Natural Sunscreen Protection with Real Food

As we head into the summer months, the question on every good mother's mind is how to naturally protect our loved ones from sunburn and skin cancer. As a mother to two very fair children and a husband who burns in the shade, this is a big concern of mine.

Now we've all been told for as long as we can remember to "protect yourself from the sun". After decades of slathering on the sunscreen, are we any better off? According to the World Health Organization:

In the U.S., one in two cancers is skin-related(estimated skin cancers in the
U.S. annually, 1.1 million). These figures are on the rise, and the WHO expects
the skin-cancer epidemic to accelerate: The annual incidence rate for melanoma
is estimated to have more than tripled in the last 45 years in Norway and Sweden
and to have
doubled in the last 30 years in the U.S."

So, all the hype about sunscreen and sun protection has done seemingly little good. The stats above lead me to wonder: Is there another factor that contributes to sun burn and skin cancer?

After some research into the topic, I keep finding this connection between Omega 3 essential fatty acids and healthy skin. Specifically, studies are finding that an optimal balance of omega-3s to omega-6s (3:1, or better) is critical for many, many health factors, including heart health and skin health:

According to a study published in the American Health Foundation Journal:

"Epidemiological, experimental, and mechanistic data implicate
omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) as stimulator's and long-chain
omega-3 PUFAs as inhibitors of development and progression of a range of human
cancers, including melanoma."

[Read the entire study here]

Omega-3 fatty acids are found and best assimilated from animal products such as fish, pastured chickens/eggs, and grass-fed beef. Americans are eating far too many omega-6 oils:

"In 1900 the average American only consumed about a pound of vegetable oil (high
in omega-6) per year. Now we are consuming over 75 pounds each every year.
Vegetable oil is a totally new product that our body has no idea how to digest."

Therefore, it's probably safe to include that the average American's ratio of omega 3's to omega 6's is pretty far off of the ideal. With all the warnings about mercury from fish (not to mention the expense), fish consumption among Americans is not increasing to meet the amount of omega-6s consumed.

So what can we do?

Here are 3 simple tips for upping your omega-3s and optimizing that 3-to-6 ratio in your diet, and thus reducing your risk of sun damage:

*Switch to "rapidly growing grass" fed (pastured) beef. Even if you can't afford to buy as much, you can get more nutrition with less meat than with conventional feedlot beef. We love US Wellness Meats. They have weekly promotions and offer bulk discounts. Since their meet has "60% more omega-3s than beef from cows that have been raised on a low-omega-3 grain diet" you can get the most bang for your nutritional buck! US Wellness meats is a one-stop online shopping mart for all kinds of meat, all raised on grass, including chicken, rabbit, goat, pork, and bison.

*Take your Cod Liver Oil. I strongly recommend Green Pasture's Fermented Cod Liver Oil. Read more about why
CLO is good for you in this post.

*Eliminate polysaturated vegetable oils in favor of butter, ghee, lard, tallow, and coconut oil. According to
WikiPedia, some of the oils highest in omega-6s (with virtually no omega-3s) are soybean, cottonseed, peanut, and corn oil. To best avoid these, eliminate packaged food, fast food, and prepare fresh, whole food from scratch.

So, can food really protect you from skin cancer? It's a big risk to go out into the sun without sunscreen. But I think sunscreen poses a bigger health risk. The chemicals in sunscreen are very harsh and are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream:

"The Center for Disease Control (CDC) released a new study showing that nearly
all Americans are contaminated with oxybenzone, a widely-used sunscreen
ingredient. This chemical so far has been linked to allergies, hormone
disruption, and cell damage, as well as low birth weight in baby girls whose
mothers are exposed during pregnancy. Oxybenzone is also a penetration enhancer,
a chemical that helps other chemicals penetrate the skin. So where has the FDA
been on this?"


Personally, I can attest to the effectiveness of using real food for skin protection. For the past 3 summers, since implementing the above changes, I haven't used sunscreen on myself or the kids. We've had only healthy, rosy summer complexions and NO sunburns!

Recently, we went on a trip for 7 days to Sunny California. We spent hours on end outdoors, sans sunscreen, in 75 to 80 degrees every day. We took our cod liver oil, coconut oil and ate our omega-3 rich veggies and meats. In all of our sun exposure, the most we had was a blush of pink that quickly faded into a nice base tan.

Thrifty and nourishing, without the harsh chemicals of sunblock, you can feel confident that by increasing your omega-3's, you will not only enjoy the myriad of other heath benefits associated with these EFAS, you'll also be exposing your body to optimal amounts of vitamin D, which is essential for optimal immune and endocrine function.

This is what
Works for Me on this Real Food Wednesday!


Unknown said...

