People are claiming you can 'eat your sunscreen,' but health experts suggest that's dangerous advice

Jordi C/ShutterstockThough not without its faults, sunscreen is a tool to help protect your skin from sun damage.

  • The Environmental Working Group and some health providers have raised concern over certain ingredients in sunscreen, as well as some types’ potentially misleading claims.
  • One alternative to sunscreen, according to some holistic health advocates, is to “eat” it; that is, to protect your skin “from the inside out” by focusing on eating certain nutrients and supplementing.
  • Dermatologists and nutritionists caution that diet alone is not a safe way to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
  • Some nutrients, ideally consumed in the form of whole foods, can benefit the skin and should be part of a “comprehensive strategy” to shield your skin from sun damage.
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Some people are freaking out about sunscreen – and they may have a point.

The Environmental Working Group recently released its 2019 sunscreen guide, which says sunscreen should be your last resort because many brands contain ingredients without a lot of data behind them or with concerning potential health consequences. (undefined, for one, may interfere with the endocrine system.)

There’s also trouble with sunscreens claiming to have an SPF over 50 – studies show many of them don’t actually offer that much protection. Plus, they can lead people to bake in the sun longer or not reapply because they think they’re totally covered when they’re not.

A prominent blogger named Wellness Mama is so “fed up” with sunscreen that she ditched it altogether and is trumpeting a different approach: “Eating” her sunscreen, or more accurately, protecting her skin with her diet and supplements.

“I started working in the garden for hours at a time during the heat of the day without burning. We also went to Florida for vacation and I was at the beach for 4 hours between 11 to 3 with no sunscreen and I didn’t burn … at all!” she wrote.

Wellness Mama isn’t the first to support food over sunscreen. Rupina Meer, a certified holistic health coach, wrote about the concept on Gaia.com, a media network focused on “consciousness-expanding” content, back in 2012. Other holistic health sites encourage the practice, too.

Clothing is the best way to protect yourself from sun damage

While diet and lifestyle play key roles in overall health, relying only on nutrients to protect yourself from sun damage is not expert-approved – even by dietitians. (Wellness Mama does appropriately caution that she’s not a doctor.)

“The research isn’t there yet,” said Ginger Hulton, a registered dietitian in Seattle, where she runs Champagne Nutrition. “I hope we find out someday [that diet alone can prevent sun damage], but in the meantime, I don’t want anybody to be at risk of a known carcinogen.”

In reality, you need “a comprehensive strategy,” to most effectively protect your skin from damaging sun exposure, said Dr. Keira Barr, a dermatologist at the Resilient Health Institute in Gig Harbour, Washington. “Eating a balanced diet is helpful, but there’s no one thing. It’s a disservice to say there’s a magic bullet.”


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Putting on sunscreen may cause chemicals to seep into your bloodstream after just a day. That doesn’t mean you should stop using it.

Your first line of defence against harmful UV rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, is clothing. The more of your body and the tighter-woven, the better, Barr said. It’s also important to avoid the sun at peak hours (about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to the Skin Cancer Foundation), wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, and yes, put on sunscreen and reapply it regularly.

Factors like sleep, stress management, exercise and diet matter too, Barr added. “People blame sunscreen for the rise in skin cancer, but that’s bulls–t,”she says. “What are they doing for 99 per cent of the day?” If you religiously wear sunscreen, but are sedentary, stressed, and sleep-deprived, it’s a drop in the (sand) bucket.

Grilled salmon fish veggiesiStock

Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin C are some of the best nutrients for your skin

If you want to “eat your sunscreen” and wear it too, here are some of the best foods to load up on:

  • Salmon, mackerel, herring and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds, which are also rich in omega-3s
  • Green tea and berries because they’re packed with antioxidants
  • Citrus and bell peppers for the vitamin C, which is a precursor to collagen
  • Tomato sauce and paste for its concentrated lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against sun damage

If you can’t get the necessary nutrients from food sources, you may benefit from supplements, but experts hesitate to make blanket recommendations regarding how much, if any, to take. Hulton suggests getting a blood test before moving from the sunscreen aisle to the supplement aisle.

Plus, the supplement industry isn’t well-regulated and some supplements can do more harm than good – and not just in regards to your bank account.One recent study found that people who took vitamin D supplements but didn’t have a deficiency had a greater risk of cancer and death.

Even if you do choose to supplement, don’t consider it a substitute for tried and true sun safety. “Just popping a supplement and thinking you can go out in the sun for hours at a time on the beach,” Barr said. “Use common sense.”

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