The searing, hot poker-to-the-skin feeling of being sunburned was something I experienced for the first time ever just a couple of weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 23, as a black woman. After a day in the sun, drunk on my own melanin and busy with bikini selfies as usual, I found myself Googling “how to deal with sunburn” — because alas, I didn't take the proper precautions to protect myself (even though that's something everyone should do, no matter how dark you are). I woke up two days after my grand day out with my lower back a shade I never thought I’d see (red) and the skin in that area doing something I’ve never, ever witnessed before (peeling). Luckily, though, I've made a fantastic discovery in the wake of my carelessness: There are actually foods you can eat to soothe a sunburn. Who knew?
To all the friends and family I’ve failed in the past with my lack of sunburn-sympathy: I am sincerely sorry. Sunburn pain is so very real.
If you are battling the burn, there are ways to prevent peeling and induce a tan; of course, though, obviously using sunscreen — even if it's cloudy or overcast — is the number one way to prevent UV damage. However, there’s also a significant amount of research out there to suggest that switching up your diet just a little can help prevent and soothe sunburn. Here's what to load up your plate and glass with to ease the pain:
1. Green Tea
Starting your morning with green tea or matcha tea, iced or hot, is an excellent way to help your skin if it has fallen victim to the piercing rays of the sun. Frida Harju, in-house nutritionist at the health and fitness app Lifesum, tells Bustle that green tea contains natural chemicals and antioxidants that fight free radicals and inflammations of the skin. She explains, "As skin ages and exposure to UV radiation increases, the skin cells lose their ability to regenerate. This is partially down to low antioxidant activity of cells and an increase in free radicals that cause damage to skin. But according to a study by the University of Alabama, drinking green tea can lower the production of melanoma cells (a cancer that starts in the skin cells)." However, she also warned against drinking more than four cups a day to prevent the caffeine contained in the tea leaves from dehydrating your skin.
2. Kiwis And Berries
If eating kiwi and berries in summer comes naturally to you anyway, then this is a bit of additional good news: Strawberries, blackberries, and kiwis all contain high levels of vitamin C which can actually help prevent sunburn. Harju tells Bustle, "The vitamin C and the phytonutrient (the natural chemicals in plants) both act like a natural sunblock which can help prevent you from burning. Your daily dose of vitamin C can be covered in half a cup of strawberries and 1.5 kiwis." A study published in Experimental Dermatology also showed that topical application of creams containing five percent vitamin C can also reverse the effects of sun-damaged skin.
3. White Vinegar
White vinegar has long been touted as a home ready for sunburns; just don't drink it. Harju confirms to Bustle that "spraying this directly on the affected skin or using a compress can soothe sore skin."
Upping your oatmeal intake could benefit your skin in a big way, which is music to our sun burnt ears, of course. Harju tells Bustle that oats "contain a free radical fighting antioxidant called avenanthramides that you can’t find in other foods" — which definitely increases the appeal of a hot bowl of porridge for breakfast in the morning. Oatmeal also works as a topical skin soother, so there's more than one way to take advantage of this common kitchen ingredient.
When you're bored of the berries, another fruit that is high in vitamin C is the mighty guava: One serving of guava contains five times more vitamin C than an orange.
Harju tells Bustle that increasing our carrot intake during summer can help our skin recover more quickly if we've been burnt: "There's significant evidence to suggest that the beta-carotene in carrots, which the body converts to vitamin A, has been linked to reduce reaction to sunburn," she says. Worth noting is that, according to research, beta carotene may not prevent sunburn entirely; however, the research has found that it can lessen sun sensitivity in some people, so hey, it's worth a shot.
As if I needed another excuse to indulge in salsa and chips, I've just learned that tomatoes are actually something of a superfood when it comes to tending to sun damaged skin — and thankfully, we don't have to source the pricey ones on the vine to benefit from their healing properties, either. "All types of tomatoes are full of antioxidants that offer some protection from UV radiation," Harju tells Bustle. "Tomatoes contain vitamin C and lycopene (a powerful type of antioxidant), which helps with fighting free radicals and keeping the skin hydrated — a double win!" Harju also advises cooking your tomatoes; according to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, doing so boosts the absorption of lycopene.
Yay for this type of delicious melon, because apparently, it works just like the mighty tomato. "Watermelon is rich in antioxidants, which limit the UV-radiation on your body," says Harju to Bustle. "It is also full of water, so eat three to four slices a day to keep your skin hydrated during really hot weather."
Who knew sun protection could be so tasty?
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