By Dr. Mercola
Your body naturally makes vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. The benefits of optimizing your vitamin D stores cannot be overstated. Ironically, one of the benefits is actually a significant reduction in cancer risk — both skin cancer and many other types of cancer.
While sensible sun exposure is necessary for adequate production of natural vitamin D, if you have to remain in the sun for long hours during the day you’ll need safe protection to prevent sunburn. Sun exposure is only therapeutic when it’s done in appropriate and measured timeframes.
One-third of all Americans don’t use sunscreen and 69 percent only use it occasionally.1 Just under 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women report they regularly use sunscreen to protect their faces and other exposed skin when they plan to be in the sun for long periods of time.2
Excessive sun exposure provides no benefit and can only result in damage like sunburn, which is an inflammatory response in your skin to ultraviolet (UV) overexposure.
Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) can cause burning, although UVB does so far more rapidly. UVA, however, penetrates your skin more deeply than UVB, and may be a more important factor in photoaging, wrinkles and skin cancers.
UVB exposure is what converts a cholesterol derivative in your body into vitamin D3. And UVB is just what sunscreens are designed to shield, thereby severely limiting or eliminating your chances of making any vitamin D.
When your job or plans include spending more time in the sun than your skin is able to handle without burning, it’s important to find protection that’s safe, effective and easy to use.
Can You Drink Your Sunscreen?
The annual revenue in the cosmetic industry is close to $57 billion dollars, over 50 percent of which is spent on skincare and makeup.3 People are willing to pay to look younger and have healthy skin. Your youthful appearance doesn’t begin on the outside, but rather starts with the nutrients you eat.
Protecting your skin from overexposure to the sun, while balancing your body’s need for natural vitamin D production, was the reason Dr. Bobby Awadalla, a dermatologist from California developed a new kind of sun protection you drink.4 Awadalla says,
“I would see patients every day [who] had long- and short-term effects of sun damage. And despite the consequences, they were hesitant to use sunscreen.”
Currently, only one study supports the use of the vitamin cocktail he produces in liquid or powder form. The study appears to support his claim the mixture of nutrients will protect your skin from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays for up to five hours.5
However, even Awadalla freely admits his product isn’t potent enough to use alone.6 He suggests using his product as an adjunct to your sun protection and it may help to soothe your skin after overexposure or help repair long-term sun damage.7
While his product is loaded with antioxidants and nutrients with proven effects on your skin, the first four ingredients are water, orange juice, peach juice and sugar. The carbohydrates in this 60-calorie drink total a whopping 28 grams.8
Product labeling recommends you drink one bottle 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and again later in the day to help repair damage from the sun. This equates to 46 grams of carbohydrates in the supplement you use to prevent sun damage.
This Happens When Your Skin Burns
In this video, I explain how long you can be exposed to the sun while minimizing your risk for skin damage.
Getting burned after too much time in the sun is more common than it should be. According to a U.S. government survey, over half of respondents younger than 30 years old said they had suffered a sunburn at least once in the past 12 months.9 This rate is about what it was in 2002.
The two most important light wave lengths to your skin health are UVA and UVB light. With overexposure to the sun, your skin first turns pink. The color continues to deepen as the damage to your skin gets worse.
When your skin turns the lightest shade of pink, it means you’ve had enough sun and it’s time to cover up. This can be mere minutes if you’re very light-skinned. Beyond that, you will not improve your vitamin D production.
However, the color changes aren’t fully evident when you’re in the sun. Your skin continues to change color four to six hours after coming inside. For this reason, you should gradually increase your time outside, starting with 10 minutes if you are fair-skinned and potentially 30 minutes if you have a darker complexion.
Your sunburn may exhibit cutaneous redness, swelling and pain, an acute toxic reaction to exposure to the UV rays and not a true thermal burn from the heat of the sun.10 The energy from the UV radiation from the sun damages the skin, and more importantly, the DNA.
The effect of different proteins and enzymes leads to dilation of the blood vessels and the characteristic signs of sunburn. DNA damage can involve destruction of the skin cells, one reason why your skin may peel after a sunburn.
Afterburn Care at Home
Before you reach for a chemical concoction or over-the-counter painkiller to treat your accidental overexposure to the sun, reach for these natural remedies that don’t come with side effect warnings or cautions.11,12,13
✓ White Potatoes
Potatoes are high in starch and low in fiber, which makes eating them a poor choice when you’re watching your carbohydrate intake. However, cutting one open and rubbing on your painful sunburn may help take the sting out of the burn.
✓ Raw Organic Honey or Manuka Honey
It’s been used as a topical skin salve since the time of the Egyptians. Raw, organic and locally sourced honey may also have antibacterial properties to help prevent an infection. Manuka honey, in particular, has well-recognized healing properties.
Avoid the commercial honey sold in grocery stores, as most of it is sugar that may actually worsen your infection. It’s also been found that more than 75 percent of the honey on American supermarket shelves may be ultra-processed — to the point that all inherent medicinal properties are completely gone.
✓ White Vinegar
Good for clearing your drains, deodorants and cleaning your pots, white vinegar may also help cool your burn. Pour one full cup into tepid bathwater and give yourself a good soak.
