Broccoli, the New Sunscreen

Just in time to think long and hard about your sunscreen options for next summer—or a tropical vacation this winter—comes a study suggesting that, to the truly hip, a dab of blinding white zinc oxide will be so last year. Bring on the green broccoli extract!

Slathering on an extract of broccoli sprouts, find scientists at Johns Hopkins University, can protect against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. (Hey, don’t knock broccoli sprout extract. A clinical trial is currently studying whether it can prevent lung cancer in smokers.) Unlike sunscreens, which absorb UV and keep it from getting into the skin where it can damage DNA and thereby trigger skin cancer, a nice coating of broccoli sprout extract works inside cells. The result may be as good for your skin, cancer-wise, as a heaping helping of broccoli is for warding off other forms of cancer.

Skin covered with broccoli sprout extract and exposed to sunlight suffered much less inflammation and cell damage than bare naked skin, scientists led by Hopkins’ Paul Talalay are reporting this evening in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It wasn’t that the goop absorbed UV. Rather, it gets into your skin cells, boosting production of enzymes that protect cells against UV damage. That means the protection lasts for several days, even after the extract is no longer on your skin.

Interestingly, the protective compound in the broccoli sprout extracts is the same one, sulforaphane, that protects against several forms of cancer when you eat it. So if mom puts too much broccoli on your plate, rather than getting into a fight about throwing it away, preserve family peace by offering to smear it on your bod.