Last summer caffeine broke into the news as a possible weapon in the fight against the damage and cancer caused by the skin’s exposure to UV rays. Now, as we trade our running tights for shorts and strip off to our t-shirts and tanks, it looks like it’s the tomato we need for our added sun-protective boost.
According to a study presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology in April, cooked tomatoes, and their high concentration of lycopene, may help protect the skin against the damage and aging caused by UV light.
Researchers at the University of Manchester and Newcastle University in the UK fed 10 people five tablespoons of standard tomato paste with olive oil a day, while another 10 were given only olive oil. The participants’ skin was exposed to UV light at the beginning of the trial and after 12 weeks, when the team found that skin of those who were given the tomato paste each day was more able to protect itself against the UV rays.
The researchers at the University of Manchester found that the tomato diet raised levels of procollagen in the skin and researchers at Newcastle University found that more lycopene, a red pigment in tomatoes that works as an antioxidant, led to decreased damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin—both effects that are linked to a reduction in skin aging.
So, it’s all the more reason to feast on our high-carb pasta plates with healthy helpings of Bolognese. But realistically, the protection this study found only equates to an SPF 1.3. Professor Mark Birch-Machim at Newcastle University points out, “Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun, but it may be a useful addition to sun protection along with sunscreens, shade and clothing.”
My husband is British and ever since I’ve known him he’s always joked, “a little sunburn’s OK—it shows you’ve been somewhere good on holiday” right before he’s smothered himself in SPF 45 under my watchful eye. We’d both rather have a medal or a t-shirt than sunburn and skin cancer to show for our training accomplishments on race day.