Dietary Interventions to Support Skin Health: Recommendations Beyond Sunscreen

Woman in a black bikini lounging on a yellow float in a pool, representing healthy skin and sun protection in summer.

By Dr. Stacy Dunn, ND, LAc, FABNO, FABORM

While sun protection remains paramount, growing evidence highlights the significant impact dietary interventions can play in supporting skin resilience and minimizing the harmful effects of UV radiation. By understanding these dietary factors, we can enhance our defense against skin cancer and promote overall skin health.

Skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma, primarily stems from cumulative exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Almost 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 60-70 percent of melanomas are associated with UV radiation. Overexposure to UV radiation induces DNA damage, oxidative stress, and inflammation in skin cells, which can cause mutations that lead to skin cancer over time. So the best way to prevent skin cancer is to minimize UV radiation by limiting sun exposure in the middle of the day, wearing protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats, and using clean sunscreen. Prevention strategies should also include dietary choices that reduce oxidative stress, as our diet can influence a multitude of biological pathways involved in skin health and cancer prevention. 

Role of Diet in Skin Cancer Prevention

A Mediterranean diet high in cruciferous and leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, citrus fruits, berries, fresh herbs, olive oil, and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to reduce skin cancer risk. This diet is full of antioxidants, polyphenols, and nutrient-dense foods. These anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory nutrients are known to help mitigate oxidative stress – fighting free radicals and preventing damage to the skin. One study published in 2020 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean diet was associated with 72% reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer. In another study of more than 700 people in Italy, those sticking with the Mediterranean diet cut their melanoma incidence in half compared with those not on the diet. And those that reduced their intake of refined flours and sugars had an even greater reduction in melanoma risk. Additionally, adding spices and herbs commonly used in the Mediterranean diet, such as turmeric, garlic, clove, rosemary, and saffron, provides even more benefit. A review from 2018 examined the anti-cancer properties found in these spices and herbs and found they may also help inhibit skin cancer by reducing oxidative stress, inflammation, and supporting immune health. 

The ideal skin cancer prevention diet will be filled brightly colored fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and green tea. These foods contain antioxidant polyphenols and phytonutrients such as carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene, vitamins C and E, and zinc. You can find these cancer-fighting, skin-protective nutrients in the following foods:

Beta Carotene

Foods rich in beta-carotene are a staple in anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean-style diets. Beta Carotene is carotenoid (brightly colored antioxidant pigment) and pro-vitamin that converts to Vitamin A in the body. Several studies have found decreased rates of cancer in people who regularly eat foods rich in beta-carotene. The best sources of beta carotene are orange-colored fruits and vegetables. 

Food sources: leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, orange and red peppers, dried apricots, peas, broccoli, squash, cantaloupe, mangoes.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin

Lutein and zeaxanthin are also carotenoids that show great promise in skin cancer prevention. Several studies have found high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin may reduce the incidence of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). One study of almost 300 people in Australia with a history of skin cancer, found that people who increased their intake of lutein and zeaxanthin had more than 50% lower risk of SCC over an eight-year follow-up.

Food sources: Lutein: broccoli, spinach, kale, kiwi, orange pepper, grapes, zucchini, squash Zeaxanthin: kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli, peas


Lycopene is a red-pigmented carotenoid antioxidant. This is the same red pigment that helps protect the tomato against sun damage, and it may also help protect your skin against sun damage. A 2010 study in the British Journal of Dermatology that tracked patients regularly eating tomato paste against a control group, found that after 10 weeks, the lycopene eaters were 40 percent less likely to be sunburned. Additional studies have also linked long-term consumption of lycopene with a decreased risk of skin cancer.

Food sources: This red-pigmented antioxidant is in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit, blood oranges and other foods.

Vitamin C

Diets rich in foods containing Vitamin C are associated with reduced risk of skin cancer. This water-soluble vitamin is a powerful intracellular antioxidant and supports the formation of collagen to keep your skin healthy. Topical Vitamin C has also been shown to protect against UV damage.

