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. Suz Avatar

    Is there an alternative to the butter/cod blend because I cannot afford the capsules you recommend?

      1. Suz Avatar

        Thanks for the response! Do you mean a blend of all 3? Or just to incorporate them in your diet? If you meant to blend them, is there a recommended ratio?

        1. Wellness Mama Avatar
          Wellness Mama

          Just to incorporate them in to the diet. I aim for a couple tablespoons each of coconut oil and butter and a regular dose of fish oil each day if i’m not taking the FCLo

  2. Chloe Avatar

    I have a problem with my skin right now and I need some guidance. About a month ago I went to Florida and got so burned I didn’t go back out in the sun after day two. I worse sunscreen. I have dark olive skin and I never burn let alone stay red. I returned to Kentucky and stayed out of the sun because it was cold. I am spending more time in the sun and my skin just keeps getting red. It’s not itchy, no bumps, just red. I went to the dermatologist and she said it looked like an allergy but to what she didn’t know. It’s on my legs, arms and a little on my face. She said it seems like my blood vessels are honked off about something. It’s driving me crazy. There’s no pain or irritation but just redness. My skin always absorbs the sun so I am so confused as to what it is. Summer is approaching and I am very outdoorsy as I spend most of my days in the river with a kayak and hiking. I follow a diet rich in veggies, protein and some fruits. I rarely eat wheat or sugar. I take fish oil, vitamin C, beta-carotene and niacin. any advice? I really appreciate it!

    1. Angela Raum Avatar
      Angela Raum

      Some type of inflammation going on. Rashes are typically with inflammation diagnosis such as mine I was just Dx with at 40. Rheumatoid Arthritis. My hands went completely numb & had pain in hands & down arms. Previously had no pain except once in a while in knee. Never corelated it to RA. Of course yr reddness could be a different inflammation Dx.

  3. Emily Avatar

    Kroger is now carrying astaxanthin! Nature made makes it now! 🙂 I don’t know if you already knew that or if you bought from amazon for a reason.

  4. Kelly Killeen Avatar
    Kelly Killeen

    I never really burned growing up even though I am Irish. I was on swim team every year and played outside every day until dark. It wasn’t until I got into high school and moved in with my aunt, that I started burning. We ate a lot of fast food and drank a lot of soda. Now that I have my own family and we try to eat healthier (mostly organic, and minimally processed) I really don’t burn like I used to. Thanks for helping me make that connection!

  5. Megan Moriarty Avatar
    Megan Moriarty

    How soon before the summer should I start these supplements?

  6. Jennifer Avatar

    Zink oxide is bad for yr skin why do you recommend a home made sun screen with zink oxide in it?

  7. Lily Avatar

    Fascinating. Perusing your site and getting more and more motivated to make the change to grain-free!

  8. Cortny Avatar

    Can you help me understand exactly what is in the Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Oil butter blend you use? I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want my kids and I to start taking it and be able to ditch the sunscreen, but I really can’t do $70 for 120 capsules on amazon. 🙁 Are there some other types of things I could combine to get the same or at least similar effect? Thank you so much! Your website has been a life-changer for us!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      They very occasionally have huge sales and I try to post those if I see them, but they really are the best out there. One alternative would be just taking the FCLO by itself and consuming a lot of grassed butter and coconut oil to get the fats in balance… the FCLO plain is at least cheaper than the blend. There are some other regular cod livers oils that are ok, but I still don’t know that I’d take/recommend them…

      1. Cortny Avatar

        Thanks for your reply. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for a sale! Now, to convince the hubby it’s way worth the cost….. 😉

  9. Lisa Cook Avatar

    On a related note (inflammation), I’ve been researching some anti-inflammatory habits. My baby wears a Baltic Amber teething necklace, which is said to reduce inflammation and pain by releasing succinic acid when warm against the skin. I found a place that sells them in adult sizes too. Have you heard of anyone using these for anti-inflammatory purposes, as an adult?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      These specific nutrients and fats are the only ones I’ve found that work this way, so I don’t know of any vegan options…

    2. Merra Avatar

      For a vegan alternative to Omega-3, try finding ALGEA based products. I use one called Opti3 (which also includes Vitamin D), it’s not ideal for me (the optimal ratio between DHA and EPA varies depending on which issues the body have to deal with most – for me it’s depression, and I should ideally get more EPA than DHA, but for eye problems e.g. more DHA is better), but it’s the only brand my local health food store carries and so far I haven’t been able to find a better one online.

      I don’t know what the benefits of fermention in cod liver oil is, but fish actually get their omega 3s from algea too, mostly via eating krill that eat algea (and so on up the food chain). The oils present in a slightly different form in algea and krill than in fish, one which is better absorbed by the human body, so if you see advertisment that krill oil is better than fish oil that is the reason why – BUT the same benefit can be gotten from algea oil, AND without causing OVERFISHING and deplation of the seas (algea is farmed, not harvested from the seas unlike other forms of Omega3 oils).

      As for high rates of skin cancer in Scandinavians, I would say it has to do with our seasonal exposure. Very little sun in the winter, except periods when there’s lots of snow that reflects the sun (it’s actually the easiest way to get sunburned, being out in the snow a sunny day with all that reflexion) and lots and lots of sun in the summer and most people just throw all their clothes off in an effort to enjoy it while it lasts, so the body gets a shock going from close to no sun to full-on sun, especially if being close to water (which also reflects the sun). It would probably be better for the body to gradually get used to handling sun over a couple of weeks – may be relevant for people otherwhere with indoor jobs as well.

