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As warmer weather approaches (yay!), it’s time to start thinking about digging out the kids’ clothes, bathing suits, and flip flops. This is also my cue to start getting my skin ready for the sun.
Why not wait until the first beach day? Because I now eat my sunscreen rather than just wear it.
I’ve long been fed up with the ingredients in sunscreen (more on that in this post) and believe it often does more harm than good. The more I researched the more I found that exposure to the sun isn’t a problem (it’s actually a benefit) if you feed your skin the right nutrients to get it ready for sun exposure.
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. (And of course, cover up or get out of the sun when my skin has had enough!)
Why 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 may susggest the opposite. Think about this: Skin cancer rates are rising despite more sunscreen use and reduced sun exposure in recent decades.
Science backs up this approach. A 2016 review in the journal Dermato-Endocrinology concluded that while prevention of skin cancer is important, being afraid of the sun isn’t a good answer. From their findings:
This review considers the studies that have shown a wide range health benefits from sun/UV exposure. These benefits include among others various types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer disease/dementia, myopia and macular degeneration, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The message of sun avoidance must be changed to acceptance of non-burning sun exposure sufficient to achieve serum 25(OH)D concentration of 30 ng/mL or higher in the sunny season and the general benefits of UV exposure beyond those of vitamin D. (emphasis added)
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.
How I Stopped Burning
Here was my 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 showed the importance of sun exposure for adequate levels of vitamin D and many other aspects of health. Wearing sunscreen greatly reduces vitamin D production, so that wasn’t the answer. I decided to follow the research and start 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! Finally I no longer 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 have great benefits for general health as well.
Note: This is what worked for me and is in no way medical or dermatological advice. Please do you own research, know your own skin, and find what works best for you.
Here’s how I start preparing my skin for safe sun exposure this summer:
1. Eat 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)
- 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 Antioxidants
Just by avoiding grains and omega-6 oils as well as focusing on proteins, fats, and vegetables instead, your diet will be 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.
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!
Why it works: 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 or an EWG-recommended sunscreen.
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 2,000 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. I also test my levels a few times a year and stop taking D3 if my levels are high enough.
- Vitamin C – I take about 2,000 mg/day. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and also has many other benefits to the body.
- 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.
- Polypodium Leucotomos
- Sundots – These tasty gummies help boost skin’s ability to resist solar damage. They contain polypodium leucotomos extract, a fancy name for a fern long used in parts of the world for sun protection.
Get Some Rays the Right Way
Avoid sunburn from the inside out and the outside in with nutritional support and a hat + rash guard. Take these measures a month or two before beach season starts and condition your skin to love the sun. It’s good for your health anyway and saves money on sunscreen!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Robert Galamaga, whois a board-certified internal medicine physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Do you eat your sunscreen? Still use the toxic stuff? Avoid the sun completely? Tell me below!
Discussion (306 Comments)
This is interesting to me because my whole family has fair skin, but my children and I have to be in the sun a long time to burn, but my husband(who loves sugar and fried foods) burns easily.
yep… those Omega-6 oils are awful! When we travel and I have to eat stuff that has them, I burn a lot easier too
hi there. can you tell me a bit more about the omega 6 and burning? i have been having trouble lately with the sun in florida and i have been taking a full omega supplement for about a month or so. i was wondering what has changed, and maybe it’s the supplement. but i don’t know enough about this. i’d love to hear more.
my child has had skin cancer so i simply can’t take the chance of NOT using sunscreen. However, we use all natural mineral based sunscreen instead of the other stuff. That, combined with your suggestions is the way togo for us.
Just out of curiosity, how old is your child? That’s great that you use natural sunscreen already, and the supplements will still be helpful, even if you are minimizing sun exposure 🙂
Sorry, I didn’t reply sooner- just saw your post. She has had 2 basal cell carcinomas that were found at 18 years of age. She is now 20. It was very frightening as basal cells are uncommon amongst younger people. She is very blonde, light eyed and fair.
We tested her vitamin D levels after the skin cancer was found and her level was 19 (i’m not sure how its configured) She now takes 4,000 i.u. a day and her levels are in the 60’s.
Its difficult to keep a college kid who’s away from home, eating healthy, but she’s very open to it and uses coconut oil as a daily moisturizer as well.
I love your posts. You are so helpful. Keep it up!!
Hi…I’m a medical doctor…and your description of or daughter nrought a lightbulb on….was any other diagnosis made for her…like a genetic disorder. There is a genetic disorder linked to people who are very light skinned, it is called xeroderma pigmentosum?
