The snack habit that sets you up for sun-damaged prematurely-aged skin

Late-night snacking is bad for you. It confuses your body because you’re eating when you should be sleeping. As a result, your body’s not prepared to handle the calories you’re sending its way.

More specifically, the genes that metabolize food so efficiently during the day don’t work that well at night. They think they’re off duty. That means late-night snacking could lead to metabolic imbalances and weight gain.

But there’s more to the story than just that…

Your internal body clock is so amazing and has such far-reaching powers in your body that one infraction against its set timing can throw a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated bodily functions out of whack…

Take, for example, that bedtime bowl of ice cream’s potential effect on your skin…

Late-night snacking screws with your skin’s sun protection

Just like your metabolic processes are operating on a perfectly timed body clock, so is your skin’s ability to protect you from the sun…

During the day, your skin produces an enzyme that keeps damage from UV rays down. But the latest research from O’Donnell Brain Institute and the University of California-Irvine suggests eating at night could hamper its ability to do that…

In their study, these researchers found that mice who were allowed to eat during the day and night produced a less effective version of the enzyme xeroderma pigmentosum group A (XPA). This enzyme is known for repairing UV-damaged skin, so you want it operating as effectively as possible, else your skin is at higher risk for skin cancers and premature aging.

Now, for mice, eating during the day is what’s problematic. They’re nocturnal so their body clocks are set the opposite as humans. But if eating at off hours can impact their body’s production of the protective XPA enzyme… could it do the same for humans too? Researchers say it’s a very real possibility.

“It is likely that if you have a normal eating schedule, then you will be better protected from UV during the daytime,” said Dr. Joseph S. Takahashi, Chairman of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. “If you have an abnormal eating schedule, that could cause a harmful shift in your skin clock, like it did in the mouse.

Sticking to a set eating schedule

While these insights about mice are interesting, there’s no way to know yet how (or if) they translate to humans. But here’s the thing…

The fact that circadian rhythm affects your skin’s biology is pretty well established. And so is the fact that the daily cycles set by your circadian rhythm impact other major organs, like your liver. So it’s definitely in the realm of possibility that late-night snacking affects your skin the same way day-time snacking affects nocturnal mice.

And, even if it doesn’t protect your skin, cutting back on late-night snacks will have other benefits, like a well-balanced metabolism, healthier body weight, and a better night’s sleep. So it’s worth a shot.

Of course, if you’re really worried about damaging sun rays, you may also want to get your vitamin D levels checked to make sure they aren’t low. A recent study showed vitamin D could provide some protection from the sun too. And, as always, don’t forget to wear a safe and natural sunscreen whenever you’re spending a lot of time outdoors.

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    1. Eating habits affect skin’s protection against sun — MedicalXpress
    2. Wang, et al. “Time-Restricted Feeding Shifts the Skin Circadian Clock and Alters UVB-Induced DNA Damage.” — Cell Reports, 2017.
    3. Late-night snacking could be damaging your skin — Medical News Today
    4. Why Late-Night Snacking Is Bad for YouThe Atlantic


Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and