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.

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