Wellness Mama: How to Avoid Sunburn Naturally

If you haven’t yet heard, Wednesdays are our Guest Blogger Series day! It’s a day where Matt and I get a bit of a mid-week break while getting to share with you some of our favorite online bloggers.  And for their hard work, they get the benefit of your readership – we encourage you to please show all of them your support by visiting their blog and social media links at the end of this post!

Today’s post comes from Katie at Wellness Mama. Katie’s a wonderful resource in the community, including not just Recipes and Fitness information – but my favorite of her topics, Natural Living. Paleo isn’t just about food – it’s about living a healthy, natural, real life. As a back-to-basics family, we love learning about altenative ways to lighten the chemical load in our lives!

This week Katie’s focusing on the topic we’re all thinking about as the warmer weather approaches: protection from the sun. We were shocked to realize that our first paleo summer resulted in almost no need for sunblock. As a SUPER fair skinned family, we couldn’t believe the difference nutrition played in that role. If you’re looking for more information on the topic, you can find Katie’s other guest post at Everyday Paleo or read what Mark Sisson has to say about the science of it here and here.

Protecting my kids from sunburn (and myself since I’m fair skinned) is a big priority each summer.

At the same time, as a mom who makes my own laundry detergent, lotion, baby wipes, deodorant, shampoo and even toothpaste, I couldn’t justify putting all the chemicals in sunscreen on my kids.

Why Sun Exposure Can Be Good, and Sunscreen Can be Bad:

Conventional wisdom suggests that sun exposure is bad, tanning is bad, and sunscreen should be worn for sun exposure. While burning is certainly bad for the skin, there is more to the story when it comes to overall sun exposure. Unfortunately, wearing sunscreen almost completely blocks the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D, which is vital to hormone reactions in the body and which helps protect against cancer and other diseases (even skin cancer).

Additionally, most conventional sunscreens contain a host of chemicals including a synthetic form of vitamin A (called retinyl palmitate) which can actually accelerate cancer growth. This might be one reason that while rates of sun exposure are down, and rates of sunscreen use are up, the skin cancer rate continues to climb (especially melanoma, which is rising dramatically). Not to mention that the link between sun exposure and melanoma is not clear cut, as 75% of melanoma cases occur in a place not regularly exposed to the sun. In fact, the rate of melanoma is actually higher in people who use sunscreen!

Another issue is that most sunscreens block UVB rays (which cause the pain associated with burning) but many don’t protect against UVA rays, which are associated with skin cancer. This means that you will actually spend more time exposed to the more dangerous rays since you aren’t experiencing the burning or pain that would cause you to get out of the sun.

Sunscreen is also not regulated by the FDA, so any of the health claims, including SPF, may not be backed by scientific evidence. I typically stick to the general rule to not apply unpronounceable ingredients to my skin (or eat them!).

The Role of Diet:

Burning is a type of inflammation, and just as with other types of inflammation, diet plays a role. Simply wearing sunscreen without addressing the reason for the burning in the first place is just putting a band aid on the problem.

If you eat a paleo diet, you’ve likely seen some health improvements from changing to this lifestyle, but this way of eating is great for your skin and sun tolerance too! I’ve seen this topic addressed several places in the Paleosphere, and it seems common that those who switch to Paleo have a greater sun tolerance… but why?

Three dietary factors that greatly affect how the skin responds to sun exposure are: omega-3 to omega-6 ratios, vitamin D levels, and the amount/kind of fats consumed.

As the Paleo diet is typically great at increasing healthy fat consumption, improving Omega-3 levels and optimizing Vitamin D, it is easy to see why many see increased sun tolerance when switching.

Sun Protective Diet


  • Vegetable oils and products containing these high Omega-6 oils
  • Flours and cereal grains which are also high in Omega-6
  • Sugars which cause inflammation
  • Processed and chemical containing foods
  • Grass-fed meats which are higher in Omega-3s
  • Wild caught fish which is an excellent source of Omega-3s
  • Leafy greens which contain a host of nutrients
  • Healthy fats, especially Omega-3 fats and quality saturated fats like coconut oil

The Role of Supplements:

Even on a Paleo diet, it is tough to always consume the optimal balance of nutrients, and supplements can sometimes be helpful. Especially if you have very fair skin, these supplements may help reduce your risk of burning and help you get healthy sun exposure without damaging your skin. They are not a replacement for being sensible about the time spent in the sun or for covering skin or using natural sunscreen when needed.

Important Notes:

Even with a great diet and supplements, it is important to build up to sun exposure slowly and avoid burning! For long sun exposure that can cause burning, protective clothing is the safest bet, or you can try a natural sunscreen with no dangerous chemical ingredients (I prefer my homemade sunscreen). It’s also important to get sensible sun exposure to help optimize your vitamin D levels and to eat a healthy diet to optimize skin health.

What steps do you take to protect your skin naturally? Do you get adequate sun exposure or are you always slathered in sunscreen? Let me know below!

