7 Key Diet Nutrients for Safe Sun Exposure All Summer Long

  • Sun exposure is a vital ingredient for our overall health. Not only is it deeply connected with mitochondria health and function, but a healthy dose of vitamin D is associated with better mood, improved sleep, lower blood pressure, and so much more.
  • In order to reap the benefits of moderate sun exposure, most people will need to get their bodies used to being outside. Prioritizing sun exposure at sunrise and sunset is a good way to slowly adjust your tolerance while avoiding sunburn.
  • Another way to decrease your risk of sunburn and encourage healthy skin is to “eat your sunscreen.” There are a number of nutrients that help your body better tolerate the sun, like polyphenols, vitamin C, and essential fatty acids.

Slather yourself in sunscreen, they said.

You’ll be protected, they said.

A nasty sunburn is the best way to ruin a beach vacation. But you know what’s even worse? Benzene exposure. Yep, sunscreen is hiding a lot of dirty secrets — and one of them is benzene, a known carcinogen recently detected in popular sunscreen brands.

Benzene isn’t the only problem with sunscreen. We’re experiencing a global vitamin D deficiency — and many researchers agree, constant sunscreen use has a lot to do with it.

While makeup brands continue to pump every skin product full of sunscreen, and anti-aging commercials convince us that sunshine is the primary reason for wrinkles, we’re looking into the real underlying question: How do we cultivate a healthy relationship between the sun and our bodies?

Let’s explore sunscreen alternatives and nutrients that can protect you from getting too much sun while still enjoying the many benefits of sunlight for our health.

Table of Contents:

Rethinking Our Relationship with Sun Exposure

Skin cancer and sunburn are two very real health risks associated with UV rays (over-exposure, that is). But these risks don’t mean we should avoid the sunshine entirely. In fact, there are numerous benefits of healthy sun exposure, which may outweigh the risks.

Here are just a few ways you may benefit from a healthy dose of sun:

  • Better mood
  • Stronger bones
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower stress
  • Better sleep
  • Weight loss
  • Protection against colds and flu
  • Immune system health
  • Increase vitamin D levels
  • Protection against chronic illness

While excessive UV rays may contribute to dermatological health issues, we’re not so sure sunscreen is much better. The key to harnessing the benefits of the sun without risking your long-term health? Balance. 

How to Reduce the Risk of Sunburn Naturally

Sunscreen isn’t the only way to prevent sunburn — and really should be used sparingly. Here are some other ways you can prevent sun damage in everyday life:

  1. Eat Food for Sun Protection

Yep, there are a variety of foods that can actually help your body protect itself from the sun — from the inside out. Some of these nutrients include polyphenols, vitamins, beta carotene, fatty acids, and antioxidants, which we’ll explore more in-depth in a moment.

  1. Wear Lightweight Clothes with Extra Coverage

Long sleeves and a wide-brim hat can do a lot to protect you against sunburn (while still allowing you to soak up vitamins and benefits from the sun). If you’re attending an afternoon soccer game or having a picnic with friends, this may be an effective way to cover up that doesn’t require toxic sunscreen. Remember to stay hydrated and wear lightweight clothing.

  1. Work Your Way Up to Moderate Sun Exposure

Our bodies are brilliant, and they know how to handle moderate sun exposure, especially if you work your way up to it. Spend time getting light doses of sunshine — preferably during sunrise and sunset. Around 30 minutes a day can get your skin and body used to the sun exposure, and you can gently work your way up to more moderate sun exposure (a few hours a day).

Super-Nutrients That Can Protect Against Sunburn

It isn’t a scam — you can actually use a number of foods for sun protection. There are a variety of nutrients that can help to build up your tolerance to the sun, curbing sunburn and unwanted symptoms while allowing you to soak up all that healthy vitamin D. 

Polyphenols

These are compounds released by plants when they need a little extra protection. For instance, if a plant becomes injured, it may release polyphenols to heal. Want to see polyphenols in action? Cut open an avocado and see how long it takes to turn brown. The browning that occurs is almost like a protective “scab” that forms when the plant is exposed to oxygen. The release of polyphenols in the browning process protects the avocado from bacteria, allowing it to last longer.

Polyphenols actually help to protect plants against UV rays — and there’s evidence they can do the same for humans. When we consume polyphenols in the form of berries, fruits, wine, nuts and seeds, coffee, olives, beans, and dark chocolate, we may notice that our skin becomes less sensitive to sun exposure.

Vitamin E and C

As powerful antioxidants, vitamin E and vitamin C can work wonders to protect your body against sunburn. Having adequate vitamin E may actually absorb and offset some of the sun’s UV rays, reducing free radicals and cell damage in the body. Foods rich in vitamin E include almonds, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts.

