Natural Sun Protection From the Inside Out

*Note from Sarah: Be sure to visit Katie over at her amazing blog Wellness Mama!!

As summer approaches, sun-protection is definitely something that must be considered, but as with many other things Paleo, the best solution may not always be the conventional one.

If you’ve read this blog or others like it, I’m sure you are well aware that diet plays a pivotal role in overall health, energy levels, digestive health and weight. Logically, diet also is an influencing factor in skin health and sun protection.

The conventional method of sun protection is much like the conventional method of many types of illness: Treat the symptoms or prevent the symptoms from occurring.

In the case of sun exposure, the general idea is to prevent the sunburn (or all sun exposure) rather than address why the skin is burning in the first place.

In the paleo-sphere, we are well-aware of the importance of Vitamin D, and we are capable of producing the amounts our bodies need through our skin. Unfortunately, even low-SPF sunscreens can block almost all Vitamin D production.

As links have been found between low-vitamin D and skin cancer (among others), the cure may be more dangerous than the disease in this case!

It’s also interesting to note that while rates of sun exposure are decreasing, skin cancer rates are steadily rising and melanoma rates are getting worrisome.

There are theories that the chemicals in most sunscreens can be as damaging or more so than sun damage itself. Either way, I use the same rule with sunscreens as I do with foods and beauty products: If I can’t pronounce an ingredient or buy it without a chemical license, I don’t use it.

The Role of Diet:

Sunburn is a type of inflammation. It is caused by an external factor, but a lot of internal factors come into play as well.

Inflammatory foods like grains, sugars and vegetable oils (especially those!) can cause inflammation in the body and make the skin more prone to inflammation (burning) as well.

In the same way, anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent inflammation in the body or on the skin from sun exposure.

If you’ve been Paleo for a while, you might have already noticed an increased sun tolerance, or that you are tanning better. It isn’t your imagination. In fact, Mark’s Daily Apple addressed natural ways to prevent sunburn, and all of the suggestions were diet/supplement related.

The most problematic foods for your skin when it comes to sun-exposure are: processed foods, processed grains, sugars and vegetable oils (no surprise there!).

The most beneficial foods for your skin when it comes to sun exposure are: healthy saturated fats, green leafy vegetables, omega-3 rich foods like fish, and antioxidant containing foods like berries (and dark chocolate). No surprises there either!

I’ve also found that some key supplements can increase sun tolerance even more. The combination of these supplements (which I’d recommend anyway) and a Paleo diet let me go to the beach all day last summer without burning (a first) and come away with a golden tan (also a first!).

The Supplements:

  • Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend  (also great for remineralizing teeth)-Probably the most important supplement for sun protection. I take double doses during the summer and the kids take it too. Since adding this and the coconut oil daily, none of us have burned. It’s also great for digestive and oral health. (Amazon finally has the capsules back in stock)
  • Vitamin D3 (I take about 5,000 IU/day)- Emerging evidence shows that optimizing blood levels of Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer. I highly recommend getting your blood levels tested prior to beginning Vitamin D supplementation and talking to your doctor, as too much can also be a bad thing. Also, not needed if you are getting at least 30 minutes of sun a day.
  • Vitamin C (I take about 2,000 mg/day)- A potent anti-inflammatory, and it is good for the immune system too.
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil melted in a cup of herbal tea per day- the Medium Chain Fatty Acids and saturated fat are easily utilized by the body for new skin formation and are protective against burning.
  • Astaxanthin– A highly potent antioxidant which research shows acts as an internal sunscreen. It’s also supposedly an anti-aging supplement. I don’t give this one to the kids though.

Natural Homemade Sunscreen:

I’m definitely not suggesting that you do anything that could lead to sunburn, which is harmful! For prolonged sun exposure past your sun-tolerance, protective clothing is best, but for times you’ll be out in the sun for long times and don’t want to wear long sleeves (the beach), you can make a natural homemade sunscreen that doesn’t have the chemicals of most sunscreens.

