Eat Your Sunscreen: Alternative Sun Protection

By Megan Patiry on April 23, 2014

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Despite the common advice to lather on the sunscreen before going outside (or to just avoid going outdoors altogether), instances of skin cancer are on the rise, and the number isn’t minuscule. Cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are steadily climbing at 3.1 percent annually, while other forms are jointing the race at a quick 4.2 percent. In fact, skin cancer rates have exploded upward by 77 percent between 1992 and 2006–an ironic increase, when we look at the constant push for more sunscreen and less sun exposure.

What could possibly be the cause of this increase, despite our ever-increasing “safety measures” against the sun?

It seems individuals have long since forgotten that the sun brings life to our planet; it feeds our plants, warms our bodies and synthesizes vitamin D (which in turn can relieve fibromyalgia pain, treat skin diseases such as psoriasis, promote wound healing, and regulate body temperature) among a host of other necessary functions.

According to Mercola.comSolar ultraviolet (UV) radiation has been used since ancient times to treat various diseases. This has a scientific background in the fact that a large number of molecules (chromophores) in different layers of the skin interacts with and absorbs UV.” To reiterate this idea, the rays from the sun were also used as a standard treatment for tuberculosis before the advent of antibiotics.

“Surely this can’t be the sun we’re talking about? It’s downright dangerous,” is a common claim among religious sunscreen-wearers. However, there is a problem with this reasoning, and it lies behind its beneficiaries: sunscreen companies. Sunscreen may be touted as a miracle must-have, yet the ingredients found in nearly all commercial brands could rival the damaging effects of a solar flare on our skin. According to Arthur W. Perry, MD, FACS:

“Chemical sunscreens don’t sit on the surface of the skin – they soak into it and quickly find their way into the bloodstream. They scatter all over the body without being detoxified by the liver and can be detected in blood, urine, and breast milk for up to two days after a single application. That would be just fine if they were uniformly safe – but they’re not.”

Perry reveals that “9 of the 15 chemical sunscreens are considered endocrine disrupters.” Endocrine disrupters are chemicals that interfere with hormones, namely estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and thyroid hormones. These chemicals found in sunscreens can “cause abnormal development of fetuses and growing children,” “early puberty and premature breast development in girls, and small and undescended testicles in boys,” and contribute to development of breast and ovarian cancers in women and prostate cancers in men.

Common singular ingredients found in commercial brands can have specific effects as well. Retinyl Palmitate showed in a 2009 study released by the National Toxicology Program to speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when exposed to sunlight (and by speed we mean a 21 percent faster development of lesions and tumors). In addition, oxybenzone acts as  a hormone disrupter, while the chemical fragrances that makes sunscreen smell like the beach have been linked to organ toxicity and immunotoxicity by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

To be clear, brands using the harmful ingredients listed above include Aveeno, Banana Boat, Coppertone Sport, Coppertone Water Babies, Bull Frog, Neutrogena, Store brands (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens), and Hawaiian Tropic, among others, and have been rated as dangerous by the EWG.

So what should we do before spending a day at the beach or on a boat without sunscreen? Luckily, there are natural alternatives to sun protection that don’t involve slathering on sunscreen–ones that work with our bodies rather than against them  (and they taste good, too).


Tomatoes are bursting with the antioxidant lycopene, which has shown to protect against too much UV radiation. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of British Dermatology, 20 healthy women who ate a quarter cup of tomato paste in olive oil every day for three months were more protected against sunburn than those who consumed olive oil alone. Enjoy a cup-full for maximum benefits.

Almonds and Other Seeds

Almonds and sunflower seeds contain hefty doses of vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant that acts as a skin-protector. Be sure to add a few sprinkles to salads or smoothies in your daily diet.


Specifically, the skins of apples; a 2007 study at Cornell University showed the red skin of Red Delicious apples contains triterpenoids, which blocked or killed cancer cells in lab studies.

Green Tea

Catechin compounds in green tea protect against solar radiation, while the its tannic acid content can be used to soothe sunburns. Drink two cups a day as a preventative or apply two teabags soaked in cold water to a sunburned area.


Research at the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at Texas A&M University showed that the ellagic acid found in pomegranates helps reduce UVA and UVA-induced cell damage.

Organic Sunscreen

The sunscreens listed below are free of Parabens, Phthalates, PEG’s (polyethylene glycols), Propylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, SLS/SLES, Oxybenzone, and a host of other chemicals found in popular sunscreens, and instead use mineral sun-protectants such as Zinc Oxide.

Badger All-Natural Sunscreens

ECO FORMULA SPF 30+ by Raw Elements

Poofy Naturals “The” Sunscreen

Other options include wearing hats or clothing as a barrier, or finding intermittent shade if you plan on being outdoors for long periods of time. Remember, however, that it takes roughly fifteen minutes of direct sun exposure to synthesize the required daily amount of vitamin D (one of the leading vitamin deficiencies in the U.S.), so it would be prudent to go outdoors for short periods without sunscreen in order to reap the benefits.

Without the sun, we would be without nourishment; without a planet capable of supporting life. For thousands of years humans have bathed in the sun’s rays, worked under its light and hailed its healing powers. Knowing this, what can we say is more likely to cause harm to humans? A life-giving source that has sustained life for millions of years or an unnatural bottled chemical concoction that exacerbates conditions previously rare before their advent?


Megan is a freelance writer, organic foodie, health activist, and spontaneous traveler. She also has a passion for adventure, hiking, yoga, and paradoxically, chocolate in all its raw, gluten-free forms.

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