Xeroderma pigmentosum, which is commonly known as XP, is an inherited condition characterized by an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight. This condition mostly affects the eyes and areas of skin exposed to the sun. Some affected individuals also have problems involving the nervous system.
The signs of xeroderma pigmentosum usually appear in infancy or early childhood. Many affected children develop a severe sunburn after spending just a few minutes in the sun. The sunburn causes redness and blistering that can last for weeks. Other affected children do not get sunburned with minimal sun exposure, but instead tan normally. By age 2, almost all children with xeroderma pigmentosum develop freckling of the skin in sun-exposed areas (such as the face, arms, and lips); this type of freckling rarely occurs in young children without the disorder. In affected individuals, exposure to sunlight often causes dry skin (xeroderma) and changes in skin coloring (pigmentation). This combination of features gives the condition its name, xeroderma pigmentosum.
People with xeroderma pigmentosum have a greatly increased risk of developing skin cancer. Without sun protection, about half of children with this condition develop their first skin cancer by age 10. Most people with xeroderma pigmentosum develop multiple skin cancers during their lifetime. These cancers occur most often on the face, lips, and eyelids. Cancer can also develop on the scalp, in the eyes, and on the tip of the tongue. Studies suggest that people with xeroderma pigmentosum may also have an increased risk of other types of cancer, including brain tumors. Additionally, affected individuals who smoke cigarettes have a significantly increased risk of lung cancer.
If she is already diagnosed..it may be something you may want to look into. It is an autosomal recessive disorder…meaning that someone has to get a gene from each present…which mean that both parents are carriers.
I wish you and your family the best, and God’s healing.
Does all freckling cause this or excessive amount of freckling?
See EWG.org to be sure your sunscreen is safe. Simple Green cleaner sounds safe but it is on the EWG toxic list. I had the only reaction to a cleaner that I have ever had (I’m 75) to Simple Green.
I am new here 🙂 why 2+ Tbsp of tomato paste daily?
The concentrated lycopene helps reduce inflammation… also good for cancer prevention supposedly. I mix mine into eggs or veggie smoothies
Lycopene has been demonstrated good for your eyes, but nothing conclusive has been published on any other health claims that people regularly make for it. That doesn’t mean they’re untrue, just that they’re not fully understood. For something with a never-ending list of health benefits that have been thoroughly tested and debunked over the last century give Turmeric a try! Turmeric Root has more unique pharmacological actions than most pharmaceutical drugs, which means to say that it affects more systems of the body than some prescription drugs designed to do so!
I would like to use Turmeric but after having not done so for a while I again used some in a recipe and my daughter in law did also and both families all came down with headaches. We are now suspicious of it. I am wondering if it was a virus but the coincidence of both having used it at the same time and both having headaches concerned me. I did definitely learn that anyone with any form of hemophilia like my husband shouldn’t use it as it increases bleeding time and amount. I gave it to him one time to help fight off a cold or flu and his nose which had already started bleeding as it often did when he got very sick got much much worse and lasted many more hours than it normally did.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Was your turmeric from a good source. IT can sometimes also be contaminated with mold (not as likely as other spices but still possible)
Unless you are sensitive to nightshades and then tomato paste might increase your inflammation.
Do you get tomato paste in a jar? Canned goods are a no no in our house. Or do make it yourself? Recipe please!
Katie - Wellness Mama
In a jar
Could you tell me what brand? I have been looking for jarred tomato paste and diced tomatoes etc. but in vain. I live in Toronto, Canada.
I live in Toronto, too, and Fiesta Farms near Christie Pits seems to usually have tomato paste in glass jars.
Do you give your kids the same dose of everything? Except the Axtaxanthin?
They get half doses of the Vitamin D and FCLO
I am so confused right now. Sunscreens are toxic?!?!?! Why are they sold? Have I been poisoning my kids??? I used to live in Australia and not putting on sunblock is unheard of…. What about sun damage ie sun spots, wrinkles, etc???
I have always been an avid sunblock/sunscreen user and I certainly lathered my kids up! We have a pool and I wanted them to be protected. After reading this, I won’t be using it anymore! I’m going to make the homemade stuff and change other things. We have already been going out daily for half an hour to get our sun and no burns yet. ..
Unfortunately, lots of toxic things are sold, and many of them are sold as food (processed foods, soda, chips, etc). There are a lot of chemicals in sunscreen and a correlation between increased sunscreen use and increased rates of skin cancers. You also hear of people getting melanoma in places that the sun doesn’t touch anyway, so its logical that there is a deeper cause. If you can, I”d encourage you to use natural homemade sunscreen or just coconut oil instead, and to take the supplements to help either way 🙂
I eat very little gluten , no sugar and no processed foods but have always thought that sunblock is a must. I’m gathering now that tanning without burning is not damaging to your skin?
