Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer

Skin Cancer and Your Diet

Can what you eat help prevent skin cancer?

Mounting evidence says that when it comes to your skin and cancer, the old adage is true. You (and your skin) are what you eat.

You are what you eat

Researchers believe that foods impact your skin and possibly prevent or reduce your chances of skin cancer through antioxidants found in fresh foods. Antioxidants, such as vitamins and other nutrients, seem to work by fighting off free radicals, the little oxygen molecules that cause inflammation, damage cell function and your skin’s DNA. It’s thought that mutations caused by free radicals lead to skin cancer.

What nutrients can help prevent skin cancer?

The nutritional heavy-hitters when it comes to preventing skin cancer are:

  • Beta-carotene
  • Lycopene
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Polyphenols
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc

With all of these nutrients, research says that you must consume fresh foods rich in these nutrients to reap the cancer-fighting benefits because there’s something to the interaction of the nutrients found in whole foods. The benefits of dietary supplements are generally unproven.

Here’s more about the specific nutrients scientists believe play a role in preventing skin cancer:


Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body, which boosts your immune system and may reduce the risk of some cancers.
Found in: Orange-colored vegetables and fruits such as carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and mangoes.


Lycopene is the substance that protects a tomato against sun damage. Now doctors think it may protect our skin in the same way. In fact, studies have shown that patients who ate tomato paste for 10 weeks were less likely to be sunburned compared to a control group that didn’t eat it.
Found in: Red-pigmented foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, apricots, pink grapefruit, blood oranges, guava, and papaya.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are the darling of the healthy-eating world since they are thought to reduce chronic inflammation, which has been linked to skin cancer. Now researchers believe omega-3s inhibit COX-2, a chemical that promotes the progression of skin cancer.
Found in: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, walnuts, and flaxseed.


Polyphenols, the plant chemicals found in black and green tea, offer anti-inflammatory and tumor-inhibiting properties. These antioxidants have been linked to skin cancer prevention in several studies, whether consumed or applied to the skin. The evidence for green tea is stronger, particularly if you drink four to six cups a day.
Found in: Freshly brewed green or black tea.


Selenium is an essential micronutrient lowers the risk of both developing cancer and dying from cancer according to several studies.
Found in: Brazil nuts, chicken and grass-fed beef


Zinc helps keep the immune system functioning well so that it can fight disease, including cancer, and helps activate some antioxidants in the body. It is believed that zinc increases proteins essential for DNA repair and reduces the type of DNA damage that leads to cancer.
Found in: Beef, lamb, shellfish, and legumes.


Vitamin C

Vitamin C is linked in several studies to a lower overall risk of cancer death, but so far no studies provide convincing evidence that vitamin C prevents skin cancer.
Found in: Citrus fruits, strawberries, raspberries, leafy greens, broccoli, and bell peppers

Vitamin D

Vitamin D’s role in building strong bones and boosting the immune system are well known. Less well known are studies that show vitamin D plus calcium supplements may reduce the risk of melanoma as well as breast, colon and rectal cancer.
Found in: Salmon, mackerel, tuna and cod liver oil. Milk and orange juice may be fortified with it.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a proven antioxidant with anti-inflammatory benefits, helping to prevent damage from free radicals and absorbs energy from UV light. It also improves the ability of the skin and veins to act as protective barriers.
Found in: Almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, soybeans, and wheat germ.

So, now you can add nutritious meals to your health regime to combat skin cancer, along with wearing protective clothing and using generous amounts of sunscreen.

Sarnoff D, Gerome D. Can your diet help prevent skin cancer? Skin Cancer Foundation. Available at Accessed August 3, 2018.