      The article and comments have given me some good ideas, but science is still out on a lot of issues regarding sun exposure, and just because there is a corralation between increased known skin cancer cases and sunscreen use, there is not necessarily a causation (i.e. one doesn’t necessarily cause the other just because they corralate)

  10. Sarah Avatar

    Great post! Once I made edible play dough for my preschooler and he recently asked if I would make edible sunscreen. Now I know how. 😉

  11. alyssa Avatar

    Last summer my boyfriend told me about internal sunscreen, and taking his advice I never had a single sunburn for the rest of the summer! Just a nice sexy tan.

  12. Stephanie Larivee Avatar
    Stephanie Larivee

    I’ve seen you recommend ingesting 1/4C to 1/2C of coconut oil per day, so I’m curious if you consume other sources of fats like avocados or nuts and if 1/4C per day is something you built up to or if you recommend people just start with 1/4C per day and if I’m looking to lose weight, is 1/4C per day a good amount to take? I’ve never subscribed to the low-fat dogma, but 1/4C (or 1/2C!) a day seems like a lot!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      I worked up to it by starting with a tablespoon a day in hot coffee or tea. Coconut oil has a metabolism boosting effect, so it will help weight loss, but you’ll have to see what works best for your body. I do best in the 1/4-1/2 cup range, but some people will need more or less…

  13. Lisa Avatar

    I just came across your blog, and give it a 1000 thumbs up! Awesome job! This article on sun protection is great, and I can’t wait to try your sunscreen bars! I take Astaxanthin daily, as well as coconut oil and they are both wonderful. Haven’t tried the coconut oil in tea yet though – that will be my treat today! I did have a few comments, as I have been studying natural health since I was 13, which is about 37 years now, and one of the most important things I have learned in the past few years is how much isolated nutrients can be as harmful as they are helpful. For instance, almost every vitamin C supplement on the market is ascorbic acid. Well, ascorbic acid is actually just the antioxidant that surrounds the whole vitamin c complex to prevent degradation. Yet our supplement industry in it’s infinite wisdom allows it be called vitamin C. So my point is to get your C and D from whole food sources. For C, I take “C From Nature” from Purium Health products. And for D, the best source I have found is sunflower seeds, and mushrooms. A variety of mushrooms is best, and Shiitakes are my favorite! You can get them frozen now at Whole Foods at a good price.

  14. Lola Avatar

    The idea that sunscreen puts a person at higher risk or developing cancer is complete lunacy.   None of your links provided any evidence based research to support such a claim.  If anything the rise is cancer is due to increased cancer screening in recent years.  Please try a litter harder to substantiate your claim next time with some actual proven scientific research.  

      1. Lily Avatar

        Lola, you should look up the effects of retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) which is added to many sunscreens. You will be surprised.

      2. Molly Avatar

        You’re awesome, Katie! This really works! I’m not fair skinned but not olive complected either and COULDN’T EVER (previously) be at the beach all day without burning…. Until this week after reading this post. I eat 100% clean (primal! Love raw milk!!!) and was taking nearly all of these supplements and added vit c and the astaxanthin …. Have been on the beach ALL day for 4 straight days with NO sunscreen or sunblock and I’m not even slightly PINK!!!! Amazing!!!! This WORKS! Thank you!!!!! Also, I asked above but why do you take the vit c and magnesium separately?
        Thanks in advance!

  15. EJ Avatar

    Will an unfermented Omega-3 fish oil that lists anchovy and sardine as the fish source be effective in place of the fermeted cod liver oil? Specifically I have Schiff brand Omega-3 Fish Oil.

  16. shannon Avatar

    I think this advice is all well and good, but I’m leery of your referring to the increased cases of skin cancer which coincide with the decreased time outside. This is definitely true, but I have no confidence at all that this is because we used to take supplements and now we don’t.

    While I do believe that your nutritional advice is sound and healthful, you didn’t connect the dots enough for my own sense of relief. As a fellow fair skinned friend I just can’t take the chance of repeat offenses on my body by eliminating what I do know to work for a bunch of pills (supplements are still pills and without extensive knowledge or guidance from an herbalist can be just as risky as anything from pfizer).

    Still, I am curious what other options are available for we Snow Whites out there. Until I get some more solid information, however, I’m just going to keep checking EWG’s sunscreen guide and buying my purple prairie. I hope to read more about this as time keeps on tickin tickin tickin into the future.

  17. Mona Avatar

    1/4 cup of coconut oil is 48g of saturated fat.  That’s a lot of saturated fat for the day, especially if you’re eating it every day.  How do you avoid having high cholesterol?

      1. Mona Avatar

        But just because you don’t eat processed food doesn’t mean you don’t have horrible cholesterol (which is not good for you). You wouldn’t want to drop dead from clogged arteries. People who eat paleo (which is a great way to eat, for the most part) notoriously have bad cholesterol. There might be a better way than ingesting such amounts of saturated fat. It is something that you should be worried about and have checked. .

        1. Wellness Mama Avatar
          Wellness Mama

          The majority of people who “drop dead from clogged arteries” have normal or low cholesterol. I have average cholesterol but EXCELLENT HDL to LDL ratios, which is more important. Markers like C-Reactive Protein and scans of calcification in arteries are much more correlated to heart disease than cholesterol (which the body will actually make MORE of if you aren’t getting it from diet). I’d highly recommend this article http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/01/does-dietary-saturated-fat-increase.html and his entire blog for more research on the non-link between the two…

  18. Bek Avatar

    WOW the CLO you referenced is CRAZY expensive! Is that the only kind of fermented stuff out there? I usually get this kind of thing on vitacost and they only have regular CLO and  no blends. How important is it to get that kind? I do all the other things on the list but I am not sure it is worth $75/bottle for FCLOblend…Thank you for the helpful post, though!

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