Summer – everyone’s favorite season! Except those of us with fair skin… We burn, we freckle, we worry about lasting damage.
Yes, there are supplements and superfoods that can help.
First of all, let’s be clear: nothing is going to take the place of a healthy dose of avoidance. Seek shade, especially during those really fierce hours around noon. And use a good sunblock that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, made with natural ingredients that actually nourish and heal the skin.
And then, make green tea part of your daily routine.
Before we even get to sun protection, let me just say that green tea daily is one of our most health-promoting foods or beverages in general. It promotes a healthy heart and blood vessels, healthy brain, healthy liver, healthy immune system, healthy blood sugar, and healthy metabolism. The research connecting green tea to cancer prevention is equally impressive. There’s very little, it seems, that green tea won’t do for us.
(You want to talk broad-spectrum benefits? How about a study published last year in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, which found that a daily green tea supplement protected workers near high-voltage power lines from DNA damage caused by those electromagnetic fields? Not a small study, either: it tracked 867 workers for 12 months).
(Or another study from last year which found that daily green tea supplements helped people get in shape. Middle-aged non-athletes were assigned to train twice a week, and take green tea supplements (or placebo) daily for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks, the green tea group had made more progress with their training: they could go longer without running out of breath, and their muscles recovered faster after exercise).
So ANYWAYS – yes, green tea is awesome. And specifically when it comes to sun protection, there’s a fair amount research and almost all of it is positive. We see numerous clinical trials (like here, here, and here) where green tea daily, over time, builds up resistance to ultraviolet light. People take longer to burn, and they heal faster from those burns. Perhaps most important, ultraviolet light – whether or not it’s enough to burn, or even notice – does less cellular damage. Why does this matter? Cellular damage caused by ultraviolet light leads to skin aging, wrinkles, and yes, skin cancer.
Just for the sake of balance, there was also one trial where green tea didn’t work to prevent sun damage – but bear with me here – it actually sort of did. 50 people were randomized to either take green tea pills twice a day, or placebo, for three months. Afterwards, the green tea group needed 40% more exposure to ultraviolet light before they burned. Unfortunately, the researchers decided that the trial was too small for the results to be statistically significant. (Which begs the question: why conduct a trial at all when a 40% improvement won’t be statistically significant?).
Anyways, now here’s the bad news: most of these studies used in the ballpark of 500 mg a day of polyphenols (the major antioxidant in green tea). That’s about five cups’ worth. Although I’m sure you’d still see benefits with lower doses.
Or you can do pills. Depending on the brand, even a single pill a day can get you there. And the nice thing is, if you’re doing something concentrated to 95% polyphenols, it’s at least 95% caffeine free.
Beyond Green Tea, we’ve seen some evidence research that moderate- to high-dose fish oil (again, over time) can reduce the tendency to sunburn. In one very small, open-label trial, 3 months of fish oil (900 mg EPA, 600 mg DHA) increased UV-to-burn by 75%. It’s also believed that food antioxidants – all the rich, brightly colored compounds in fruits and vegetables; the stuff that can really stain your clothing – may have a protective effect over time
Iced Green Tea recipe (makes ½ gallon)
4 Tbsp high quality green tea leaves (Debra’s favorite green tea is matcha!)
2 Tbsp other herb or spice of your choosing, optional.
(I like lemon thyme especially, although that may be an acquired taste)
½ gallon water
Honey and lemon to taste
Boil 2 cups of the water, and pour over the tea leaves and other herbs, which are optional. Let sit a few minutes, then add the rest of the water. Keeps in the fridge at least half a week.
… Adam Stark
 In other words, you can’t just take it the day you go to the beach. You need to build up for a few weeks at least.
 And by “cups,” I mean literally 8-oz servings. It should be noted, however, that most of the research out of China and Japan that references “cups” is referring to those little tea cups from the Chinese restaurant – around 4 ounces each.