Have you ever noticed that some people sunburn easier than others? I have. In fact, I've often wondered why I'm relatively resistant to sunburn. I'm outdoors a lot. And I have blue eyes, generally a marker for more sun sensitivity. Genetics are almost always to blame for sun sensitivity. But there's now evidence that you can protect your body from the sun - regardless of your bloodline.

A study of 24 women found that daily consumption of a high-flavone cocoa drink significantly protected their skin from damage due to solar-type radiation. In the study, researchers exposed the women to a controlled amount of solar-type radiation. They then gave half the women the cocoa drink and the other half a placebo. (The cocoa drink contained 61 mg of a flavonoid called epicatechin and 20 mg of another called catechin. A control drink provided less than 10% of these amounts.)

Here's what happened: Those taking the higher flavonoid drink had a 15-25% reduction in UV-induced redness. The lower flavonoid group had no protection. Even more interesting, the high flavonoid group had increased skin thickness and decreased trans-epidermal water loss compared to the low flavonoid group.

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Still better, skin roughness was decreased in the high-flavone group and skin blood flow, skin density, and skin hydration was better in the high-flavone group as well.

I've consistently observed that those people who eat the highest amount of high-quality plant food have the healthiest skin. Here you have evidence that plant chemicals improve circulation to your skin. And they also do what the heavily advertised and very expensive suntan lotions are supposed to do. Again, you don't need to buy something made by man to protect your body - except clothes and a hat.

My wife and I recently went to a county fair where skin measurements were made of flavonoids. The people tending the booth had a device that electronically determined certain colors in our skin that correlated to plant flavonoids. If low, they were prepared to sell supplements to pump in what's missing.

We joked that they might have a surprise in store for them when they took ours. Indeed they did. Ours were the highest they had EVER seen. I respect the sun, and wear a wide-rimmed hat when outdoors at high noon in the summer. However, in recent years, with my improved diet, I've been surprised that my resistance to redness is considerably better than when I was in Alaska. And when I do get red, it clears in about half the time it used to.

Bottom line: You don't need fancy lotions or even tons of sun block to protect your skin. Start first with diet. Protect yourself from the inside. Colored vegetables and fruits, green tea, and cocoa are your best bets. And you can also bet that if these can protect your skin, they will also be at work protecting your other organs as well.

Ref: "Long-Term Ingestion of High Flavanol Cocoa Provides Photoprotection against UV-Induced Erythema and Improves Skin Condition in Women," Heinrich U, Neukam K, et al, J Nutr., 2006; 136(6): 1565-9.

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