One in five Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Pair these foods with safe sun practices — sunscreen is a must! — for an extra layer of solar protection.
Kick back in your beach chair with a cold-brew coffee in hand. Drinking four cups of java a day may cut your risk of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — by 25 percent compared to forgoing coffee, according to a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. And coffee may help prevent other types of skin cancer too. Scientists believe that the main benefit comes from the caffeine, which guards skin cells against sun damage and prevents them from turning cancerous. Animal studies have also shown protective effects from several other components in coffee, including polyphenols.
Get red tomatoes (not red-faced).
Use summer's abundance of this fruit to your advantage. A British study found that people were less susceptible to sunburn after eating 1/4 cup of tomato sauce daily for 12 weeks. (Even one bad burn ups your risk for skin cancer.) Bonus: The sauce was made with olive oil, which may help your body absorb more of the beneficial carotenoids. These natural compounds that give tomatoes their red glow also protect the plant from the sun's harsh rays. Researchers suspect eating them may have a similar effect on our own skin. Plus, recent research in mice suggests that eating a serving of tomatoes daily slashes nonmelanoma skin cancer rates by half.
Head to the C.
Vitamin C isn't just for fending off colds. UV rays produce free radicals — unstable compounds in your body that can damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to skin cancer. Vitamin C, however, neutralizes those free radicals. German researchers found that people who got 180 mg per day of this nutrient (the amount in half a large yellow bell pepper or 2 cups of strawberries) improved their skin's free-radical scavenging activity by 37 percent. And in existing cases of melanoma, studies have found that vitamin C may slow tumor growth.
Be smart about sunscreen.
Apply it right. Most docs recommend lotion over sprays. (It's harder to get adequate, consistent coverage with a spray, especially outdoors on a windy beach. Still, it's better than nothing!) Use about an ounce (almost a golf-ball-size amount) and reapply after two hours or right after swimming. Pro tip: Put sunblock on at home before you pull your swimsuit on so you hit everything.
Hit the SPF sweet spot.
Most people under-apply sunscreen, cutting its effectiveness in half, so go with an SPF of at least 30. But know that grabbing the 150 isn't necessarily better. SPFs over 50 offer only marginally more sun protection than those in the 30 to 50 range, and experts say a high SPF can lull you into a false sense of security, so you might not use enough.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)