This is very interesting, and it's a nutrition topic that I haven't explored (as a pet nutritionist I don't have to worry about this issue for most of my clients!) As someone who is extremely fair, with an extremely fair husband, I may go back and look at the balance in our own meals.

Anonymous said...

What great information! Thanks for sharing!

Buffie said...

I definitely look at rebalancing our meals, but I would be paranoid about not using sunblock at all. My daughter and I are fair like my mom. Since my mom has had skin cancer it is a big worry for me. Add to that my daughter being a red head (which are more prone to skin cancer) and you can see why I would worry.

Betsy said...

Very interesting! I'm a fair-skinned redhead who has always worn sunscreen until the last couple of years. My husband and I spent a week in FL in March. I didn't lie out on the beach, mind you, but we did spend plenty of time in the open, including a boat trip. I got a little bit of color, but nothing even close to a sunburn. I wondered why - now I know!

Anonymous said...

WOW! I have been wondering about this exact topic. I thought maybe there was an oil or something people used thousands of years ago or something. Thanks for posting.

Annie said...

great post - very true and it makes sense, back in the day, those who lived by the sea and spent time in the sun feasted on fish and coconuts.


Fabulous post!

My in-laws noticed when they went to Costa Rica last year that they did not burn for the first time ever. And they were not wearing sunscreen.

They said the only thing they changed in their diet was they started taking cod liver oil.

We try not to use sunscreen -- we double up on cod liver oil and also use coconut oil.

Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen said...

Fascinating! We ditched sunscreen about a year ago - instead we eat plenty of CLO and coconut oil. we also use coconut oil topically.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it is wise to ditch sunscreen completely. You aren't basing this on any scientific data...just the fact that it seemed to work for you in this one instance. In fact, I try hard to keep my diet rich in omega 3's and i take CLO every day...and just last week I forgot to put on my sunscreen and got terribly burned in the sun. I think the reason skin cancer is on the rise in the u.s. probably isn't related to sunscreen use, but probably the fact that people don't use sunscreen as often as they should and when they do, they often don't take the time to reapply it properly. Furthermore, I know many people who say they use sunscreen regularly, but who only use spf 10 or 15 and often only apply once during the day and after they've already gone out in the sun. However, I agree that the chemicals in sunscreen are a concern, but with a history of skin cancer in my family, the benefits outweigh the risks for me. I am interested in hearing more about the effects of vitamins and supplements in skin protection, but unfortunately, little research has been done in this area despite claims that supplements with vitamin a, zinc, and vitamin e all boast the promotion of skin health.

Kristina said...

Olive oil and tomatoes works wonders for sun protection as well!


Mama Podkayne said...

This post has been floating through various threads here in Des Moines Iowa and I just now read the comments. I;d like to respond to the one that stated that, "and just last week I forgot to put on my sunscreen and got terribly burned in the sun."

Sun exposure should be a gradual and daily thing. If you wear sunscreen you are covering your skin from that exposure and much like an albino living in a cave, when first exposed to harsh summer sun- a burn is expected!

If you quit wearing sunscreen do not do it in July or August without this in mind. We started in March. Winter and Spring sun is not as harsh and then you can gradually expose your skin.

My doctor even said that a sunburn also indicates dehydration and malnutrition, so also stay hydrated.

I got windburned while I was pregnant and the aloe gel I put on made me blister. My doc recommended raw shea butter. Now we use that for rosy skin and not a peel or blister is found. We like pond side and have a working farm and we are out in the sun most of every day.

Carrie @ OrganicThrifty said...

Thanks,everyone, for the comments.

Anonymous, you are right, anecdotal evidence isn't good enough to support ditching sunscreen, but I feel that my post highlighted some significant studies.

I also wanted to add that I think it's really harder than we think to balance those omega-3's; it involves more than a daily CLO supplement. It's important that we carefully select the meat, dairy, and eggs we consume and reduce the grains and polyunsaturated oils that are high in omega-6.

At any rate, more research on this is of course welcome, but weather you wear sunscreen or not, the evidence is clear that optimally balancing your 3's and 6's is critical to health.

Here is an excellent article by a PhD in Neurobiology to expound on this: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2009/05/eicosanoids-and-ischemic-heart-disease.html

Zodiac said...

Have a look at the prose-poem on a natural food-based sunscreen on www.naturaltherapypages.co.nz/therapist/1689

Sun Advocate said...

You are absolutely right. I am pretty much into Vegan and Organic. When it comes to sun protection I only use natural or biodegradable sunscreen. I believe this is the site where I was browsing with good info too: http://www.sun-protection-and-you.com/biodegradable-sunscreen.html

Carol said...

This is great! I never thought there is such a thing as natural sunscreen.

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