Ample research has shown that certain wavelengths of light can be harmful to the human body, causing, for example, premature aging, skin cancer, cataracts, and retinal degeneration.1–4 Established protective measures include wearing sunscreen and sunglasses, as well as making certain behavioral choices, such as staying indoors or in the shade when the sun is highest in the sky or limiting electronic device screen time. One’s diet, too, may also represent a modifiable aspect that can assist in mitigating the adverse effects of both ultraviolet (UV)A/UVB light from the sun and blue light from electronic devices.
Foremost, different dietary antioxidants may help to protect against UVA/UVB light. Polyphenols, which are antioxidant molecules found in foods such as chocolate, grape seeds, green tea, and wine, may provide protection against UV damage and sunburn in both oral and topical forms.5 Similarly, quercetin, a flavonoid found primarily in fruits and vegetables, may inhibit lipid oxidation induced by UVA and especially UVB light6 and block UVB irradiation–induced intracellular reactive oxygen species generation in the skin.7 Other flavonoids, such as naringenin and rutin from fruits, may protect DNA from UV-induced damage.8 Carotenoids, such as lycopene (from tomatoes) and beta carotene (e.g., from carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cantaloupe) may protect against UV-induced erythema.9,10 Research also suggests that beta carotene may scavenge reactive oxygen species and interfere with UV light–induced gene expression by multiple pathways.9 In pig skin, the combination of vitamins C and E also provided significant protection against erythema and sunburn cell formation.11
In the eyes, the carotenoid lutein is concentrated in the retina, where it combines with zeaxanthin to form macular pigment. Research suggests that lutein supplementation may improve age-related macular degeneration by increasing the macular pigment optical density, visual acuity, and contrast sensitivity.12 Adequate levels of lutein and, especially, zeaxanthin could reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration in the first place.13 Maize and orange pepper are considered the best sources of each of these carotenoids, respectively, and egg yolk is also a good source of lutein.14 Meanwhile, higher intakes of protein, vitamin A, niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin may also help to protect against nuclear cataract.15 Vegetarians may be at a lower risk for cataract than meat-eaters.16
Editor’s note: Changes to the diet to incorporate more photoprotective nutrients should not replace the use of sunscreen, sunglasses, or other such protective measures. Please consult your primary care doctor and/or dermatologist with any questions about what photoprotective measures are right for you.
- Fisher GJ, Wang ZQ, Datta SC, et al. Pathophysiology of premature skin aging induced by ultraviolet light. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(20):1419–1428.
- Armstrong BK, Cust AE. Sun exposure and skin cancer, and the puzzle of cutaneous melanoma: a perspective on Fears et al. Mathematical models of age and ultraviolet effects on the incidence of skin cancer among whites in the United States. American Journal of Epidemiology 1977; 105: 420–427. Cancer Epidemiol. 2017;48:147–156.
- Linetsky M, Raghavan CT, Johar K, et al. UVA light-excited kynurenines oxidize ascorbate and modify lens proteins through the formation of advanced glycation end products: implications for human lens aging and cataract formation. J Biol Chem. 2014;289(24):17111–17123.
- Zrenner E. Light-induced damage to the eye [article in German]. Fortschr Ophthalmol. 1990;87 Suppl:S41–S51.
- Saric S, Sivamani RK. Polyphenols and sunburn. Int J Mol Sci. 2016;17(9):1521.
- Fahlman BM, Krol ES. Inhibition of UVA and UVB radiation-induced lipid oxidation by quercetin. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57(12):5301–5305.
- Zhu X, Li N, Wang Y, et al. Protective effects of quercetin on UVB irradiation‑induced cytotoxicity through ROS clearance in keratinocyte cells. Oncol Rep. 2017;37(1):209–218.
- Kootstra A. Protection from UV-B-induced DNA damage by flavonoids. Plant Mol Biol. 1994;26(2):771–774.
- Stahl W, Sies H. β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(5):1179S–1184S.
- Stahl W, Heinrich U, Aust O, et al. Lycopene-rich products and dietary photoprotection. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2006;5(2):238–242.
- Lin J-Y, Selim MA, Shea CR, et al. UV photoprotection by combination topical antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003;48(6):866–874.
- Feng L, Nie K, Jiang H, Fan W. Effects of lutein supplementation in age-related macular degeneration. PLoS One. 2019;14(12):e0227048.
- Gale CR, Hall NF, Phillips DIW, Martyn CN. Lutein and zeaxanthin status and risk of age-related macular degeneration. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2003;44(6):2461–2465.
- Sommerburg O, Keunen JE, Bird AC, et al. Fruits and vegetables that are sources for lutein and zeaxanthin: the macular pigment in human eyes. Br J Ophthalmol. 1998;82(8):907–910.
- Cumming RG, Mitchell P, Smith W. Diet and cataract: the Blue Mountains Eye Study. Ophthalmology. 2000;107(3):450–456.
- Appleby PN, Allen NE, Key TJ. Diet, vegetarianism, and cataract risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):1128–1135.