Why I Eat My Sunscreen to Protect Skin From the Inside Out

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Eat your Sunscreen?
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Why I Eat My Sunscreen to Protect Skin From the Inside Out

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)
  • grains
  • sugars


  • 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.
eat your sunscreen natural sun protection alternatives

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 that 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
  • Sundaily “The Base Layer” – 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!

Diet and supplements can make a big difference in the bodys ability to tan instead of burn, without using sunscreen. Here is how...

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


317 responses to “Why I Eat My Sunscreen to Protect Skin From the Inside Out”

  1. Leah Nelson Avatar
    Leah Nelson

    I was wondering if I should still take some of those antioxidant supplements (Astaxanthin and Polypodium Leucotomos) you mentioned throughout the winter months (I live in Minnesota) or if they are most beneficial during the sunny months? I know you rotate through your supplements and felt these would be good to rotate for myself. However, I do like the anti aging and other effects these have on our body.

    Thanks for everything you do! You’ve been a huge part of my journey into a more natural, healthy way of living!


  2. Han-Lin Avatar

    I use chemical sunscreens and tried six kinds. I like how it’s easier to find one that’s discreet.

    It’s also possible that you look tanned because of the carotenoids from eating vegetables.

    I agree that we should eat healthy, but in terms of edible sunscreen, it’s not easy to safely estimate how long we can be in the sun safely unless maybe we have a device that safely measures our skin’s ORAC value. Right now, we can estimate our burn times based on our Fitzpatrick skin types and the UV index.

    Sunscreens don’t seem to cause Vitamin D deficiency based on research and there are some possible reasons, such as missed spots, its tendency to wear off, and our tendency to underapply it.

    Sunscreens may in some ways even help increase vitamin D production. One of the ways is that if we’re more confident in terms of being safe in the sun, we may go outdoors more frequently. You can produce more vitamin D from sun exposure five days a week rather than only a few days a month.

  3. Ms.. Brown Avatar
    Ms.. Brown

    The sundots you mentioned are discontinued… do you have another brand you like?

  4. Kimberly Barnett Avatar
    Kimberly Barnett

    Katie, I know this is an old post, but I hope you see mg question and respond. I’ve been reading that Vitamin D supplements are cholecalciferol, which is essentially rat poison, and I’ve stopped supplementing with D because of this. Are the articles that say this wrong? I’m really struggling because the two camps are so opposite each other. People I really trust on both sides are saying completely opposite things. Thanks, Katie!

  5. Lisa Brinker Avatar
    Lisa Brinker

    I’ve been taking astaxanthin everyday for years now. That’s the only big change I’ve made so I attribute not burning to it. I live in the midwest so I don’t get the sun exposure in the winter like I would like but from April to October, I spend a lot of time outside tending my garden and floating in the pool. My vitamin D levels are in the 60s when there was a time it was only 25 and I do eat healthier, but there’s no practical way I’m eating that much tomato paste!

  6. Kristi Avatar

    Thank you so much for all of your great articles, podcasts, and recipes and sharing your family and home protocols and daily regimens! I have subscribed to this blog for years now and the information is so well-researched. I know that in this age of unlimited “information” some accurate and others not it is so nice to know that you are doing your due diligence and finding very accurate information, or maybe I should say the newest science 🙂 Our family has benefitted from so many of your offerings.
    This article is very important to me as I had Melanoma 11 years ago and sure enough, my D levels were low…around 30ng/ml. My dermatologist wanted my levels up to 60 ng/ml and I have a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her oncologist wanted her D levels to be at 80 ng/ml. The science is there…low levels of Vitamin D create the opportunity for certain cancers to manifest.
    Your articles on the working synergistic relationship that Vitamin D has with magnesium and how K2 is so important to take with them are amazing. We are so grateful for this very simple, very basic health advice and preventatives. We live in a world that is so far from natural with toxins that our bodies are accosted with so preventative supplements and our daily habits and way of life are so important! I believe our health is the perfect guide to how we should be living on this earth every day. If we can all open ourselves up to making changes I believe we will be guided to a simpler way of eating, living, and existing on this amazing little blue planet of ours 🙂
    Thank you for your tireless efforts to offer science-backed information on health and wellness!
    You are truly a godsend 🙂
    With Warmest Aloha, Kristi

  7. Brenda Slavoff Avatar
    Brenda Slavoff

    When I was a child I tanned easily, but as soon as I passed puberty my skin became so extremely white it wouldn’t tan at all. I was very annoyed, because I loved the beach! I didn’t burn super easily, but I simply couldn’t get any colour at all – no matter how gradually I tried, and I had to limit sun exposure. My Vitamin D levels were always good. Now I’ve passed menopause, surprise, I notice that my skin is slightly darker and I can get a very light golden tan. Seems that the female hormones during child-bearing years cause women’s skins to be slightly paler than men’s. This used to be noticed, you can read about it in old novels, and I’ve read that in all cultures women have slightly fairer skin. Is this an adaptation so that they get Vitamin D more easily during childbearing age? Also, though I was very careful not to burn, I have to say that the areas that got sun are slightly crepey now, with some broken capillaries. I never wore sunscreen, just wore a hat and covered up at times. Skin on the face is still smooth. Why is white skin an issue? I know it wasn’t the fashion, but I loved the dramatic contrast between my dark hair and eyes and white skin. I don’t eat grains or sugar, etc, haven’t for 20 years. I live in Australia, so the sun is strong.

