In addition to slathering on sunscreen every two hours when you’re soaking up the sun’s rays, there are other ways to ward off skin cancer. Namely, what you put in your mouth. Certain foods, medications and even beverages (hello, coffee lovers) have been proven to boost your odds for disease-free skin.Try these five tested ways to fight skin cancer—and keep applying that all-important sunblock (SPF 15 or higher, please). When it comes to shielding your skin from the sun, you want to cover all your bases.
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New research shows that an aspirin a day could keep skin cancer away. Published in the journal Cancer, researchers from Stanford University tracked nearly 60,000 Caucasian women ages 50 to 79, who are considered to have a higher risk for melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer. The study found that women who took aspirin on a regular basis (at least twice a week for a year or more) were 21 percent less likely to suffer from melanoma, on average. The longer they took aspirin, the lower their cancer risk. Downing it regularly for five or more years upped the cancer-fighting odds to 30 percent. It might seem odd that something as simple as aspirin could help prevent skin cancer, but some experts believe it controls inflammation, which is a contributor to tumor growth. Interestingly enough, this benefit only applied to aspirin—not other pain killers, like non-aspirin NSAIDs and acetaminophen.
Great news, java junkies: You may be getting some sun protection from your daily cup of joe. According to one study of nearly 94,000 women, those who sipped caffeinated/regular coffee daily lowered their risk of non-melanoma skin cancer by almost 11 percent. And, as with the aspirin, the more they consumed, the more they decreased their odds: Women who drank six or more cups daily saw a 36 percent reduction in skin cancer risk. But the news wasn’t so promising for decaf lovers—no link was found there, leading researchers to believe that caffeine and not the coffee itself is the cancer-blocker. Caffeine may kill sun-damaged skin cells, which are potentially responsible for non-melanoma skin cancer development.
Love fresh, juicy strawberries? Your skin may be in luck. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry showed that strawberry extract could protect skin cells from damaging UVA rays. After testing different concentrations of the extract and exposing skin cultures to midday sun, the researchers found that a concentration of 0.5 mg/ml contains photo-protective properties. The strawberry extract also increased cell survival and viability, while decreasing DNA damage. Scientists suspect that the anthocyanins, which are pigments that give strawberries their bright red color, are responsible for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-tumor properties. In addition to protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, these berries can also keep your skin looking youthful thanks to their high vitamin C content… bonus!
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While we’re talking about the power of fruit, grapes were also found to have a protective effect against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays—the leading environmental cause of skin cancer. Published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the study found that substances called flavonoids extracted from grapes can reduce the amount of cellular damage caused by UV rays. Apparently, the sun’s rays activate a reactive oxygen species in the skin, which are harmful molecules that create cell damage and cell death. The flavonoids from grapes were found to reduce the formation of this reactive oxygen species in skin cells that have been exposed to UVA and UVB radiation, thus potentially reducing skin cancer. But as with strawberries, it may take a higher concentration of the cancer-fighting compound to yield these results—not necessarily tossing a few grapes in your mouth before you hit the beach.
Research from the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences revealed that the milk thistle—a plant extract otherwise known as silibinin—kills skin cells mutated by UVA radiation and protects against damage caused by UVB radiation. When a cell is affected by radiation, it must either be repaired or killed so that it cannot go on to cause cancer. Research shows that silibinin can do both: While this plant extract, which is often used for herbal remedies, dramatically increased the rate at which the damaged cells died, it left healthy cells alone.
READ MORE: How to Reverse Sun Damage