Especially if the goal is getting some good vitamin D, not just the appearance of a tan, it is a very healthy thing. Just make sure not to burn, eat lots of good fats, and it will actually be great for your skin! 🙂
Thats a lie. A tan means damage to the skin. Stop spreading lies. Please research your facts before you post. I know you posted this a long time ago but you shouldn’t be confusing people. I use sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Also, not all uvb rays are blocked by sunscreen (some still get through) so you can still get vitamin D with sunscreen on.
Sunlight has a lot of benefits for the body and skin cancer rates have increased right along with increased sunscreen use. The benefits of the sun go far beyond just Vitamin D, though it is vitally important and we make much more in a few minutes of sun exposure (20,000-30,000 IU) compared to very small amounts in food. Vitamin D deficiency is rampant and cancer rates are rising (low Vitamin D is a risk factor in many types of cancer). I understand that you’ve probably heard about how scary the sun is your whole life, but personally, I’d take 15-20 minutes of sun exposure and the resulting Vitamin D over a vitamin d deficiency and increased risk of several cancers that run in my family. A neurosurgeon, Dr. Kruse, has some good articles that explain the importance of unprotected sun exposure:
Hi, If gluten hurts a person they need 100% no gluten. A tiny bit will still destroy intestines so less nutrients absorb. Gluten enzymes from Amazon and LDN may help block hidden gluten. Gluten is wheat/barley/rye…oats/corn and a small amount in rice. Ti and Zinc oxide are not healthy….get too much and they can hurt. Vit D made in the skin helps the immune system. I am trying to get more sunlight..makes me laugh. Vit D is a hormone and it helps my MS as it helps the immune system. I also need exercise that makes more neurons/mitochondria. Being outside in nature/sunlight/exercise/grounding may help health fast.
I need no dairy/soy/sugar/GMO/heated oils/saturated fat in addition to no gluten and take vitamins/good oils/minerals…probiotic…LDN..detoxing. Gluten may hurt most people, but few realize it. Tests may not work to diagnose it. Sunlight may help prevent autoimmune issues/Celiac and help them heal.
I would love to know which supplements you use for your kids, and ages. I know you stated you do not use the astaxanthin for them, but why? I have kids ranging from 3-17.
And, do your kids use a kids version of the Nordic Naturals, or the same one as you?
I got melanoma on my face. Am almost never out in the sun but driving 5 minutes to work or anywhere else. I have to cover up in 50+ UV Protection clothing, and I really hate that. Get terrible reactions to sun protection lotions. My dermatologist told me that people just don’t seem to understand that the cause of melanoma is a genetic tendency towards it, and that typically follows through family lines. Certainly true in my family. I always avoided the sun just because I don’t like it. Didn’t stop melanoma from attacking me. My uncle had it, his daughter had it, my father had it, my mother’s father had it, my brother had it….. cannot believe that all these people are eating all the wrong foods. My mother, on the other hand, frequently hung out in the sun. She never got melanoma and ate all the wrong foods that anybody could every imagine. As for me, there is hardly anything I can eat without getting a reaction of one kind or another so my diet is down to a minimum. I believe that my dermatologist is right: it runs in families, and nothing really helpful can be done besides avoiding the sun, the clouds, reflective pavements, tanning booth – and you name it!
There are studies that show that more sun exposure reduces cancer and even skin cancer, due to increase in getting Vit D. Dr Mercola’s site has info on this. Sun exposure is good as long as you don’t burn.
There is a lot of chemicals in sunscreen, true. Also there are lots of chemicals in water, air, lettuce, wood, apples, salmon…
We can buy all kinds of things that are toxic, sunscreens are no exception. They are sold because companies can make money off the ignorance of the masses (don’t even get me started on this one!). That’s not to say that people are stupid, they’re just trusting conventional wisdom and their doctors (who are also trusting conventional wisdom) who tell us the sun is bad for us. You can’t feel guilty (ie poisoning kids, that’s strong wording. I don’t
think anyone would accuse you of that unless you were pouring the
sunscreen down their throats) about what you didn’t know in the past. That doesn’t mean you can’t change what you’re doing NOW. Now you know better. Now you have more info. and a strategy. As for sun spots and wrinkles…I’m an esthetician. Beautiful skin is my job and my passion. I do not use chemical sunscreens, and have not done so for years. I can tell you that the number one best thing you can do to maintain healthy skin is to eat well. Lots of veggies and some fruit gives you tons of antioxidants which are super important for skin health. Skin is an organ, and just like every other organ, it loves to eat fat! Skin is made up of (mostly) protein, so it loves when the body gets meat! Give it what it loves, and not what it doesn’t (sugar…it HATES sugar. Fact: SUGAR causes wrinkles and “sun spots”) and it will be healthy. All that being said, proper exfoliation and hydration/moisturization, not staying out until you get burned, all these are within your control and greatly contribute to keeping your skin looking and acting youthful.