Food sources: oranges, lemons, limes, strawberries, raspberries, leafy greens, broccoli and bell peppers.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E refers to a group of molecules called Tocopherols and Tocotrienols. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that not only helps protect the skin by preventing damage from free radicals, but can also absorb energy from UV light, playing an important role in phytoprotection. In addition, Vitamin E has potent anti-inflammatory effects and improves the ability of skin and to act as a protective barrier.

Food sources: almonds and other nuts, sunflower and other seeds, spinach, soybeans, and wheat germ.


Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a role in almost all aspects of immune health. Zinc activates antioxidants in the body, reduces DNA damage, and is crucial for the development of immune cells such as neutrophils, NK cells, and macrophages. 

Food sources: beef, lamb, shellfish, and legumes such as chickpeas, beans, and lentils

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties that help limit UV-induced inflammation and support skin barrier function. One study found that people who consumed the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA had an 80% lower risk of malignant melanoma. Another study found that higher levels of EPA and higher omega-3/omega-6 ratios were associated with a decreased risk of squamous cell carcinomas.

Food sources: fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna), walnuts, flaxseeds. 

Green and Black Tea

Polyphenols in green and black tea exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that could contribute to skin protection and repair mechanisms. Polyphenols are plant chemicals with powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and tumor-inhibiting properties, and have been found to repair DNA in UV-exposed skin, reducing cell damage. And while both green and black teas contain anti-cancer polyphenols, the evidence for green tea is even stronger. One such polyphenols in green tea that has been widely studied for its anti-cancer potential is EGCG. Preclinical data has shown EGCG to be cytotoxic to skin cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth. 

Food sources: freshly brewed green and black tea


Role of Supplements in Skin Cancer Prevention

While a nutrient dense diet increases skin health and reduces oxidative stress, dietary supplements can also help optimize immune function and help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.  Supplements such as Vitamin D, Nicotinamide, Curcumin, and Polypodium leucotomos have all emerged with impressive evidence to help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a hormone that plays a vital role in immune health and DNA repair and has been shown to inhibit skin cancer cell growth. A 2023 study in Melanoma Research showed that people who regularly took Vitamin D supplements had a 55 percent reduced risk of melanoma.  Vitamin D is produced by the skin in response to sun exposure, however this photochemical reaction isn’t as straightforward as it sounds and can be influenced by a number of factors including the melanin content of skin, epigenetic changes, and sunscreen use. Supplementation can be a safe and easy way to support healthy Vitamin D levels. To determine your dose, have your serum Vitamin D levels checked, and work with your integrative practitioner to determine the best dose for you individually. 


Nicotinamide is a form of Vitamin B3. Several studies have shown that nicotinamide reduces the rate of precancerous skin lesions, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas by as much as 23 percent in patients with a history of these lesions. Early research suggests that nicotinamide may provide similar benefits for melanoma patients. When UV radiation damages the skin, it reduces ATP – the energy source cells need for repair. Nicotinamide helps replenish ATP, increasing energy for DNA repair. Researches have used a dosage of 500mg twice daily. 


Curcumin is a yellow compound and active ingredient in the spice Turmeric. Curcumin has long been recognized for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Extensive research over the past twenty years reveals that curcumin interferes with multiple cell signaling pathways in cancer development, such as NF-kB, COX-2, MAPK, p53, JAK/STAT, mTOR, AKT, and TNF-a. Additional studies have shown that curcumin may prevent the growth and metastasis of melanoma cells. 

Polypodium Leucotomos

Polypodium leukotomos is a tropical fern found in Central and South America that has antioxidant, immunomodulatory, photoprotectant, and anti-inflammatory effects. Clinical research has shown Polypodium can prevent sun damage by inhibiting the formation of free radicals.  By inhibiting free radicals such as reactive oxygen species in skin tissue, long-term DNA damage and photoaging may be prevented.


While dietary interventions alone cannot replace sun protection measures, they play a crucial role in supporting skin health and reducing the risk of skin cancer. By embracing a balanced diet rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other protective nutrients, we can complement our sun safety practices and promote skin resilience against UV damage. Integrating colorful fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and green tea into everyday life offers a proactive approach to enhancing skin cancer prevention and fostering long-term skin health.