Sunburns can range from tender, pink skin to painful blisters accompanied by nausea and fever. They're known to contribute to premature aging and cancer. Vitamins, when combined with sunscreen and protective clothing, can lessen the sun's damaging effects. Vitamins might even ease the symptoms of an existing sunburn, but MedlinePlus reminds you that once you're burnt, the damage is already done.
Although research is limited, both dietary and topical vitamin C could help protect against sunburns. Vitamin C offers antioxidant properties from ascorbic acid and plays a role in collagen synthesis. These antioxidant properties protect the skin against the free radicals from UV damage. The Linus Pauling Institute states that vitamin C also helps protect DNA from UV-related damage. In addition, it increases the survival rate of cells exposed to UV rays. Taking a vitamin C supplement as well as applying topical vitamin C oil might lessen the severity of sunburns. For the most effective protection, New York University recommends using vitamin C in addition to sunscreen, not as a replacement.
When combined with vitamin C and sunscreen, the antioxidant properties of vitamin E may offer some relief from sunburns. Applying vitamin E oil on an existing sunburn may potentially aid recovery, says MedlinePlus. Vitamin E absorbs UV rays, however, and should not be used as a sunscreen.
Your body relies on sun exposure to produce vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D allows your body to absorb calcium, which helps prevent osteoporosis, and it might reduce the risk of cancer. Aim to consume 1,000 milligrams of vitamin D per day. Harvard School of Public Health states that 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure on your arms and legs a few times a week could be enough for your body to produce adequate vitamin D under the right circumstances. Although it sounds counterintuitive, a study published in 2011 in "MedlinePlus" says that sun exposure to increase vitamin D production could lessen the risk of sunburn and UV-induced tumors.
Other Helpful Nutrients
Lycopene -- found in tomatoes and watermelon -- can help protect your skin from UV damage, as can resveratrol, which is found in red wine and red grapes. Other helpful nutrients include omega-3 fatty acids and astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is an antioxidant found in certain types of algae, but you can get it in your diet by eating the organisms that dine on it, such as salmon and shrimp.
Although vitamins and nutrients can offer you some relief and protection from sunburn, don't abandon caution. High-SPF sunscreen, gauzy clothing and minimal sun exposure during peak hours are your best bets for protection. UV-protection sunglasses and lip balms also help keep your body happy and healthy.
- MedlinePlus: Sunburn
- Harvard Health Publications: Time for More Vitamin D
- Harvard Health Publications: Vitamin D: Enjoying Its Day in the Sun
- Cancer Prevention Research: Vitamin D and a Nongenomic Vitamin D Analogue Inhibit Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Skin Carcinogenesis
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin C and Skin Health
- New York University: Sunburn
- DermNet NZ: Topical Vitamin C
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin E
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E and Skin Health
- Mark's Daily Apple: 8 Natural Ways to Prevent a Sunburn (And Sunscreen’s Not One of Them)