The weather is warmer, summer is right around the corner, and everyone wants to be outside
soaking up the sun. However, as many of you know, the intense UV rays of the sun can cause
sunburns, premature wrinkles, age spots, and freckles. Most importantly, when sunlight meets
unprotected skin, it can cause cellular damage and form cancer-causing free radicals. It’s
estimated that 20% of people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, with sun exposure
playing a major role. That’s where the hero of this story comes in: sunscreen!
Sunscreen is essential to preventing sun damage and keeping your skin looking young,
healthy, and beautiful. So, what’s the problem?
The Problem with some Sunscreens
While it’s important to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, there’s an abundance of toxic
chemicals living in traditional sunscreens that can cause all sorts of problems. What you put
on your skin gets absorbed into your skin, so show some self love and only give your body
what it deserves, your body is also irreplaceable, so nurture it with good-for-you ingredients!
There are a few different types of sunscreens, and chemical based protection owns a good
portion of the market. You’ve seen the typical tubes and spray bottles at convenience stores
and supermarkets. Most traditional sunscreens contain a chemical combo of at least two
ingredients from the following list: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene,
homosalate, and octinoxate.
Some of these chemicals, such as oxybenzone, have been reported to mimic the effects of
naturally occurring hormones in your body. It acts like estrogen, significantly lowering
testosterone levels in men and increasing the likelihood of unbalanced hormones in women.
Other chemicals in conventional sunscreens have been known to cause skin irritation, rashes,
redness, itching, burning, and blisters.
But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear sunscreen! Instead, the next time you’re heading
out to soak up the sun, make sure to choose a mineral-based sunscreen. Mineral-based,
natural sunscreens are different because they contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and
titanium dioxide, which ward off harmful rays without damaging our skin as much.
Types of Mineral Sunscreens:
Mineral sunscreens work differently than chemical-based ones. Sometimes known as physical
sunscreens, they use a white mineral called zinc oxide as their active ingredient. Instead of
being absorbed into your skin, zinc oxide works differently. This powerful mineral physically
shields your skin, reflecting dangerous UV rays back into the atmosphere instead of letting
them pass through to your skin. Studies show that zinc oxide is actually more effective than
its chemical competitors in deflecting both UVA and UVB rays!
Some natural sunscreens add an extra level of protection with another mineral called
titanium dioxide. While zinc oxide typically does the heavy lifting when it comes to blocking
UVA and UVB rays, titanium dioxide can boost the UVB protection. These two minerals are the
only FDA approved active ingredients in natural sunscreen, so you’ll be able to spot natural
vs. chemical just by checking the back of the bottle.
Choosing a Good Natural Sunscreen
Double check when it says “Organic”
Now, sunscreen marketers have gotten a little tricky with the word “organic,” so don’t be
fooled if you usually stick to certified organic products. Mineral based sunscreens technically
can’t be labeled as 100% “organic,” since zinc oxide and titanium dioxide don’t actually
contain carbon (making them, literally, “inorganic”). Other sunscreens can claim the label,
however, because the active ingredients do contain carbon. It may seem odd, but in the case
of sunscreens, don’t choose your products solely based on the word organic, and instead look
for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in the “Active Ingredients” section. If you’d still like to
use sunscreen that contains organic ingredients aside from the mineral components, you can
look out for products labeled as “made with organic ingredients”, or that meet NSF/ANSI 305
standards (meaning they contain at least 70% organic ingredients).
Check the ingredients list
Just because a sunscreen is labeled “natural,” doesn’t mean that it has all natural
ingredients. Always check the ingredients to see what else you’re rubbing on your skin. As an
added bonus, many of our favorite mineral based sunscreens contain added organic
ingredients to further boost your complexion! This could be anything from organic green tea,
to olive leaf essential oil for a total moisture surge. A good organic sunscreen won’t just
protect you from UVA and UVB rays, it will nourish sensitive skin too. Same goes for your
after-sun care–make sure it has a healthy dose of moisture in it! It’s also good to avoid
sunscreens that have fragrance or essential oils, they can cause unnecessary irritation in your
skin, and don’t provide much nourishment. So what are some other ways to get UV ray
protection, without damaging your skin?
Eating your “Sunscreen”?
Since the intent of sunscreen is to protect your skin, it doesn’t make much sense to slather on
chemicals that could cause more harm than good.
Here’s a list of foods that can help boost your sun protection:
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a specific type of carotenoid antioxidant that has been shown
to help protect your skin from sunburns.
In one study, participants consumed a concentrated tomato paste with high lycopene content
daily for 10 weeks. The results showed that the participants received significantly less
UV-induced sunburns compared to before they began to consume tomato paste.
Sweet potatoes contain another type of carotenoid antioxidant, beta-carotene, that acts as
one of the best lines of defense against sun damage. In essence, beta-carotene absorbs
ultraviolet (UV) radiation before it can damage cells in your skin. (1)
For best results, eat your sweet potatoes with a tomato dish. Lycopene has been shown to
complement the beta-carotene protection in sweet potatoes.
Wild-caught fatty fish contain abundant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce
inflammation and keep your skin supple. When it comes to sun protection, studies show that
omega-3s can help boost your skin’s immunity to sunlight, protect you from skin cancer, and
help reduce the inflammation response that occurs during a sunburn.
Pomegranates are rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, and other antioxidants that help reduce
inflammation, fight DNA damage, and boost your natural sun protection. One study found that
various pomegranate juices and extracts were able to reduce damage from UVB rays as well
as inhibit certain proteins that play a role in tumor development and skin aging.
Walnuts are another great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to have a
protective effect against sunburns. They also inhibit expression of cancer-causing cell
activities created by excess sun exposure. (2)
Dark chocolate contains flavonoid antioxidants that are able to reduce radiation damage from
sunlight while also improving skin hydration. One study showed that women who consumed a
cocoa drink for 12 weeks were less sensitive to UV radiation than others consuming a different
Bananas are super delicious and nutritious. Bananas are a good source of magnesium, which
research shows plays an important role in vitamin D activation. So next time you take a
vitamin D gummy or supplement, you should pair it with magnesium rich foods like bananas.
Green tea has been studied extensively for its ability to protect your body and skin from DNA
damage from environmental stressors, including sunlight. One of the most potent flavonoid
antioxidants in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), is largely responsible for its
Aloe vera, when taken both internally and applied topically, has been shown to increase
collagen synthesis. This is crucial, as collagen tends to break down during DNA damage from
the environment and during the aging process. Aloe also helps to protect against radiation
damage from the sun.
To reap the maximum benefits of these foods, try to eat several of them every day. Also, if
you’re planning on vacationing somewhere you know you’ll be exposed to sun often, start
consuming more of these foods at least 10 days before your trip, as it takes a little while to
boost your antioxidant levels to the levels found in many of these studies.
Of course, while eating your sunscreen is less effective than applying a topical, full-strength
sunscreen, it does create a base layer of protection for your skin that helps prevent, and even
reverse, damage over time. This, combined with a natural sunscreen you can find at your
local health food store, will work wonders in protecting your skin from excess sun damage!
1. Stahl, Wilhelm, and Helmut Sies. “Β-Carotene and Other Carotenoids in Protection
from Sunlight.” OUP Academic. Oxford University Press, October 10, 2012.
2. Black, Homer S, and Lesley E Rhodes. “Potential Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in
Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer.” Journal of clinical medicine. MDPI, February 4, 2016.