This is the time of year when sunscreen appears on every end-cap at the store. They’re available in sprays, creams, oils and many other forms. SPF ranges from tanning spray to mega 100+ with almost every SPF in between.
Sunscreen is big business… and I don’t buy any of them! I “eat my sunscreen” instead.
The Sun Isn’t the Enemy…
There seems to be an underlying idea that sun exposure = skin cancer and that sunscreen = protection from skin cancer. But the research doesn’t back this up. In fact, it suggests the opposite.
This is the reason I don’t avoid the sun, but rather make a point to get sun exposure every day. I also avoid sunscreen for the most part, and just get out of the sun or cover up when I have had enough sun exposure for the day.
Think about this:
Skin cancer rates are rising despite more sunscreen use and reduced sun exposure in recent decades. The sun isn’t the problem, which is why I take a different approach. I get safe sun exposure and protect my skin from the inside out.
How I Stopped Burning…
I had a dilemma…
I’m partially Irish-Scottish (which is Latin for very fair skinned!) and had always burned. In fact, even moderate sun exposure would leave me with a pinkish glow rather than a tan… until several years ago. The research was showing the importance of sun exposure for Vitamin D and many other aspects of health. Wearing sunscreen greatly reduces Vitamin D production, so that wasn’t the answer. I researched and started protecting my skin from the inside out. And it worked.
I started working in the garden for hours at a time during the heat of the day without burning. We also went to Florida for vacation and I was at the beach for 4 hours between 11-3 with no sunscreen and I didn’t burn… at all!
To those of you blessed with olive skin (like my husband), this may not seem like a big deal, but to me, this is huge! I also noticed looking back at pictures of me from last summer that I don’t look like the pale-stepchild among my Italian in-laws for the first time.
How I Eat My Sunscreen with Diet + Supplements
Just as a poor diet has a negative effect on skin and overall health, a real food diet may offer protection from various health problems, including sun related ones. Fortunately, the diet and lifestyle factors that are good for the skin are great for many other things as well:
1. Eating A Real Food Diet with Enough Good Fats
A large part of my natural sun protection is eating an anti-inflammatory diet. To make sure the body has the proper building blocks for healthy skin and to reduce inflammation, I consume enough healthy saturated, monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats while avoiding polyunsaturated fatty acids and high Omega-6 vegetable oils.
I focus on making sure that my diet is high in micronutrients from vegetables, Omega-3s and fat soluble vitamins from fish, and monounsaturated and saturated fats from plant and animal sources.
This type of diet will also be beneficial for many other health conditions, and if you’ve been a Wellness Mama reader for any length of time, you know the drill:
- processed foods
- vegetable oils (this is the most important for sun exposure)
And I Focus on:
- healthy sources of saturated fats and monounsaturated fats
- foods rich in omega-3s (fish, etc)
- lots of leafy greens
- 2+ tablespoons of tomato paste daily (I sometimes add this in for the lycopene and skin protection)
2. Eat the Antioxidants
Just by avoiding grains and Omega-6 oils and focusing on proteins, fats and vegetables instead, our diet is already higher in antioxidants than the standard American diet. Even real food “treats” like berries and dark chocolate are packed with antioxidants.
Antioxidants help reduce inflammation and free radicals. Research has shown a strong protective effect of antioxidants against inflammation and skin damage (and perhaps this is why antioxidant packed Astaxanthin is so effective at helping avoid sunburn).
3. Up the Vitamin D
I’ve noticed the biggest difference in how I feel from optimizing two things: Omega-3 consumption and Vitamin D levels. I talked about the importance of Omega-3s above. Through blood testing, I found that my 25(OH)D level (one measure of Vitamin D) was below 25 ng/mL. That was well below the recommendation for pregnant and nursing women and well below the 65 ng/mL recommended by some doctors for optimal health.
Through years of experimenting and continual testing, I found that in order to get my levels above 30 ng/mL I had to get sun exposure and take supplemental Vitamin D. Now, with my levels in the 50-60 ng/mL range, my thyroid is doing great and I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I also don’t get sunburned any more!
This is a logical if you think about it. Melanin, the dark pigment that we get when we tan, is produced to shield the skin from further UV exposure by providing a type of barrier. This is why those with darker skin need more sun that those with fairer skin to get the same amount of Vitamin D.
When the body has enough Vitamin D, it will start producing Melanin to keep from getting too much. There is evidence that optimizing Vitamin D levels through sun exposure and even through supplementation will help the body produce melanin faster and retain it longer. Of course, this is a genetic and very personalized issue that is best handled with testing and the help of a qualified practitioner.
4. Gradual Sun Exposure
Seems simple and logical, but moderate and safe sun exposure has the most benefits for Vitamin D levels. Sunburn is never good! I always get less sun exposure than I think I need at first and work up really slowly to avoid burning.
5. Natural Sun Protection
With the recent research on the benefits of sun exposure and the potential harmful substances in many sunscreens, I choose natural ways to protect from the sun once I’ve gotten enough exposure at any time. My first (and best) option is just to cover up or get in the shade if possible. A hat and shirt are reusable, don’t contain harmful chemicals and do a great job of protecting from excess sun exposure.
If I have to be outside in the bright sun for extended periods of time and can’t seek shade or cover up I’ll sometimes use a natural homemade sunscreen though I prefer to avoid it for the reasons listed above.
6. Supplement Support
This time of year, I also start taking a specific regimen of supplements to help reduce inflammation and improve sun tolerance. I’m not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet, and I’m only sharing the supplements I personally take and why. Check with your doctor before making any health or supplement changes, especially if you have any medical conditions.
The supplements I take are:
- Vitamin D3 Drops– I take about 4,000 IU/day with sun exposure to keep my levels up. Those drops are 2,000 IU per drop so a bottle lasts us a really long time.
- Vitamin C– I take about 2,000 mg/day
- Omega-3s and Krill oil- I’ve experimented with several different brands over the years. I’m currently trying these capsules at the recommendation of Dr. Rhonda Patrick in a recent podcast episode, and I like them so far.
- Astaxanthin– A highly potent antioxidant which research shows acts as an internal sunscreen. It’s also supposedly an anti-aging supplement. I don’t give this one to the kids though.
Do you eat your sunscreen? Still use the toxic stuff? Avoid the sun completely? Tell me below!