It really IS possible to avoid sunburn without using sunscreen. There really are safe and natural alternatives to sunscreen.
By Dena Norton, Contributing Writer
It’s that time of year again – pools, picnics, beaches, and water parks.
In Texas, summer lasts at least five months, and we take advantage of every one of them by sipping on seasonal smoothies, eating homemade popsicles, and going to the pool.
I love the smoothies, popsicles, and pool time. I don’t love having to lather everyone up with sunscreen, having it smeared into the seats of my car, and nagging everyone about getting out of the water to come and reapply every couple of hours.
So, you can imagine my delight last summer when I discovered that we could avoid sunburn without using sunscreen! It kind of shocked me, actually.
For the first time ever, we used zero sunscreen all summer long, but also didn’t burn. Not even once!
How’d we do it? … And, since I know some of you are wondering, is it even safe?
MY FAMILY’S STORY: HOW TO AVOID SUNBURN WITHOUT USING SUNSCREEN
First, let me give you a little background. I worked as a dietitian at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for six years. Then, I came home to start a family and launch my blog and nutrition coaching business. So I’m well aware of the apparent link between sun exposure and skin cancer (More on that later). Just hear me out. 😉
As a family, we were always healthy eaters. But, after a personal health crisis in 2014, we began to incorporate more pastured animal fats, fermented foods, and high quality supplements for gut and hormone health (Psst – I’ve got a great deal on one of those supplements at the end of this post!). We didn’t eat very many processed foods to begin with. However, our intake of packaged foods that used processed vegetable oils went down even further.
Fast forward to January of 2016. We started the GAPS Diet for gut healing to address some symptoms we had seen in my youngest. He continued on GAPS for just over a year (with wonderful results, by the way!). Meanwhile, the rest of us returned to our healthy, real food diets after just a few months.
As we continued eating real foods over those couple of years, I noticed a gradual reduction in our need for sunscreen. But I never expected to not need it at all.
But that’s exactly what happened in the summer of 2016. The kids were in swim team every afternoon for the first six weeks, and we took weekly trips to the pool as a family for a few hours at a time, sometimes mid-morning through midday, and other times in the mid to late afternoon. And we never came home with a sunburn.
In fact, we didn’t even get “pink”!
I fully credit our sun resistance to the accumulated effects of the higher animal fat, gut healthy diet and supplements I mentioned we adopted nearly two years prior. Others have made the same connection – check out some great articles on the topic here and here.
Just to be clear, I’m not throwing away the sunscreen just yet, and I’m not suggesting you do that either. But, I’m happy to say we no longer have to worry about applying and reapplying sunscreen every time we go to the pool for a few hours!
Spending all day at a pool or water park is a different story. You better believe we’ll have our favorite nontoxic sunscreen on hand then! Badger sunscreens have worked well for us in the past and Erin shared some of her favorite natural sunscreens in a blog series she wrote on this topic last year.
I should also mention that no one in my family is blonde or red-headed, though one of us has more sensitive skin than the others and he seemed to avoid burning just like the rest of us. I can’t say with certainty that our experience would be repeated for fairer skinned individuals. Still, I fully believe at least some degree of sunburn protection would occur with a transition to a higher quality, real foods diet, regardless of hair color or skin tone.
IS IT REALLY SAFE TO GO WITHOUT SUNSCREEN?
Some of you are probably already sold on the idea of a real foods diet offering sun protection, based on what you’ve read online or on your own experiences.
Others of you are thinking, “This girl’s off her rocker. Going without sunscreen doesn’t even seem safe.”
I hear you. It made me nervous at first, too. So, before we tried it, I went back and scoured the literature to make sure I was comfortable with it. In fact, I recently shared this summary of what the science has to say about the sun, sunscreen and our health, along with 5 ways to decrease skin cancer risk. If you like geeking out on all the details like I do, definitely check it out!