Here’s the recipe I use. You can also use plain coconut oil on the skin for shorter times, especially if you’ve already built up a tan.

Your skin, like the rest of your body, will benefit from a healthy diet and a few key supplements. Rather than turning to chemical laden sunscreens- give the natural versions a try! You might be pleasantly surprised!

Do you use any natural sun protection options? Has your sun tolerance increased since you’ve gone paleo? Tell me below!


  1. Celest Horton says

    I have very fair complexion that burns very easily. I just ordered the capsule CLO/Butter blend and was curious what dosage you recommend per day. My son has the same skin type (age 14) and I would like for him to also take the supplement.

    • says

      I take about a teaspoon a day of the FCLO or 3-4 capsules (much easier to take). For a 14 year old, I’d give about 3/4 of that dose. I had a fair complexion too and now I find as long as I increase sun exposure gradually, I don’t burn at all and I don’t have the pinkish tint I used to have.

  2. bev russell says

    can coconut oil be used for dryskin. My daughter has just started with this method of cooking, as her daughter can not have onions or garlic potatoes and so forth. I’M NOT SURE WHAT HER ROAD WILL BE.

  3. says

    Thanks so much for this info! I have been really worrying about summer with my 2 1/2 year old daughter. I don’t want her to get burned but i, of course, don’t want to apply poison to her skin either!
    So….what is the benefit of doing the cod liver oil exactly and how much would i give a 24lb child? :)

    Thanks for the homeade sunblock recipe too!

  4. Danielle says

    I had been taking Astaxanthin for several months and was feeling pretty good about myself. Then we went to Hawaii for a week and I thought I was too good for sunscreen. Not good my friends, not good. Pretty foolish on my part, but I’m still all for dietary approaches (and I’m still taking Astaxanthin).

  5. Chayrl says

    wow, the things I am learning from you website :)

    I have only been (working very hard) eating Paleo for about 4-6 weeks and I have lost poundage, but I have also noticed how much clearer my face is! I’m 52 and have always had breakouts no matter what (I was not looking forward to being 75 with pimples). So every new Paleo ‘thing’ I learn is so exciting!!!
    Thank YOU

  6. Cireena says

    My tolerance for the sun has increased incredibly! I’ve been out for a couple hours at a time so far this spring and have only come away with tan lines. I’m eating all of the listed foods, and took 10,000 vit D3 daily over the winter, and dropped down to 5000 as soon as the weather broke. My levels were still too low last fall when I had been taking 5000 daily for months, so the doc told me to increase through the winter. I’m looking forward to a great summer of outdoor activities (kayaking, canoeing, gardening, hiking, running, etc)

  7. says

    This is so true! When I started getting a lot of nutrients in my diet, I no longer had to worry about sunburn when we were out sailing. Even with sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat, my nose would always burn. It never happens now….even when I don’t wear sunblock.

  8. Deann says

    As a “ginger”, my sun tolerance is nill. Pasty white to crispy critter in less than 15 minutes is the norm. As Spring has just started, I’ll be taking note of how much Paleo will help with my very gradual sun tolerance. Will be trying out the homemade recipe (thanks for posting!) for certain in conjunction with the floppy hat.

  9. Justin says

    I can vouch for this…I have been “strict” paleo for over a year now and have been enjoying a lot of vitamin d lately. In my nonpaleo days, I would have either burned or used SPF 1000. Not now, I am enjoying a price tan…something my fair skin has never experienced before! I love this lifestyle, the benefits are endless!

  10. says

    I never thought about it when it happened, but I wonder if my diet is to thank for a quick recovery a few weeks ago? I was really red in the face after an afternoon sitting in the beer garden (not drinking beer) at a pub and went ‘ah, man, this is going to seriously sting later’. But it didn’t. The redness faded and I didn’t have a sunburn at all the next day, so the redness could have just been from heat, not a burn.

    Thanks for this informative post!

