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. Carrie Avatar

    I wanted to let you know that this worked for me! I’ve had a hard history of skin cancer – several tumors removed, including on my eyelids, several rounds of chemo in the form of lotion….so of course I followed the doctor’s recommendations and slathered on the sunscreen, only to continue to have tumors crop up and then to be vit D deficient to boot! Last May I made the switch as per your recommendation, though certainly wasn’t religious about the astaxanthin and didn’t supplement at all with Vit C, and I slowly increased my exposure to the sun without sunscreen. Didn’t burn once. I really pushed it last weekend when I spent two hours on a boat, laid in the sun, then hiked a couple hours. In the past I would have crisped, possibly blistered, from that much sun exposure. I didn’t even get pink. I am truly amazed. Thank you.

  2. Jana Avatar

    This is great but what if I take 1 of these am I protected, I take 5000 mcg of the B-12 sublingual liquid. will this be enough?

  3. Sheila Hunt Avatar
    Sheila Hunt

    Thank you for this information. I thought it was so important i shared your link to your article on my FB page SheShes Gluten Free. I’m still learning about all that i can do to take care of myself and apprceiate your information.

  4. LIz May Avatar
    LIz May

    This year we bought an above-ground pool and I have enjoyed it nearly every afternoon in this Texas heat! Good exercise, too. I have been on a regimen this past year of coconut oil, fermented cod liver oil in the winter months and skate oil in the spring and summer – both capsules with added high vitamin butter oil. I do have somewhat olive skin and I usually tan…eventually… in the summer, but I have not had a tan in many years as I work downtown in a high-rise building.

    The pool has changed that no-sun regimen, of course! My tan, even for me, has been extraordinary this summer. I have gotten so many compliments on how pretty my skin is this summer and how glowing my tan is and what is my “trick”.

    I truly believe the additions of FMCLO and coconut oil to my diet has made a difference in my skin. I did get a slight burn earlier in the summer on my shoulders but even that was mild and never peeled. I do use a little zinc oxide on my face occasionally if I am going to be outside all day, but other than that, I have been fine without sunscreen. (I can hear my doctor’s admonishments now). Luckily for me, I have never had a problem with skin cancer, so the sun is not my enemy.

  5. disca Avatar

    A friendly warning to men: Astaxanthin possibly hinders 5-alpha-reductase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. This can have a detrimental effect on libido, cause erectile dysfunction, and contribute to hypogonadism. I, personally, would not risk it, especially if you are worried about low testosterone levels and other hormonal side effects.

  6. Kris Avatar

    Posting a second time. Sorry I’m new to this so if you get the same message from me twice you’ll know why! Question- How long does it take for the supplements mentioned above for sun protection to “kick in?”

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      It is cumulative… I started noticing benefits within a week or two with the most benefit showing up around 2-3 months

  7. Heather Doherty Musto Avatar
    Heather Doherty Musto

    I’m so glad to have read your article! On my last physical, the blood test came back as having a Vitamin D deficiency. Which I thought as odd because skin cancer runs in my family, I’ve had a basal cell carcinoma removed when I was 22, and lived in FL so I would have thought I was getting too much Vit D! Thank you so much for the dietary tips!

  8. LIsa Wilson Avatar
    LIsa Wilson

    I am extremely fair skinned, and taking 50-100,000 IU beta carotene daily

    keeps me from getting burned. It only took 25,000 IU for my 10 yo son to get from burning easily to being able to be outside for a couple of hours safely without burning.

  9. Melissa R. West Avatar
    Melissa R. West

    Wow! Lots of info! I’ve always believed in nutrition over sunscreen. I just use a multi-vitamin and eat healthy. I also have very fair skin. I did check out some of those supplements you suggested and there is no way I could afford them. I was shocked at the price of the one you said was the most important. Wow, $70 for 120 capsules! Love your whole site though. 🙂

  10. Dan Spalding Avatar
    Dan Spalding

    I’m looking at doing the mixture of coconut oil, butter, and fish oil because we really can’t afford the other. I’m wondering if we still need to do the VItamin D and then what exactly my kids need to take and amounts. They are 2 and 5.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      If you are getting sunshine daily, you won’t need anything else during the summer…

      1. Dan Spalding Avatar
        Dan Spalding

        Thanks for getting back to me! I do have one more question….on the tomato paste….do tomatoes or tomato juice work the same? This is all so new to me. Thanks for your help!

        1. Wellness Mama Avatar
          Wellness Mama

          They do, but you have to eat more as they aren’t as concentrated…

  11. Danielle Kid Avatar
    Danielle Kid

    I am confused..I recently read a book called Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs, which is truly inspirational and life-saving. He went to several doctors and recommends a shot-glass-ful of sunscreen every 2-4 hours, but you say otherwise. Which way do I veer towards?

    1. Ted Hutchinson Avatar
      Ted Hutchinson

      I think we should remember that humans evolved initially without clothing and those with the palest skins (highest potential for making Vitamin D) had an evolutionary advantage for living further from the Equator, while those with the most natural sunscreen (darkest skin colour) had the advantage when it comes to living nearer the Equator.

      Obviously if living outdoors naked led to early death (from skin cancer) those early humans would not have survived the evolutionary process.

