Summer is here, and it’s time to take advantage of being outside! Despite the myriad benefits of being in nature, sometimes fun in the sun can be a bit hard on our skin. But we aren’t here to join your mom in reminding you to wear sunscreen. We’d like to go deeper and explore how what you eat – omega 3 fatty acids, to be specific – can get beneath surface and protect your skin from the inside out!
Omega 3s are a class of essential fatty acids that are beneficial but cannot be manufactured in our bodies; we must obtain them from our diet. They occur most abundantly in cold-water fish, certain nuts & seeds, and grassfed meat & dairy (yippee!). Grassfed cows, in contrast to grain-fed cows, produce milk and meat that is significantly higher in omega 3s – sometimes up to four times more! Amongst their many benefits, omega 3s are anti-inflammatory and have been shown in studies to have protective value for your skin, especially with sun exposure. Here’s how…
#1. Omega 3s help reduce your risk of sunburn
Some of the omega 3s that you ingest through food and/or supplements get deposited in your skin. Various human studies have indicated that higher omega 3 levels can increase your sunburn threshold. That means, the more omega 3s you consume the longer your skin can withstand sun exposure without burning. According to Dr. Will Clower, one study showed that “after the omega-3 fatty acids had been incorporated into the skin, the amount of UV-B needed to produce a sun burn more than doubled” (source). In combination with appropriate sunscreen, this is a powerful impact on protecting your skin from burning!
#2. Omega 3s have an anti-aging effect
Because omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, they reduce the inflammation associated with damaging UV rays when sun exposure has occurred. Ultimately, as one study concludes, this confers “protection against UV-induced cutaneous damage” (source) – the kind of damage that can lead over time to wrinkles, discoloration, and other signs of skin aging.
#3. Omega 3s reduce your risk of skin cancer
Here’s one that everyone should pay attention to! Studies on both mice and humans have shown that omega 3s can delay the growth of cancerous spots and tumors caused by UV exposure. One study in particular found benefit to omega 3 fats over omega 6 fats, which tend to be more abundant in our modern diets and in dairy or meat from grain-fed cattle. According to the results, “Hairless mice fed corn oil rich in omega-6 PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) exhibited reduced latency and increased numbers of skin tumors after exposure to UVR, while in contrast, mice fed a diet supplemented with menhaden oil, rich in omega-3 PUFA, exhibited increased latency and decreased tumor multiplicity” (source).
Another study, published in the journal Carcinogenesis, concluded, “Our results indicate that omega-3 fatty acids in HFFO diet have beneficial effects against UVB-induced skin carcinogenesis, and these effects may be associated with an inhibition on UVB-induced inflammatory response” (source).
So this summer, be sure to enjoy plenty of grassfed dairy while you are enjoying time in the sun! While grassfed dairy alone is probably not sufficient to give you adequate omega 3 levels, in combination with other real food sources and possibly supplementation, it is an important part of having healthy, vibrant skin this summer and for years to come!