Health knowledge and news provided by doctors.

Stop sun induced skin aging: Eat these 6 green leafy vegetables

Thomas Secrest's picture
Crows feet

A simple way to stop skin aging and wrinkles is by eating green leafy vegetables. Rather than spend money on costly cosmetic procedures, consider adding these six anti-aging vegetables to your diet to keep skin wrinkle-free and youthful.

Everybody hates wrinkles, especially women. Men don't like them much, but the social pressure on men to be wrinkle-free is nothing compared to the social pressure on women. The cosmetic industry is built around trying to retain the moisture and elasticity that seems to drain from the skin as it ages. When cosmetics alone aren't enough, people turn to Botox and lipid injections. If wrinkles persist, some people will turn to more extreme measures, such as cosmetic surgery. I’m not sure anyone really knows how much money is collectively spent, by our species, in an effort to iron out the persistent little lines that appear at the corners of our eyes and mouth as we age.

What are wrinkles?

Your skin consists of two main layers, the epidermis (top layer) and dermis (bottom layer). The epidermis is made of cells that constantly renew themselves. Most of your epidermis is replaced every 4 to 5 weeks. The dermis on the other hand is made of connective tissue, which is not replaced aggressively at all. The bulk of the dermis is composed of proteins called elastin and collagen. These proteins give the skin its toughness, stretchability and elasticity. These proteins are produced by connective tissue cells, which in general are not very active, and the proteins they manufacture can last a long, long time.

Exposure to oxidants

In young skin the proteins are undamaged and exist in a very special matrix relative to each other. The matrix is smooth and does not impart any texture to the epidermis that rests on it. As time passes these proteins are damaged by oxidative attacks from our environment. The damaged proteins change their shape and relationship to each other and the matrix become less homogeneous and more textured. The epidermis, which reflects the textures below it in the dermis, begins to show wrinkles, divots, lumps and bumps. These are few at first, but they accumulate with age as the proteins become increasingly more damaged. Sometimes the damaged proteins are removed; however, they are often not replaced. As a result the skin becomes thinner and thinner and more and more delicate. Lastly the molecules in the matrix that hold water in the dermis also diminish with time and the skin becomes drier and drier.

How does sunlight damage the skin?

Sunlight consists of radiation across the entire spectrum. However, you may know that it is the Ultraviolet (UV) light that can damage the skin. UV light is between the wavelengths of 280 and 400 nm. UVB (the shorter wavelengths) is from 280 – 320 nm and UVA is from 320 – 400 nm. UVB wavelengths penetrate the epidermis and are responsible for sunburns. UVA (the longer wavelengths) can penetrate much deeper into the skin and it is this radiation that damages the proteins in the dermis. Something this is not generally known is that blue light (400 – 500 nm) can also penetrate the dermis and reach even deeper into the skin than UVA and it also can do damage.

Damage is caused by the energetic radiation passing through the dermis and interacting with molecules containing oxygen. The result is something called a reactive oxygen species (ROS). These ROS molecules can now interact and damage the complex molecular structure of elastin and collagen. Each time the molecule repairs itself, it results in small changes in shape, which is then reflected onto the surface of your skin.

Follow eMaxHealth on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
Please, click to subscribe to our Youtube Channel to be notified about upcoming health and food tips.

Doesn’t sunscreen protect my skin?

Yes! It is an excellent first line of defense. Sunscreens have chemicals in them that absorb UVA and UVB radiation and keep it from reaching the dermis. Everything you can do to block the damaging radiation will slow what’s called photoaging or sun aging. However, we all know that we could and should do better with sunscreens.

Spinach is a sunscreen for inside your skin.

Since we don't always use sunscreen as often as we should, we should also consider other options. Just like antioxidants are good for your cardiovascular system, there are some that tend to localize in the skin and can protect your skin from the inside out. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are two such antioxidant molecules, which are abundant in spinach. In a study published in the June 2013 issue of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Richard Roberts, PhD, presented a review of 30 years of research into these molecules. While the results of the animal trials and cell culture experiments support the conclusions, the results of the human trials are probably of more interest to you. Roberts wrote as follows: “After 12 weeks, the oral administration of lutein/zeaxanthin significantly suppressed lipid peroxidation by 56%, improved skin hydration by more than 2-fold, improved skin lipid content by 4-fold, improved skin elasticity by 17%, and improved photoprotective activity 3-fold compared with the placebo-treated subjects. These results confirm the results seen in animal and cell culture studies, demonstrating that oral lutein/zeaxanthin improves skin health and may help in reducing the detrimental effects of sunlight exposure on the skin of females with premature skin aging.”

While there is still more research needed, the evidence is there to suggest that these molecules can “inhibit lipid peroxidation on the surface of the skin and help bolster the skin's photoprotective activity, potentially protecting the skin from exposure to light, particularly UV light.” These compounds do not require mega-doses and don't require that you eat spinach and carrots like a rabbit. Instead, the amounts needed are typical for one or two servings of the food. Roberts concludes as follows: “Since the typical diet of people in the United States is about 2 mg of lutein per day, due to the ingestion of foods such as green leafy vegetables that contain the highest levels of diet-derived lutein and zeaxanthin,[1] it may be considered advisable to increase the daily intake of lutein and zeaxanthin for optimal skin health and photoprotection.”

How much lutein and zeaxanthin do I need?

Based on the studies you need about 5000 micrograms (mcg) of lutein and 300 mcg of zeaxanthin per day. Therefore by adding a mix of the foods listed below, you should be able to get more than enough to see the protective benefits of these antioxidant molecules.

  • Kale (23,700 mcg of both per cup)
  • Spinach (20,350 mcg of both per cup)
  • Swiss Chard (19,000 mcg of both per cup)
  • Squash (2,750 mcg of both per cup)
  • Broccoli (1,680 mcg of both per cup)
  • Carrots (1,100 mcg of both per cup)

As you can see eating any of the top 3 gets you more than needed, while eating any of the bottom 3 requires that you eat a larger than average serving. On the plus side, you usually can't go far wrong eating a little extra broccoli or carrots.

So this summer, use your sunscreen, eat your veggies and enjoy in the sun, in moderation.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data 2001–2002. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/about/major/nhanes/nhanes01–02.htm