      So there must have been something different about their skin texture or diet that provided them with a natural protection against being damaged from UV radiation. That is why I suggest people pay careful attention to what Wellnessmama has suggested and why I find that my skin now doesn’t burn when I lay naked in the midday sun. It will take several weeks (12~20) to restore the natural potential for photo-protection that comes from improving your natural anti-inflammatory status. but it can be done. But you must never allow your skin to burn nor should you let anyone in your company remain unaware if their skin is turning pink. There is absolutely no need (as far as vitamin D production is concerned) to allow skin to become inflamed.

      Bear in mind that I live in the UK where hot sunlight is in short supply. Living in hotter countries may put greater pressure on your skins anti-inflammatory reserves but I’ve not used sunscreen for years since raising my omega 3 and vitamin D status while eliminating omega 6 vegetable/seed oils from my diet.

      1. Laurie Avatar

        Evolution doesn’t need us to live a long life: only long enough to reproduce and (maybe) raise our children to reproductive age themselves. If you died from melanoma at age 30 with teenage kids, that’s still evolutionary success.

        1. Ted Hutchinson Avatar
          Ted Hutchinson

          Your point is valid but in practice people who spend more time indoors have more melanoma than people who spend time in the sun.
          Occupational sunlight exposure and melanoma in the U.S. Navy.
          People living as/where human DNA evolved have 25(OH)D levels around 50ng/ml and these levels naturally rise with age and pregnancy. At that level human milk is vitamin d replete and Vitamin d is most effective as an anti-inflammatory agent.
          It is generally the case that people with higher 25(OH)D levels live longer and spend less time in hospital.
          If your skin has become maladapted to it’s natural environment so it burns quickly when exposed to UVB then you need to change your diet. Remove pro-inflammatory foods like omega 6 rich vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates and sugars.

  12. Salem Avatar

    I am of the same decent (VERY fair- always have had to wear the lightest foundation available) & my husband & kids are fair skinned as well. I actually discovered the internal sunscreen benefits of FCLO/HVBO on accident this year. We went to the zoo several weeks ago (just when it had gotten warm & really sunny) & we were there in the middle of the day for 6+ hours (most of it in the sun). We are at a high altitude, so I have burned in the winter before. Since my kids are better at taking their FCLO/HVBO blend than I am, I did get a tiny pink, but they were just a little more tan (NO BURN AT ALL for them). Usually, it would take me about 20 minutes to get as pink as I did, but instead it took 6 hours. I was so amazed. I am now better at taking my FCLO/HVBO. It helps my baby too, since she is breastfeeding. But, we try to keep a hat on her (& keep her in the shade) when we are out for very long, since I don’t think she needs as much sun anyway. This is a great post! Thanks for writing it. 🙂

  13. Carmen Lock Avatar
    Carmen Lock

    How do you take the magnesium? When do you take the magnesium? At breakfast, lunch or dinner? I will really appreciate your prompt response…… I love your blog!!!!

  14. brian krista Avatar
    brian krista

    How do I give the fermented cod liver/butter oil to my 2 year old? I’ve bought the capsules you suggested for myself, but they are much to big for him to take. I tried squeezing it out for him, but he hated the taste & it is wasting the oil because I can’t get it all out! Suggestions?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      They also have a gel version. For my kids, I keep in the fridge to make it harder and then scoop some on a spoon, drizzle or dip in to honey and then give to them…

  15. Kara Cissna Avatar
    Kara Cissna

    Wait, why are we supposed to avoid grains??? I thought it’s healthy to eat whole grains and is imperative to digestion.

  16. Marie Avatar

    I rarely use sunscreen. I burn easily, so I go out and “use my sunshine” sparingly. I have pink undertones and I am white as snow. I plan on following these guidelines, though. I’ll do anything for a healthy tan. Or at least, match this farmer’s tan I have going on.. blehck!

  17. natalie Avatar

    Any suggestions for those of us who can’t afford the cod/butter blend? Any substitutions? I’m on a very tight budget but really want to be sun-safe! My little boys and myself are very fair!!!

    1. Maria Avatar

      I read somewhere that you can take grassfed chicken liver if you can’t get your hands on FCLO. I also used to think it was expensive, but I don’t buy vitamin D or A since it is in the oil now, which saves me money. Plus you can start adding liver just freeze it and shave it into your meals. It has to be grassfed. I believe I read it in the WAPF website. Weston A. Price Foundation. They have an article on Vitamin D. I have noticed a huge difference so I make the sacrifice for my whole family of 7. They get 2 gels per day AT least.

  18. Dora Ruilova Avatar
    Dora Ruilova

    That is totally awesome!!!! I too am descended from Scots and Norweigians…Latin for I also burn if I get more than about half an hour of sun!!! This article is just what I was looking for! Thanks a ton!!!

  19. Kenyon Avatar

    Can you explain the purpose of eating tomato paste daily for sun protection? My daughter has fructose malabsorption and can’t eat tomato paste (or sauce). If I can find out the purpose of tomato paste, perhaps I can find a low-fructose whole food substitute. Thanks!

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar
      Wellness Mama

      The lycopene is helpful but it isn’t as important as the other parts, so I’d focus on the good fats if she can handle those…

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