✓ Green Tea
Healthy to drink and as a compress on your sunburns. Wash your skin gently in the extract and drink two cups of green tea a day to provide additional protection against the sun.14
Like green tea, strawberries have tannin that can help alleviate the sting of a sunburn. Mash a cup of ripened strawberries and apply it to the top of the burn. Let it sit for several minutes and rinse with fresh, tepid water.
These delicious vegetables are often used to soothe your eyes during a spa treatment. They may also have a cooling effect on your sunburn. Make a paste in a food processor and apply it to your skin. Leave it on for several minutes and rinse off with fresh, tepid water.
✓ Aloe Vera
This easy–to-grow plant may be kept at home to reduce the pain and speed healing from thermal and sun burns.
Loaded with powerful glyconutrients to speed healing, it can be applied up to five times a day topically over the area until your burn improves. It’s best to use the thick gel substance from a mature aloe vera leaf.
A classic soothing treatment for chicken pox, it also helps soothe your sunburn. Grind a cup to fine texture and add it to your bathwater. You can also wrap dry oatmeal in a cheesecloth.
Run cool water over the cheesecloth, catching the liquid in a bowl. Toss the oatmeal and use the liquid for cool compresses over the sunburned area.
✓ Coriander Oil
Use this essential oil by lightly rubbing over the sunburned area.
Nutrients That Protect Your Skin From the Inside
Having the proper tools on hand to treat an accidental sunburn is good practice, but preventing one is even better. Eating a diet high in specific nutrients may help reduce your potential for sun damage. Several nutrients that have received attention include astaxanthin, polypodium leucotomos, lycopene and a combination of vitamins C, E and polyphenols.15,16,17,18,19
- In the carotenoid family, astaxanthin has a protective effect against UV-induced cell death. This powerful antioxidant may also be integral to your eye health, increasing athletic performance and your heart health. Salmon, algae and shellfish naturally contain astaxanthin. This is one of the few supplements I believe everyone would benefit from taking.
- Polypodium leucotomos aqueous extract of fern from Central America is used to prevent certain skin problems, including sunburn. A strong antioxidant, use before exposure may reduce skin reddening and skin damage.20
- The nutrient that makes your tomatoes red, lycopene, may also reduce your potential for experiencing sunburn. In one study tracking patients over 10 weeks, researchers found that those who consistently ate tomato paste for 10 weeks were 40 percent less likely to experience sunburn.21
- In combination, vitamins C, E and polyphenols appear to contribute to internal photoprotection, reducing your potential for sunburn. Honey, fruits, broccoli, cabbage, celery, onion, parsley and tea are rich in polyphenols.
Untangle the SPF Promise
Sunscreen products may give you a false sense of security. Many believe the higher sun protection factor (SPF) number gives greater protection against UVA or UVB light. The first challenge is most products protect against UVB light, responsible for vitamin D production, but not UVA light that tends to be most responsible for DNA damage and skin cancers.
UVB radiation is responsible for causing your skin to tan and burn. Because you don’t burn as easily wearing sunscreen, you may be tempted to prolong the time you sit under the harsh rays of the sun, increasing your risk of skin damage from UVA light, which can penetrate deeper.
A product with an SPF of 30 will theoretically filter 97 percent of the UVB rays for two hours. Hypothetically, a higher SPF would block more of the sun’s UVB rays, but no sunscreen will block 100 percent. And remember that the SPF has little to do with the ability of the product to filter UVA light. If the product protects against UVB but not UVA, there is a higher likelihood you will be protected against burning but not against other forms of sun damage.
Sunscreens with a higher SPF also require more chemicals to achieve the intended result. Many could pose a health risk when they are absorbed through the skin, potentially causing tissue damage and/or disrupting your hormonal balance. Because you don’t experience better protection with higher SPF numbers, it’s best to stick with SPF 30 if you choose to use sunscreen.
Protect Yourself From Skin Damage
Using a nutrient-rich diet may reduce your potential for sunburn but will not protect you during long periods in the sun or if you are at higher risk for a sunburn. In these situations, you need to add another layer of protection for your skin. Clothing is one of the safest and most effective strategies.
I recommend you protect your face and eyes by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or cap. The skin around your eyes is thinner than on other parts of your body and more at risk for cosmetic damage and premature wrinkling. If you plan on being outside for any length of time, bring a long-sleeved shirt or cover-up, and sit in the shade as often as possible.
I recommend you limit your initial exposure to the sun and slowly increase your time. If you are a light-skinned individual who tends to burn easily, limit your initial exposure to a few minutes, especially in the middle of summer. The more tanned your skin, the longer you can stay in the sun. Moisturize your skin with coconut oil. It has both natural UV protection and metabolic benefits.
When making a choice about your sunscreen, consider the chemicals used to manufacture the products. Your safest and most effective choice for sunscreen protection is zinc oxide, as it blocks both UVA and UVB light.22 Avoid nano versions however, to circumvent potential toxicity. In a previous article titled “Sunscreens: The Ugly Truth” is a list of some of the best and worst products on the market today.