  11. Audrey says

    Thank you for the information. How does the cod liver oil/butter blend compare to simply taking fish oil supplement? I looked at the amazon link, and based on the price, I am wondering what this blend is providing that I am not already getting with my omega 3 fish oil supplement. Thank you in advance for answering my question.

    • says

      The high vitamin butter oil provides Vitamin K as well, and this has other protective properties and is great for new cell growth. The cod liver oil is a great source of fat soluble vitamins and Omega-3s

  12. Primal Pug says

    This is very interesting information regarding sun protection. I’ve been Paleo since the end of February so I’m still learning a lot, but I’ve had good results so far. No more bloating and gastrointestinal distress; no more afternoon slump; enjoying food more as I try new recipes! My family haven’t totally come on board yet, but I did convince my 12-year-old daughter to give it a try for her eczema and asthma. After suffering with these issues for all of her life which she can remember, she was willing to resort to anything. She and I are convinced now that paleo is the way to go because her eczema and asthma both improved drastically (without using cortisone treatments as she’d used before). A brief weekend trip (with her friends) where she was off paleo for a few days created a huge eczema and asthma flareup, which further convinced her that she cannot go off paleo again.

  13. Melissa says

    I’m a gulf coast girl and I know I get plenty of Vitamin D and sun exposure without burning. I run every morning on the beach without sunscreen and do all of my other outdoor activities without sunscreen.
    With that said, do you think I should stop using conventional sunscreen when I go to the beach? I usually spend 4-6 hours when I go.

  14. Jennifer says

    I just tried 1/4 cup of coconut oil in my tea, and I’m really hoping I did something wrong! I used fresh chamomile, my husband used chai, and neither of us could really get it down. Is there some way to emulsify it or otherwise get around having a layer of oil swimming on top of the water? Perhaps a different flavor?

    • says

      I’ve never tried it with tea, but grassfed butter is great with coffee if you blend it. It just tastes like really creamy, fatty coffee. I be it’d work with tea too. I’m also not sure if grassfed butter is as good as coconut oil. I like to add MCT oil too which I believe is the primary benefit of coconut oil. Check out this site for a better explanation.

    • Anna says

      I am also curious how to have 1/4 cup of coconut oil in your tea (should you split it in several servings?). Have you figured it our, Jennifer?

  15. Shannon says

    Great post! Question: Will the fermented cod liver oil/butter remineralize teeth if taken in capsule form? I am interested/newly aware about remineralization … Seems like the minerals need to be in contact with the teeth, no?

  16. Theresa says

    I am wondering if the codliver oil blend is safe to use during pregnancy (I know we’re supposed to avoid high levels of vitamin A). Also, being pregnant, I’m curious that if while following the paleo diet it would be safe or beneficial to start tanning for small amounts (10 minutes) once or twice a week. I haven’t tanned for over two year and look and feel awful! I would be excited to know that a little bit is ok! Thanks :) I just started doing paleo about a month ago and plan to stay with it- feeling great!

  17. Julia says

    I hope everyone reading this realizes that there is no such thing as a healthy tan, which the writer seems to be implying. While sunburn is more concerning, people with tans are walking around with damaged skin. Here is a Q & A with a doctor from the NYT about whether or not tanning can be “healthy,” but the bottom line is that while getting Vitamin D is, sure, important to one’s health, there is NO proof that this diet protects you in any way from cancer-causing rays, even if you don’t seem to be burning anymore, and it’s dangerous to imply otherwise.

  18. Eldon says

    The white powder on the outside of aspen tree trunks can be used as a sunscreen. Rub your palms on the trunk of an aspen and then apply the powder from your palms to your exposed skin. I use this natural sunscreen all the time while hiking and it is highly effective for me.

  19. CeeKay says

    Hey guys. just wondering, I am wanting to adopt all of the above on this sounds great. Has anyone had experience with these foods/vitamins helping freckles. I constantly get freckles in the sun, wondering if this works with the tolerance for that as well?
    Any advice or suggestions would be great, so hard to avoid the sun in Australia and really don’t want to but just hate the freckles!

    Thank you :)

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