Vitamin C, applied topically or consumed orally, has been shown to reverse sun damage to the skin while increasing and stabilizing collagen, the structural protein that makes up our skin, ligaments, and other tissues. You can increase your intake of vitamin C by including citrus foods, leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, and bell peppers in your diet.

Beta Carotene

Maybe the most promising sunscreen alternative, beta carotene is ample in carrots, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and watermelon. Perhaps this is why watermelon is a common treat for hot summer days. In studies, molecules of beta carotene have been shown to directly absorb UV rays, diverting them away from the cell itself. It will take a few weeks of faithful carrot-eating before you really notice the promising effects of beta-carotene as a sunscreen alternative, though. 

Selenium

We’re convinced — most people are low in selenium. Among its many benefits, selenium has been shown to help maintain cardiovascular and thyroid health, promote a strong immune system, and boost brain health. It can also help protect against UV rays by helping the body to produce enzymes needed to repair cellular damage caused by the sun.

Zinc

A common ingredient in mineral-based sunscreens, zinc can be used inside and outside the body to protect against sun damage. Zinc has been studied for its powerful skin benefits before — recommended for patients with rosacea, melasma, and dandruff. Topically, a zinc-based mineral sunscreen may divert excess UV rays. When supplemented internally, zinc works as an antioxidant for cellular regeneration and DNA repair, supporting recovery from sun exposure.

Essential Fatty Acids

Heavy exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can occur when we are exposed to too much direct sun. In response, blood vessels dilate and increase blood flow, and direct immune cells to the site of the injury. You may notice this inflammation if you touch a red and swollen sunburn and see your skin change color under your fingers.

Fatty acids, particularly omega-3s, can help to cool down this inflammation. According to this recent study, omega-3 fatty acids are being explored as an all-natural sunscreen option due to their vast photoprotective properties.

How Does Sun Exposure Impact Your Cells?

With so much noise about sun exposure being bad for you (and overzealous recommendations to avoid it at all costs), let’s remember to go back to the basics of science.

Energy from the sun is harnessed by the body to fuel the mitochondria, the energy factories of our cells. 

This may be why feelings of tiredness, brain fog, and even moodiness may slowly lift when we spend time outside. And perhaps why sleep quality increases when we prioritize morning and evening sunlight. 

For thousands of years, humans have lived in harmony with the sun — even so far as to worship it (in some ancient cultures!). Moderate sunshine exposure isn’t something to be feared, it’s something to be enjoyed and appreciated. It’s nature’s vitamin and energy booster.

The more we learn to live well with the sunshine, the happier our cells will be.

The Time and Place for Sunscreen Use

While most of us spend long hours indoors instead of outside in the sun, there are some situations where the opposite is true! Long days of yard work, beach vacations, and outdoor sports put us at risk for sunburn — which is unhealthy for our cells, and can cause premature aging. 

So, how do we find balance? There are healthier sunscreen alternatives available, like mineral-based sunscreen — a product that typically harnesses zinc oxide to protect our skin from extreme exposure (and is safer than toxic chemical sunscreens). 

If you need to use conventional sunscreen for protection, use it minimally, and switch to a mineral-based version when you can. 

Ready to Work Your Way Up to Moderate Sun Exposure?

If you’ve spent your whole life stressing about sun exposure, or you’re shut indoors most days, it can feel intimidating to begin working up your tolerance to mid-day sun exposure. Let us reassure you: your body knows how to adapt, and you can do this safely. 

You might just need a little support. 

Our Liposomal Vitamin C is not only a powerful immune system booster — but it’s a strong antioxidant, too. Applying vitamin C topically to the skin is an extremely popular method for sun damage repair. Imagine the magic that could happen if you started nourishing your cells from the inside out.

Begin Building Up Your Sun Tolerance with Liposomal Vitamin C

References

Saric, S., & Sivamani, R. K. (2016). Polyphenols and Sunburn. International journal of molecular sciences, 17(9), 1521. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms17091521

Mead M. N. (2008). Benefits of sunlight: a bright spot for human health. Environmental health perspectives, 116(4), A160–A167. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.116-a160

Al-Niaimi, F., & Chiang, N. Y. Z. (2017). Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology, 10(7), 14–17.

Stahl, W., & Sies, H. (2012). β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 96(5), 1179S–84S. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.112.034819

Pilkington, S.M., Watson, R.E., Nicolaou, A., Rhodes, L.E (2011). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: photoprotective macronutrients. Exp Dermatol, 20(7), 537-43. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2011.01294.x

Leccia, M.T., Richard, M.J., Beani, J.C., Faure, H., Monjo, A.M., et al. (1993). Protective effect of selenium and zinc on UV-A damage in human skin fibroblasts. Photochem Photobiol, 58(4), 548-53. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-1097.1993.tb04930.x

Eberlein-König, B., Placzek, M., Przybilla, B. (1998). Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and d-alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). J Am Acad Dermatol, 38(1), 45-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0190-9622(98)70537-7

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