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 to avoid sunscreen?
Related: Sun Protection Smoothie
How To Avoid Sunburns 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.
Related: DIY Natural Sunscreen
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 really loves Beautycounter’s sunscreen spray and wears Beauycounter’s Dew Skin tinted moisturizer with SPF on her face daily, year-round, to minimize her risks for skin cancer on her face and to also slow down the signs of aging. For those who don’t prefer any kind of tint, she also raves about the Countersun Daily Sheer Defense for Face.
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.
Related: 5 Homemade Sunscreen Recipes
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.
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 my kids and I take daily and one of the things I credit for our “burn-free summer.”