Bio: Katie is a wife and mom of four with a background in nutrition and journalism. She blogs at WellnessMama.com with recipes, health info, fitness tips, and natural living ideas. Katie is a lover of books, kettlebell junkie, scuba diver, and coffee addict who can finally do a pull up. If you are new to her blog, start here, or connect on facebook, twitter or Pinterest.

You Might Also Like

  • Melissa

    For when you DO need to use sunscreen, I highly recommend EWG’s Skin Deep database, they do a sunscreen study every year and evaluate most sunscreen brands for their toxicity and other potential concerns.  Here’s the 2011 list of best sunscreens… http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/best-sunscreens/best-beach-sport-sunscreens/

  • MeowSaysMe

    It can help to carry an umbrella, preferably a sunbrella if you you can get it, to use when the sun is at its most intense and you have no choice but to be out in the intense heat of the day traveling.  If you use public transportation, you may have to wait a long time for a bus to come and burned to a crisp.  Healthy sun exposure is about not getting sun burned when you are in the sun.

  • Deb

    We do tend to go out earlier and later in the day and avoid the midday sun in the hottest part of Summer (which where we live in the mid-Atlantic is usually oppressively muggy as well), but when we do go out I’m glad to have a more natural product to put on our skin this year. Thanks for the link to your recipe!

  • jbardzinski

    would you follow the same supplement path for your children?

    • Other than Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil, I don’t/wouldn’t give the kids supplements. They get their vitamins and probiotics through food: bone broth is in our dinners, tons of leafy greens and veggies high in Vitamin C, etc. They’re guts are seemingly strong and healed from 2 years on paleo, so they rarely burn. I’m going to try a homemade or natural solution for under their eyes this summer and think that’s all they’ll need!

    • I agree with Stacy and Matt…..I just give the kids the fermented cod liver oil and make sure they are getting a lot of coconut oil and other healthy fats in their diet. Occasionally, they will get some vitamin C, but they don’t need the others, especially if they are actually getting the vitamin D from the sun. 

  • Tree nuts are high in Omega 6 fatty acids. Should we avoid tree nuts? Aren’t they part of the paleo diet?

    • They are on my “in moderation” list. As long as they aren’t a major part of your diet, and especially if you are making sure to consume a lot of Omega-3s, they are fine.

  • Cat @ NeoHomesteading.com

    We are going to Israel in a few months and I am FREAKING OUT! We are all pretty much casper look alikes. I take vitamin D because of the hormonal benefits. Wearing sunscreen is a really touchy thing. I can’t imagine all those chemicals are good for us. I am over to check out your sunscreen recipe now!

    • I’d consider taking the supplements too since they will also have immune boosting properties which is always a plus when traveling…

  • Joy

    Great post! Thank you for the tips and I value the important point of prevention via diet and supplements before the warm weather even begins. I need to finally break down and buy that fermented cod liver oil.

    • I know… it is definitely pricey, but it is by far the supplement I notice the most change from using. If you guy from their website in bulk you can save quite  a bit, especially if you can get some friends to go in on it too…

  • Whitney Saunders

    We supplement (both myself, my husband AND my 2 year old) with Vitamin D and Omega 3. And even though we are all ghost-white pale (my daughter especially) we don’t burn since being Paleo for the past 4+ years. People are amazed at my daughter’s skin as I don’t put sunscreen on her. She doesn’t burn and only gets a few freckles on her nose after an all day adventure in the sun. Considering she is both pale AND a redhead I think we’re onto something! I’ve never been one to burn but I’ve always eaten pretty Paleo (ate more starches growing up like potatoes) including home-grown grass-fed beef. My husband on the other hand ate pretty processed and crisped up like a lobster easily. Not so much anymore! It really makes a difference!

  • Delishdishbyliz

    Thank you for your blog and I nominated you for an award, here is my post if you’d like to accept!

  • Caroline Morningstar

    I’m really curious about the European study that showed that sunscreen did not protect against melanoma.  It’s from 1995.  Any newer info?


  • Kris

    What is a good homeopathic remedy for burns?  I was out in the sun today for a little too long and am a little pink and itchy.

  • season burnett

    what kind of tea do you mix your coconut oil into?  i have a couple here that i’ll experiment with, but would love to hear any recommendations.  🙂

  • I don’t burn too much these days.  I rarely use sunscreens simply because I don’t like them and I have issues with chemicals.  IF I do feel the need to put on some sun block I use Badger Balm’s line.  They turn me into Casper the ghost from the zinc, but I know it is sitting on my skin instead of absorbing it.  I use a lot of there products actually.  Love their balms and oils for my crazy dry skin.  

  • Amanda Maldonado

    Hi! I bought Carlson’s Fish Oil today and THEN came across this article. Will we get the same benefit from using this oil? It seems to be half the price of the Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil.

  • Amanda Markwardt

    Any recommendations for natural sunscreen? We are just getting into the game on this and live in Tucson – the sun is INTENSE here and will bake you like an oven.