin cancer is three times higher in people who have been sunburned once every two years or 10 times in a decade compared with people that have never been sunburned. This risk is increased regardless whether your sunburn happened in childhood or adulthood.

How your diet can help

In the same way an unhealthy diet has a negative effect on your health and skin, a diet rammed full of antioxidant-rich foods that reduce inflammation and free radicals can help protect your body from sunburn and the skin damage caused by UV rays.

In no way taking away from the importance of applying daily sunscreen here’s how your diet can offer beneficial additional skin UV-ray protection:


Studies show that excessive drinking is associated with higher rates of sunburn. And no, this is not because people drink too much and pass out on the beach, it’s because breakdown products (metabolites) of alcohol generate massive numbers of free radicals which in turn eat up the antioxidants that protect our skin from the sun.

For example, if you were to drink three shots of straight vodka, within eight minutes, yes, minutes, not weeks, the level of carotenoid antioxidants in your skin drops so dramatically it exposes you to a greater risk of skin damage and sunburn. Drink the same amount of vodka in orange juice and your level of antioxidants will still drop but not to the same extent, buying you more time.

So if you’re lying in the sun try and avoid alcohol instead opting for a berry smoothie or green juice and save the alcohol for later. If you can’t do without however then aim for a strawberry daiquiri or make your mixer a fresh orange, pomegranate or cranberry juice – no hardship really..

Eat more plants

Plants have their own built in cellular defence against the sun’s oxidative damage, which makes total sense when you think about the amount of time they are exposed. What’s great however, is that when we eat plants, it’s possible to inherit some of these cell protector qualities from them.

Some key choices are:-


The phytochemical lycopene found in tomatoes packs a powerful antioxidant punch against UV skin damage as it helps stabilise #DNA structures in the nuclei of the skin cells.

One UK study found that subjects who supplemented their diets with 55g of tomato paste daily for 12 weeks were 40% less likely to get sunburn than the control group tested.

Not a big tomato fan… then try watermelon instead, on average it has 40% more lycopene than tomatoes, other good sources include red and pink grapefruit, guava, papaya and blood oranges.


As well as being high in free-radical busting vitamin C (which also stimulates collagen synthesis, important for maintaining the elasticity of the skin and anti-ageing), berries are abundant in a wide array of big-gun cancer fighting phytochemicals. The most important of which include anthocyanins and flavonoids which are highly antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, are involved in healthy cell regulation and the protection or cells against ultra violet radiation.

High up the list are blueberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, cranberries, elderberries, raspberries. Aim for the whole fruit as the majority of these magical compounds are found in the skin.

Green leafy vegetables

If it’s green and its leafy it should be on your shopping list.

Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and swiss chard are chock full of polyphenols and carotenoids which provide an antioxidant army of defence against free-radicals and sun damage.

One study showed a that high intake greatly decreased risk of reoccurance in squamous cell carcinoma patients.

Fresh herbs are also fantastic sources of these compounds – specifically parsley, basil, sage and rosemary.

Let’s also not forget cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower which along with a whole host of amazing health benefits, are renowned cancer prevention properties not only in the skin but in a number of other organs as well.

The superstar of the lot however is Broccoli sprouts, also in the cruciferous family, which are high in sulforaphane, which numerous research shows inhibits UV radiation damage and tumour progression in skin.


Originating from leafy green plants, it’s no surprise that green and black teas are loaded with polyphenols. These compounds can help stop cancerous cells developing by limiting the blood supply to the affected area.

Green tea in particular has been found to prevent non-melanoma skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair.

Those who regularly drink green tea (at least 1 cup per day) have a lower incidence of melanoma.


Micro-algae such as spirulina and chlorella contain the antioxidant astaxanthin shown to protect your skin and eyes from UV radiation and inhibit UVB-induced skin inflammatory response and carcinogenesis.

Spirulina is also one of the richest sources of the antioxidant powerhouse beta carotene. In fact, it has ten times the level found in carrots! Beta carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A and has natural photoprotective properties against UV skin damage and is linked to a reduced reaction to sunburn. Other good sources include sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, mango and apricots.

Tip: if you’re not a fan of the taste of Spirulina (let’s face it, I’m not sure anyone is…), hide it a smoothie, add berries or a banana and you’ll never know it’s there.


Before you go reaching for the Cadbury’s, I’m sorry to say it has to be dark chocolate. The darker the better – 70% or higher if you have a taste for it.

Dark chocolate is full of flavanoids which improve the skin’s ability protect against some types of skin damage, including UV-induced issues like sun burns. They also help to keep the skin hydrated, increase oxygen saturation and boost blood flow.

One study found that people who consumed one ounce of high percentage dark chocolate every day for three months had double the tolerance to UVB rays before their skin started to turn red, compared to those that didn’t.

So there you have it, as well as putting on your daily sunscreen protection add as many as the above to your diet during the summer months for added protection from the sun and healthy, glowing, sun-kissed skin.



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