Natural Sun Protection From the Inside Out

April 13, 2012 by Katie@wellnessmama

As summer approaches, sun-protection is definitely something that must be considered, but as with many other things Paleo, the best solution may not always be the conventional one.

If you’ve read this blog or others like it, I’m sure you are well aware that diet plays a pivotal role in overall health, energy levels, digestive health and weight. Logically, diet also is an influencing factor in skin health and sun protection.

The conventional method of sun protection is much like the conventional method of many types of illness: Treat the symptoms or prevent the symptoms from occurring.

In the case of sun exposure, the general idea is to prevent the sunburn (or all sun exposure) rather than address why the skin is burning in the first place.

In the paleo-sphere, we are well-aware of the importance of Vitamin D, and we are capable of producing the amounts our bodies need through our skin. Unfortunately, even low-SPF sunscreens can block almost all Vitamin D production.

As links have been found between low-vitamin D and skin cancer (among others), the cure may be more dangerous than the disease in this case!

It’s also interesting to note that while rates of sun exposure are decreasing, skin cancer rates are steadily rising and melanoma rates are getting worrisome.

There are theories that the chemicals in most sunscreens can be as damaging or more so than sun damage itself. Either way, I use the same rule with sunscreens as I do with foods and beauty products: If I can’t pronounce an ingredient or buy it without a chemical license, I don’t use it.

The Role of Diet:

Sunburn is a type of inflammation. It is caused by an external factor, but a lot of internal factors come into play as well.

Inflammatory foods like grains, sugars and vegetable oils (especially those!) can cause inflammation in the body and make the skin more prone to inflammation (burning) as well.

In the same way, anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent inflammation in the body or on the skin from sun exposure.

If you’ve been Paleo for a while, you might have already noticed an increased sun tolerance, or that you are tanning better. It isn’t your imagination. In fact, Mark’s Daily Apple addressed natural ways to prevent sunburn, and all of the suggestions were diet/supplement related.

The most problematic foods for your skin when it comes to sun-exposure are: processed foods, processed grains, sugars and vegetable oils (no surprise there!).

The most beneficial foods for your skin when it comes to sun exposure are: healthy saturated fats, green leafy vegetables, omega-3 rich foods like fish, and antioxidant containing foods like berries (and dark chocolate). No surprises there either!

I’ve also found that some key supplements can increase sun tolerance even more. The combination of these supplements (which I’d recommend anyway) and a Paleo diet let me go to the beach all day last summer without burning (a first) and come away with a golden tan (also a first!).

The Supplements:

Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend (also great for remineralizing teeth)-Probably the most important supplement for sun protection. I take double doses during the summer and the kids take it too. Since adding this and the coconut oil daily, none of us have burned. It’s also great for digestive and oral health. (Amazon finally has the capsules back in stock)
Vitamin D3 (I take about 5,000 IU/day)- Emerging evidence shows that optimizing blood levels of Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer. I highly recommend getting your blood levels tested prior to beginning Vitamin D supplementation and talking to your doctor, as too much can also be a bad thing. Also, not needed if you are getting at least 30 minutes of sun a day.
Vitamin C (I take about 2,000 mg/day)- A potent anti-inflammatory, and it is good for the immune system too.
1/4 cup coconut oil melted in a cup of herbal tea per day- the Medium Chain Fatty Acids and saturated fat are easily utilized by the body for new skin formation and are protective against burning.
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.

Natural Homemade Sunscreen:

I’m definitely not suggesting that you do anything that could lead to sunburn, which is harmful! For prolonged sun exposure past your sun-tolerance, protective clothing is best, but for times you’ll be out in the sun for long times and don’t want to wear long sleeves (the beach), you can make a natural homemade sunscreen that doesn’t have the chemicals of most sunscreens.

Here’s the recipe I use. You can also use plain coconut oil on the skin for shorter times, especially if you’ve already built up a tan.

Your skin, like the rest of your body, will benefit from a healthy diet and a few key supplements. Rather than turning to chemical laden sunscreens- give the natural versions a try! You might be pleasantly surprised!