  8. Kate Avatar

    Do you think that the fact that skin cancer rates are going up could be related to the increasingly poor diets of Americans rather than the fact that sunscreen may be causing it?

  9. Samantha Avatar

    Any suggestions on how to safely enjoy being outside and in the sun after a recent basal cell carcinoma treatment on the chest? I’ve ordered the supplements you suggested and have them on the way. We have 2 beach vacations preplanned and I want to enjoy them but worried about what to do prevent more skin cancers. I have an ugly scar on my chest now and I have a history of breast cancer with chemo/surgery treatment in the past. I’m younger, 37. I eat relatively well (could always do better of course). Doctors just want you to take prescriptions so I’ve stopped even asking for their advice. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Often feel overwhelmed.

  10. Alicia Avatar

    Please consider changing your theory on what to eat for sunbathing. Firstly you have to have RAW animal fats– raw butter, raw cream, raw milk, raw eggs, and raw meat. If you are eating pasteurized or cooked animal fats, they are not utilized by the body in the same way. Eat the foods I just listed and you will never burn. Your skin will have the fuel to convert sun and fat into vitamin D. My first hand experience has shown me this. I feed these foods to my children, they do not ever get sunburn. Even my 12 month old can go out in mid-day sun and only tans– no sunscreen at all. We also are fair-skinned so its not a genetics factor. We spend a lot of time outdoors. I think the next important note is that these foods will make you tolerate extreme heat much better than someone on traditional cooked diet.

    NEVER take any supplements, you mention Vitamin C supplements– which is extremely drying to the body (thus skin). Supplements, even if claimed natural, are totally polluted with hexane (which is used to dissolve the “natural food” into extractable components.) You would never eat food doused in gasoline no matter how much I rinsed it off. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and inquire to your favorite supplement companies. Ask for a signed letterhead that states they do not use hexane, kerosene, or gasoline in their manufacturing process. Supplements are highly toxic to the system. Only eat raw foods and you’ll get all the vitamins necessary.

  11. Veronica Avatar

    I try to eat lots of healthy fats and micronutrients through food as it is, but when the warmer months hit, I add things like carotenoids and loads of vitamin C!

  12. Emily A Boronkay Avatar
    Emily A Boronkay

    I’d like to add this information also. A couple years ago, my Homeopath noticed that I wore my sunglasses all the time. She said that allowing my eyes to adjust to sunlight in the morning somehow “prepares“ the skin for the sun. All I know is since I started only wearing my sunglasses when I really need them, on top of a much improved diet, I haven’t had a sunburn since.

  13. Sarah Avatar

    Love this article! I totally agree about the sunscreen doing more harm than good. ? I’ve also heard, from my red headed/fair skinned son that eating watermelon and Vit A, before you go out into the sun are a great sunscreens. It may not be for everyone but worth a shot! ?????? ??
    Healthy blessings,

  14. Tori Bennett Avatar
    Tori Bennett

    I just came across your great article and said to my husband that he has not had any burns lately (Scottish) and I believe it’s due to your vitamin D intake and Astaxanthin in your custom DNA Utrition. Using less sunscreen will be a win win for him.

  15. Caroline Avatar

    I found out by accident that fasting prevents sunburn. I went out for a bike ride and forgot to apply sunscreen to my arms and legs (I always put it on my face). I was out for 4 hours in full sun and I was fasting. I am a redheaded, freckly, pale person. No sunburn – that isn’t what normally happens! I tested it again – 4 hours in full sun, no sunscreen, fasting. Again, no sunburn. This is absolute proof to me that what we eat (or don’t eat) affects EVERYTHING.

  16. Hallie Avatar

    Thanks for this great article! Can I take those recommended supplements while nursing?

  17. jessie Avatar

    I’ve Googled forever and can’t get an answer to this question: Does Polypodium Leucotomos prevent suntans or vitamin D production as well as sunburns?

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      In theory, it shouldn’t. I’ve found that it makes me a little bit less likely to tan but much less likely to burn. Anecdotally, I take this all summer and live in a very sunny climate and my Vitamin D levels have been great. From my understanding, it works as an antioxidant and protects from inflammation, which should not block Vitamin D production.

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