Carrot Juice and Sunburn

I was corresponding with JoAnn Farb who told me something interesting she has noticed about carrot juice protecting against sunburn:

“I discovered on several occasions that drinking large amounts of carrot juice and/or to a lesser extent — simply eating huge amounts of raw greens, reduces any observable changes in skin color (burning or tanning) when exposed to sun.

“I first noticed this on a canoe trip — years ago — I should have burned — was not using sunscreen and everyone else who didn’t use it did burn badly. But I had been drinking lots of carrot juice every day before hand. Then again in Australia, in January, in Sydney on the beach, Sarina [her daughter] was one year old at the time and pretty much nursing for all her calories. Each day over the noon hour I took her to the beach and let her crawl around naked — and I was in a swim suit. At first I just did ten minutes and then we put full clothing on. Each day I saw no burn and no tan. I increased the time more — until we were fully exposed for well over an hour and saw absolutely no reactions on our skin. There were juice bars everywhere; I was drinking two to three large glasses of fresh carrot juice every day.

“I have certainly had my share of sunburns at other times, from much less exposure, but have tested this repeatedly. Not only will carrot juice protect me and my family from sunburns, but if we have not been drinking carrot juice and do happen to burn, we will drink large amounts right away and the burn fades quickly.”

I have long known about the orange tint that people who drink a lot of carrot juice can get, but I was not aware of any sunburn protection. I checked it out and found research showing that beta-carotene does protect against sunburn:

K√∂pcke W, Krutmann J. Protection from sunburn with beta-Carotene — a meta-analysis. Photochem Photobiol. 2008 Mar-Apr;84(2):284-8. Epub 2007 Dec 15.

The study found that taking beta-carotene for 10 weeks, in amounts of about 57 mg per day, protected against sunburn. One cup of carrot juice has about 22 mg of beta-carotene.

The researchers said the SPF of beta-carotene was about 4. They thought the benefit from beta-carotene could be due to its antioxidant potential or interference in other parts of the biochemical pathways leading to sunburn.

JoAnn went on to ask:

“I have always wondered, since Michael Hollick mentions the pinking of the skin as a way to get an indication of how much vitamin D one is potentially making, does consuming all this carrot juice in some way inhibit vitamin D production? Or is the pinking of the skin merely a general way to gauge melanin amounts but otherwise not really related to biosynthesis of D?”

I’m afraid I do not know the answer to this and I could not find any research on it. I did, however, find one study in which higher intakes of beta-carotene were associated with less bone mineral loss in the elderly:

Sahni S, Hannan MT, Blumberg J, Cupples LA, Kiel DP, Tucker KL. Inverse association of carotenoid intakes with 4-y change in bone mineral density in elderly men and women: the Framingham osteoporosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):416-24. Epub 2008 Dec 3.

It appears that in this case, beta-carotene was not noticeably interfering with any vitamin D formation in these people, though this is a very indirect way to try to answer that question.

5 Responses to “Carrot Juice and Sunburn”

  1. JoAnn Farb Says:

    Wow Jack.! I am quite impressed with the research you found.

    Thank you for sharing that with me. I never guessed that beta carotene might in itself offer some sun protection. I had once looked at a nutrient break down in carrots and noticed that they were fairly high in PABA and just assumed that that was the reason. (And in fact taking paba pills worked similar to carrot juice on a few occasions — but gave me a headache.) So maybe it is BOTH the beta carotene and the paba.

    Thanks for further illuminating this.

    JoAnn

  2. kristin Says:

    Thanks so much for this info. I am allergic to pretty much every sunscreen out there and often have to go without. Next beach-like vacation, I’ll make sure to drink tons of carrot juice for weeks in preparation.

  3. Paul Rogers Says:

    Jack, I heard about this over 20 years ago, when a medical researcher here in Queensland Australia was working on the protective effects of beta carotene and skin protection from sunburn.

    On the other hand, there is the somewhat unresolved issue of vitamin A and lower bone density and the notorious beta carotene supplement trials in which lung cancer was excessive — mainly in smokers though.

    Druesne-Pecollo N, Latino-Martel P, Norat T, Barrandon E, Bertrais S, Galan P,
    Hercberg S. Beta-carotene supplementation and cancer risk: A systematic review
    and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Int J Cancer. 2009 Oct 28.
    “This study adds to the evidence that nutritional prevention of cancer through beta-carotene supplementation should not be recommended. ”

    Caire-Juvera G, Ritenbaugh C, Wactawski-Wende J, Snetselaar LG, Chen Z.
    Vitamin A and retinol intakes and the risk of fractures among participants of the
    Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009
    Jan;89(1):323-30.

    I’d guess that any reasonable food intake of carotenes is fine, but odd practices like supplements or even copious carrot juice consumption might not be the best approach.

    Thanks

  4. lewis Says:

    the beta carotene supplement trial related to lung cancer incidence was not accurate because the beta carotene used was in the form of synthetic pills, not the real beta carotene found in carrots. Synthesized vitamins have very little value. Also, carrot juice has many supporting antioxidants, thousands which have yet to be discovered.

  5. Jack Norris RD Says:

    Lewis,

    I would agree that for warding off long-term disease, supplements have not been shown to be very effective. But for people who have acute deficiencies of vitamins, vitamin pills are very helpful.

    > Also, carrot juice has many supporting antioxidants, thousands which have yet to be discovered.

    That’s a very interesting claim.

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