8 Must-Add Sun Protective Foods to Safeguard You From the Summer Rays

Berries, carrots, and more.

<p>Alexander Spatari/Getty Images</p>

Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

As the warm summer months approach, so do the threats of sun damage and painful sunburns. But did you know that certain nutrients (and foods) can actually help protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays? While there’s no excuse to skip the sunscreen on sunny summer days (and all year-round, really), adding sun-protective foods to your diet can help further defend against sun damage. 

Here, we’ll highlight the nutrients and foods that have been proven to provide natural sun protection from the inside out!

Related: 8 Foods That Help Alleviate Allergy Symptoms

Nutrients That Provide Natural Sun Protection

When it comes to sun-protective nutrients, there’s actually quite a few of them within the diet. Vitamins C, E, B3 (also known as niacin), omega-3 fatty acids, a handful of plant compounds, and astaxanthin can all help to naturally protect our skin from damaging UV light. Here’s a look into the evidence:

Vitamin C

You may already be aware of the immune-boosting power of vitamin C, but this buzzworthy vitamin is also one of the best-known skin protectors. As an antioxidant, this micronutrient helps to fight off the free radical molecules that can be triggered by too much sun exposure, putting us at risk for certain skin concerns, like cancer. “Vitamin C also increases collagen synthesis, which contributes to skin appearance and health. And if free radicals do end up damaging collagen cells, vitamin C can assist in making replacement cells,” says Megan Hilbert, MS, RDN, registered dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching.

Vitamin E

As another potent antioxidant, vitamin E also offers plenty of natural sunblock properties. “Vitamin E can prevent inflammatory damage after UV exposure like swelling, redness, thickness, and edema,” says Hilbert. You’ll find this vitamin in plenty of skin care products, too, as most sun-protective nutrients work topically as well. Plus, there’s plenty of research to back these claims, further illustrating the sun-protective power of vitamin E.


Niacin or vitamin B3 also deserves mention here as an effective nutrient for keeping skin healthy. This vitamin goes by a few names, depending on the form it's in, including niacinamide and nicotinamide – but don’t let semantics confuse you, they’re all the same skin-benefitting micronutrient. “Niacinamide can rebuild healthy skin cells while also protecting them from free radical damage due to UV radiation,” explains Hilbert. This vitamin may be effective for lightening dark spots and increasing collagen production, too. “Niacin is also a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide hydrogen (NADH), and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP), which are molecules that play an important role in repairing DNA that is damaged – including in the skin,” Hilbert adds.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Though often touted for their heart health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids also help to promote glowing, protected skin. These fats aid in not only normal skin function and appearance, but evidence has also shown that they offer UV photoprotection, helping you to steer clear of damage and melanoma.


As the pigment that gives salmon and shrimp their signature pink color, astaxanthin offers much more than just a beautiful hue—it also supports our skin health! As another antioxidant, it protects against UV-induced premature aging and damage that can lead to cancer.

Plant Compounds

And finally, we have a whole host of plant compounds that support the skin, including polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene. Polyphenol is actually the overarching term for most plant compounds including flavonoids, whereas carotenoids are a group of plant pigments. Regardless of these classification details, all are skin protective as impressive antioxidants. There’s plenty of evidence illustrating this benefit, including this 2016 study, a 2021 review, and an overview from Oregon State University.

Related: The 30 Healthiest Foods to Eat Every Day

8 Sun Protective Foods to Embrace

So without further ado, here are eight of the best summer sunblock foods that are both delicious and nourishing for the entire body—especially the skin.


Whether it’s raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, goji berries, cranberries, or otherwise, all berries help you stay protected in the sun (in combination with sunscreen). This is thanks to their vitamin C, flavonoid (and thus polyphenol), and carotenoid content. And thankfully, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy these beloved fruits. They make for the perfect simple snack on their own, or are delicious added to smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, baked goods, jams, sauces, and so much more.

Green Tea

While green tea offers a welcome, yet gentle, boost of caffeine, this popular beverage is also associated with so many health benefits—including better protected skin. This is thanks to the multitude of plant compounds it contains, including polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins. In fact, a 2015 study found the catechins in green tea to be associated with UV protection and reduced skin inflammation. However, if tea isn’t your jam, coffee has been found to have very similar benefits due to its equally impressive plant compound content.


It may not come as a shock to hear that carrots are a great source of skin-boosting carotenoids given the similarities between their names. But, these root veggies also contain notable amounts of polyphenols, vitamin C, and niacin, making them a skin superfood. The subtly sweet flavor of carrots pair perfectly in both sweet and savory dishes, from baked goods and smoothies, to stews, soups, and roasts.


When trying to include more omega-3s in your daily routine, many immediately turn to salmon as one of the best sources of these fatty acids. This popular fish is also rich in astaxanthin, niacin, and vitamin E—a major bonus when skin health is a top priority. There’s so many ways to deliciously prepare this fish including roasting, grilling, searing, or baking, and it melds nicely with a variety of different seasonings and spices, too!


As if we needed another reason to love chocolate, cacao and cocoa are excellent sources of antioxidant-rich polyphenols, helping to protect our skin from sun damage. This is illustrated in the research, with this 2016 study published in The Journal of Nutrition finding cocoa to offer not only sun protection, but positive effects on skin elasticity and wrinkles. While we likely don’t need to offer suggestions on how to enjoy this well-loved indulgence, opting for lower-sugar options like dark chocolate is a great way to reap the benefits of chocolate without so much added sugar.


Tomato season just so happens to perfectly align with the high UV summer months. And how ironic given these bright beauties also offer natural sunblock through their polyphenol, carotenoid (like lycopene), and vitamin C content. Whether you add them to salads, soups, sauces, or pastas, it’s hard to go wrong with a perfectly ripe tomato.

Chia Seeds

These tiny seeds have skyrocketed in popularity over the last few decades thanks to their impressive nutrition profile. The omega-3 fatty acids, polyphenols like flavonoids, niacin, and vitamin E in chia seeds benefit our immune, heart, and metabolic health while also protecting our skin. Chia seeds are super tasty in smoothies, overnight oats, chia pudding, and baked goods.

Related: How to Make Chia Pudding, Plus 5 Recipes With Chia Seeds

Bell Peppers

All peppers, but especially bell peppers, have a very similar nutritional profile to tomatoes, making them another great sun-protective choice. Full of vitamin C, lycopene, and flavonoids, bell peppers make for a delicious salad topper, romesco sauce base, or stir fry addition.

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