The bottom line is that there is a balance between sun exposure and sun protection. It’s that balance that we should all be trying to achieve, rather than fearfully covering ourselves in sunscreen every time we go out the door.
And, just to reiterate, I’m also not a proponent of never wearing sunscreen. Rather, we should choose a good one and use it only when we truly need it. And adopting a real foods diet with appropriate supplementation may, over time, decrease how often we need it.
For my family, it appears that diet changes have significantly improved our sun tolerance. But each individual must consider the evidence carefully and monitor their own reactions to sun exposure, to determine what “dose” of sun is ideal for them.
This informed and balanced approach will help us enjoy the benefits of both moderate sun exposure and judicious use of natural sunscreens (as well as sun protective clothing) to maximize health benefits while minimizing health risks.
ONE OF MY FAVORITE SUN PROTECTIVE SUPPLEMENTS!
This is the Cod Liver Oil Cod Liver Oil my kids and I take daily and one of the things I credit for our “burn-free summer.” And I want to share it with you at a discounted rate just for Humbled Homemaker readers!
Now through August 31st, take $5 off every bottle of Green Pasture Royal Butter Oil-Fermented Cod Liver Oil capsules. All you have to do is buy them from my Supplement Shop. Plus, get the fast, free shipping I offer on all supplements.
That means you’re getting a top notch product at the lowest price anywhere online!
To get your discount, just complete this form, then reply to the email you receive from me to tell me you want the THH Cod Liver Oil discount code! Simple as that!
Liver oil…Interesting. Will have the possibility to try it very soon.
I work for Dr. Joe Esposito (you can find him all over the web) and have done my own research into the link between gut health and quite a number of disease processes. Dr. Joe is of the opinion that all animal products are damaging. Personally, I am not at that point, but I will say that for years I ate a vegetarian and organic diet,when I started eating animal products again I burned to a crisp. Now that I’m back to eating clean food again, I rarely, if ever use sunscreen.
Very interesting, Laura. I would be curious as to the ratio of plants to animals as well as the quality of animal foods you were eating during that time? The the science seems to clearly distinguish between the nutritional value of fully pasture raised meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy as compared to conventionally raised (“you are what you eat eats”). Pastured animal foods and wild caught fish provide critical nutrients for health (fat soluble vitamins, cholesterol, omega-3’s, etc.), but the plant foods offer antioxidants and other benefits as well, so there’s definitely a role for both. The bottom line is to listen your own body and to do what works best for you, which is what it sounds like you’ve done! Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂
How do you know when you’ve had enough of those foods to reduce the sunscreen use? I have two very light skinned kids that are always burning. They have always eaten a very healthy diet. They eat greek yogurt several times a week, which I feel is good for gut health. They also eat fruits and vegetables several times a day as well as real foods. I cook almost everything we eat.
It sounds like you’re covering a lot of the real food bases, which is awesome. I wonder if boosting their healthy fat intake (e.g., saturated fats from coconut and pastured animals) would help. And, it sounds like you may not buy many convenience snack foods but, if you do, just double check to be sure added sugars or vegetable oils aren’t slipping in that way.
Once you’ve got the nutrient density of the diet maximized, and are consistent with it for several months, I would expect their sun tolerance to improve at least somewhat over their baseline. It’s hard to say exactly how much since nutrient needs and utilization, skin tone, hair color, and other factors play into the equation.
I hope that sheds a little light on your question?
I myself have found less burned skin in summer as i have gotten older, i have brown hair but a strong red tint to my facial hair and the hair around my ears. Healthy diet and lack of soap i have found changed my situation. Showers and lathering up in soap does it damage our skin? I get out of the shower and feel dry, and watch the water repel off my skin. Now when i have done my usual daily dip in the spring or pool i find a hydrating feeling and notice the feel of my skin is much more moist. Neither me or My kids have gotten burns this year and the few times i noticed the start of one we left sunlight and applied aloe. My son in particular went to bed with a red tint so we applied aloe, next day he woke up normal.