Looking for a tasty way to prevent skin cancer? Try adding grapefruit, orange, or lemon zest to your diet. A study says that the pulp and peel of citrus fruits can help prevent skin cancer.

D-limonene and perillyl alcohol are the chemicals found in citrus peel that make oranges and lemons shiny. Limonene is thought to have a protective effect on the skin and perillyl alcohol has been found to help prevent cancer. In a study at the University of Arizona, scientists revealed that these two ingredients may play a role in preventing skin cancers, specifically squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common cancer diagnosed.

The Link Between Citrus Peels and Lower Rates of Skin Cancer

The study took place in Arizona, a sunny climate where skin cancers in older adults are common. The researchers designed their study to determine citrus consumption patterns among this population and to then evaluate how it affected squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. The results showed 64.3 percent of the study participants reported weekly consumption of citrus fruits, 74.5 percent reported weekly consumption of citrus juices, and 34.7 percent of respondents reported regularly consuming citrus peel.

While there was no association between consumption of citrus fruits or juices and skin cancer, there was an association reported between consumption of citrus peels and lower rates of skin cancer. In addition, the more citrus peel respondents ate, the lower their incidences of skin cancer. Researchers concluded that peel consumption increased levels of d-limonene, which may have a potential protective effect in relation to squamous cell carcinoma.

Further studies with a larger population are needed to confirm these results and to find out if other diet and lifestyle factors are connected. Other studies however, have linked essential ingredients in citrus peel with reduction of other cancers including prostate, colon, and breast cancers. Many studies are demonstrating the powerful health benefits of eliminating unhealthy foods and adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.

Be Smart About Sun Protection

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer found in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.

In fact, one in five Americans will be diagnosed in the course of their lifetime. Will adding more lemon peel to your salads, drinks, and soups provide enough protection that you can ditch the sunscreen? Not likely. While citrus peel may protect your skin from the inside, sunscreen adds a layer of protection on the outside. People (especially those who live in sunny climates) need both forms of sun protection plus common sense precautions like staying out of the sun during peak hours to help protect against skin cancer.

Craig Kraffert, MD, reviewed this article.


Skin Cancer Foundation

Nutrition and Cancer
Volume 37, Issue 2
, 2000. Citrus peel use is associated with reduced risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Hakim IA, Harris RB, Ritenbaugh C. Cancer Prevention and Control, Arizona Cancer Center, College of Medicine, University of Arizona

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "Integrative Medicine: Pectin." http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/pectin

Food & Function. Issue 6, 2013. Potent anti-cancer effects of citrus peel flavonoids in human prostate xenograft tumors. Received 24 Jan 2013, Accepted 18 Apr 2013.