CHEMICAL sunscreen are controversial as some of them seem to have issues with toxicity. Physical sunblocks sit on top of you skin (are NOT absorbed) and dont have this problem-these are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Many people dislike these products though because they feel greasy on the skin and leave you looking whitish. However-as an alternative there are powdered physical sunblocks available-but I wonder about those rubbing/sweating off…no such thing as perfect sunscreen unfortunately-breathable clothing that covers you body is best. Honestly I am less concerned abut the chemical sunblocks, and would rather just protect my skin in anyway that I can (and if the products is uncomfortable I wont use it). Doing alot of research to find teh right sunscreen for me-gonna do some testing.
PS-yes many things that are toxic or very unhealthy are indeed sold (been really upset about the coke commercials targeted toward teens lately for example, but there is also stuff like GMO’s, and harmful ingredients in food)-you cant trust the govt to protect you, you need to do your own research. the USDA and FDA are run by monkeys who like money (which is why big companies like monsanto continue to push GMO food on us legally)
Yes the ingredients have been known to cause cancers. Cause inflammation diagnosis. Read the link from the other post. I believe it tells you more about it & a recipe for a natural sunscreen.
This seems like just those supplements would be hundreds of dollars per person per month, not even considering a whole family. This seems unrealistic for most families, as do many posts by the “health community” for this same reason. What would a narrowed-down list giving you the biggest bang for your buck look like?
If the national health people say to do something, do the opposite. I was living is Singapore during the slip slap slop ad days. There has to be a happy medium. Go to EWG.org. Each year they publish a list of safe sunscreens.
If we drink whole raw milk, do we need the butter oil?
Not necessarily. Wouldn’t hurt, but wouldn’t be as necessary if you are drinking raw milk
Thank you! Superrr! Not bad
Yes, its a centrifuged, high vitamin butter oil, very concentrated—not butter itself. Drinking milk would have nowhere near the nutrients of this oil.
And taking cod liver oil will raise your absorption of calcium which needs vit K to take it where it needs to go in your body, so it doesn’t line your arteries and cause bone spurs and tartar on the back of your teeth, etc. The butter oil has K in it! Very important to always take the butter oil with the CLO!
I love your posts! So informative 🙂
We still use sunblock (as opposed to sunscreen, safer ingredients) for very occasional outings, such as going to the water park ALL day or something like that. And my facial tinted moisturizer does contain a sunblock, SPF 15. But other than that, we just get in the sun. We do have a good intake of vitamins D and C, but not very much coconut oil regularly. We do take fish oil, but not currently the CLO/butter oil from Green Pastures. I made the mistake of buying the non-capsule forms and traumatized the whole family, I think. Need to try again with the capsules.
I should say, we also cook with only butter and lard and use some olive and grapeseed oils in baking or for homemade mayo (olive). So we do have a good intake of better fats.
What a great post! Do you have any tweaks to the list of supplements above if I’m a nursing mother? I assume they’re all great for breast milk, but just checking!
I’m definitely going to try this regimen as we are on a sailboat often in the summer (nowhere to hide from the sun) although I already do the Vitamin D and Coconut Oil.
I do have olive skin, but it’s very fair at the same time and ever since I got pregnant last year I tend to burn more easily. I think it’s attributed to being out of the sun more as I was either pregnant and couldn’t tolerate it and now I have a baby who I try to keep out of the sun (and I won’t use sunscreen on her). I think I had a sun tolerance built up from living in Hawaii and Costa Rica and now I’ve lost it. I never burned there and I believe my body got used to it. Also, I was eating a lot of the things mentioned above and eating the best food/diet I’ve ever eaten. Maybe that’s why! I never put it together that a great diet would provide sunscreen benefits! Thanks again!
All safe during nursing, though the astaxanthin wouldn’t be completely necessary. If you do take it, just make sure it doesn’t say not to take while nursing and that there are no questionable additives to the brand you get.
Can you please provide your references for this article?