There’s a strong link between increased exposure to ultraviolet rays, premature skin aging and even skin cancer. In Canada, the UV index can reach moderate to high levels from April to September. Applying sunscreen regularly to parts of the body exposed to the sun, wearing long clothing and hats as well as limiting your time exposed to UV rays when the sun is at its peak are just a few strategies to protect your skin from the potentially harmful effects of this star which warms our days. What's more, recent studies have shown that diet may play a protective role against exposure to UV rays. Let’s shed some light on the subject.
UVB rays increase skin aging
Damage caused to the skin by ultraviolet rays, particularly UVB rays, can affect the skin’s function and structure. Whenever the skin is affected by these rays, inflammation ensues, altering certain functions of the skin. In the long term, these UV rays can cause a phenomenon called photoaging, which damages the dermis and epidermis of the skin and makes it thicker, wrinkled and dark. These changes in the structure and function of the skin also increase the risk of skin cancer.
Is there good nutrition to protect the skin?
When the skin comes into contact with UV rays, free radicals are released into cells and can cause damage. A free radical is a very unstable and reactive molecule that has one unpaired electron. This electron will search for stability and doesn’t hesitate to use the oxygen atoms of other neighbouring molecules, which can be one of the factors responsible for the skin’s premature aging. Antioxidants, on the other hand, are compounds that can minimize the effects of these molecules by countering their rather unstable activity and decreasing the number of free radicals present in the intracellular space (inside the cells), thus helping to protect against UV rays.
Vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, and polyphenols are all micronutrients that act as antioxidants. Vitamin C is found in vibrantly-coloured vegetables and fruits, such as peppers, lemon, cabbage, strawberries, etc. Vitamin E and vitamin A, are found, among other things, in eggs and butter. Selenium is found in fish, eggs, meats and many more. Zinc is found in seafood, meat, wholemeal bread, green vegetables, etc. Lastly, polyphenols are found in fruits and vegetables, wine, tea, and more.
According to a 2019 study conducted on mice, published in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, sphingomyelin supplementation is associated with a reduction in the UV rays’ ability to deteriorate skin cells. To explain this phenomenon, the authors specify that taking a sphingomyelin supplement reduces the skin’s permeability, which is reflected in a reduction in water loss in the skin caused by UV rays. A diet rich in foods containing sphingomyelin may therefore prove to be protective against damage caused by UV rays. Eggs, meat, dairy products, and fish are all foods that contain sphingomyelin, which is actually a component of animal cells. This research has yet to be validated in humans, but everything looks very promising.
UV rays reduce the skin’s elasticity by increasing the loss of water through the skin. This effect occurs when the skin is chronically struck by UVB-type rays. Researchers have indicated that collagen hydrolysate may be beneficial to protect the skin from sun damage. This compound is obtained by breaking the bonds that go into the composition of gelatin that is naturally present in the body’s different tissues, such as bones, dermis, cartilage and tendons in animals. Again, this promising research strengthens the link between sun photoaging of skin and healthy eating.
Bacteria and lactic acid
Fermented products contain many bacteria which have positive effects on health. Experimental studies on mice demonstrated a positive effect of the lactic acid bacteria Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus where the authors observed that fermented milk was associated with increased repair of DNA damage caused by sunlight. These two bacterial species are generally used in making yogurt. It’s obtained by adding these two bacteria to milk ingredients so that they secrete lactic acid, thus promoting the coagulation of the milk. It’s therefore possible that yogurt, a fermented food, as well as its various compounds, can partly explain the beneficial effects observed at the cellular level and that its consumption is encouraged to prevent the skin from photoaging.
In conclusion, although several studies on photoaging are still in the experimental stage, the inclusion of certain foods/supplements in one's diet seems to be a promising avenue to counter the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. Although summer is the perfect season to have fun outdoors, don't forget that the sun - and its rays - are present all year round, even on a cold or cloudy day. Some skiers can even get sunburns—also called actinic erythema—on their faces in the middle of winter! You should therefore not forget to protect your skin on beautiful sunny winter days in order to avoid possible burns.
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier
Morifuji, M. (2019). The beneficial role of functional food components in mitigating ultraviolet‐induced skin damage. Experimental dermatology, 28, 28-31.
Horiuchi, H., & Sasaki, Y. (2012). Effect of oxygen on symbiosis between Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Journal of dairy science, 95(6), 2904-2909.