Yes, you read that right.
I protect my skin (+ my nursing baby’s skin) from the inside out by eating certain sun-protecting foods + avoiding other foods that make skin more vulnerable to burning. No, I don’t open a bottle of Coppertone + start chugging.
The sun isn’t the enemy, overexposure that leads to burning is. A smart relationship with the sun can actually improve your health + mood dramatically, and coupled with the foods in this post, you can still enjoy a sun-kissed glow as an added benefit.
I am in love with this strategy because it works. Eating your sunscreen truly works. This works for babies and adults alike. This even works for my fair freckled-skinned Irish husband who couldn’t even say the word “beach” before getting a sunburn.
I’m mostly in love with this strategy, though, because I’m NOT in love with the ingredients in the majority of topical sunscreens. Let’s get those reasons out of the way, so that you’ll be just as encouraged to try eating your sunscreen as your first level of sun protection.
What’s Not to Love About Most Topical Sunscreens
Skin cancer rates are rising in the United States despite more sunscreen use + reduced sun exposure in recent decades.
I travel to Europe often + I never see Europeans slathering on sunscreen. You’re also hard-pressed to find sunscreen in the non-touristy parts of most European countries. Yes, part of that can be from their olive skin not needing as much sun protection, but not all Europeans have olive skin + culturally, they’re outside a lot more… Something to think about.
The chemicals commonly used in sunscreen may be endocrine disruptors, which means they may interfere with thyroid and the ways other hormones work in the body.
Oxybenzone is the most common sunscreen chemical + it’s considered an endocrine disruptor. This is a huge problem because it can reduce sperm count in men and may contribute to endometriosis in women. Need I say more?
Okay, I will. Here’s a quick bullet list:
- Wearing sunscreen greatly reduces the body’s natural vitamin D production. Statistically, 75% of us are deficient in vitamin D and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher risk of cancer and heart disease (which kill more people than skin cancer per year). (1,2)
- A vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, that is often used in sunscreens was shown to speed up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.
- There’s a serious lack of unbiased, quality testing — Of the 1,400+ sunscreens tested by the EWG, only 5% met their safety standards and over 40% were listed as potentially contributing to skin cancer.
The skin is our body’s largest organ. If I wouldn’t feed certain chemicals to my heart, lungs, or other organ systems, then why would I apply them to my skin?
Personally, if I can’t pronounce it or wouldn’t eat it, I don’t apply it to my skin. I also know that the most basic, natural methods have worked for thousands of years before the multi-billion dollar beauty industry emerged.
I think as increasing evidence shows up about the dangers of many sunscreens and their potential to increase rates of skin cancer, it is important not to depend on sunscreens or be convinced that regular sunscreen use decreases the risk of skin cancer. Stay open-minded.
Foods to Love for Natural Sun Protection
In general, you’re aiming for an anti-inflammatory diet.
- Eat saturated, monounsaturated + omega-3 fats (like from small fish)
- Spinach, kale, dark lettuces
- 2+ tablespoons of tomato paste daily
- Berries — Eat a variety of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries + blueberries
- Dark Chocolate — Go for 70% cacao from the natural foods store, when you can. If you’re a chocolate lover, I don’t recommend switching to that healthier stuff cold turkey. Wean yourself! I have a BIG sweet tooth + instead just limit myself to a couple dark chocolate covered pretzels or frozen banana slices (both from Trader Joe’s) when I’m trying to fulfill that craving.
Antioxidants help reduce inflammation and free radicals, which protects against skin damage.
Foods to Avoid for Natural Sun Protection
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids
- Omega-6 fats
- Processed foods
- Vegetable oils
Vegetable oils make you most prone to burning, so cook with a little simple organic olive oil when necessary + limit the amount of takeout/frozen food you consume. Fresh is best!
There are times when sticking to a healthy anti-inflammatory diet consistently just isn’t as possible as you’d like, so it can be hard to rely on this strategy as your sole source of sun protection. For those times, I do supplement my sunshine with a few select vitamins + products. Stay tuned — I’ll share those in a follow-up post!