Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
19 Jul

8 Natural Ways to Prevent a Sunburn (And Sunscreen’s Not One of Them)

As summer descends upon the world, a young Primal eater’s fancy turns to playful frolicking in the sunshine. And when you’re frolicking, the last thing you want to do is slather a bunch of horrible-smelling, greasy, overpriced sunblock all over your body. It makes you slippery and imbues your countenance with a deathly pallor that is very unbecoming. If you could, you’d love to avoid the nasty practice altogether. You’d love to use more alternative methods. Methods that may not have the support of the medical community, but for which supportive research does exist. Seeing as how a common refrain throughout the newly Primal is that sunburns seem fewer and further between than ever before, I’m guessing that there’s something to it. Dietary? Supplementary?

I’ve noticed the same thing in myself and my family, so I got to wondering: what about going Primal, exactly, might be having this effect? And if something is protecting us from the sun, and it’s not just in everyone’s heads, what else can we do to bolster our natural sunblock? What can we recommend to friends and family who aren’t quite on board with the whole deal but still want protection from the sun? Let’s take a look at some potential supplements and dietary strategies. I’ll reference research as often as possible, but I’ll also draw on anecdotal experience, both personal and from the community at large.

Eat Some Lycopene

Lycopene, that famous carotenoid found in tomatoes, has been shown in a recent in vivo RCT to protect humans against sun damage. Healthy women, aged 21-47, who ate 55 g of tomato paste containing 16 mg of lycopene every day for 12 weeks experienced significant protection against acute – and potentially long term – sun damage. Remember that cooked tomatoes, and tomato products like paste and sauce, offer far more bioavailable lycopene than raw tomatoes. If you’re counting, 55 grams of tomato paste is a hair over 3 tablespoons worth.

Get Some Astaxanthin

The super-antioxidant astaxanthin is found in algae, the organisms that eat it, and the organisms that eat those organisms (like salmon, shrimp, and pink flamingo – the pink/red color gives it away). It has been getting some attention as an “internal sunscreen.” Does it stack up? Well, here’s a study on isolated human skin cells, in which astaxanthin definitely protects against UVA damage. And here’s another study on isolated skin cells showing its protective effects. But those are limited. Does the effect persist in real life settings? In other words, does ingesting astaxanthin supplements or food that contains astaxanthin offer protection from UVA? This hairless mouse study suggests that it might; astaxanthin was more effective than even retinol. I’d say it looks promising, and I’m always interested in an excuse to dine on pink flamingo thigh.

Get Some Vitamin D

A common anecdotal report is that supplementing vitamin D increases sun tolerance and protection against sun damage, and a recent study seems to confirm this. Various forms of the vitamin D prohormone offered various protections against UV damage in a mouse model: reduced sunburn, lowered incidence of tumor development. Huh, imagine that! Getting sun gives you vitamin D, which in turn protects you from too much sun. It’s funny how these things work out. Nature can be very elegant.

Get Your Long-Chain Omega-3s and Ditch the Omega-6s

A recent study out of Australia found that adults with the highest serum concentrations of DHA and EPA had the least “cutaneous p53 expression.” What’s the significance of cutaneous p53 expression? When your skin is in danger of damage from the sun, p53 expression is upregulated to protect it, and high p53 immunoreactivity can lead to melanoma. The fact that high DHA/EPA meant low p53 immunoreactivity suggests that the omega-3s were protecting the skin. And although the study’s authors noted that high serum omega-6 content didn’t seem to correlate with high p53 activity, I think a likelier explanation is this: omega-6 is so prevalent in the modern Australian diet, that even “low” levels are still above the threshold for increased susceptibility to sunburn. Going higher than that threshold won’t make things any worse, and it won’t show up in the statistics. Drop that omega-6 intake to 2% of calories, though, while getting an equal amount of omega-3s? I bet you’d see some incredible UV-resistance.

Eat Plenty of Saturated Fat

This is slightly redundant in light of the last suggestion – after all, if you’re limiting PUFAs, you gotta eat some saturated fat – but I think it’s worth mentioning. I hear about people bumping up their saturated fat intake and improving their UV-resistance all over the place, and I’ve experienced the same thing myself, but I’d never seen it mentioned in the literature. Well, here’s a cool rodent study in which mice were either given a saturated fat-enriched diet or a PUFA-enriched diet. No word on the exact composition of the two diets. When both groups of mice were injected with melanoma cells, “the initiation time required for visible tumor growth in mice receiving the polyunsaturated fat diet was significantly less than that in mice receiving the saturated fat diet.” A higher-saturated fat diet was protective, while a higher-PUFA diet was not. If you’re gonna be out in the sun, better eat your butter, palm oil, and coconut oil, eh?

Drink Tea

Tea, especially green tea, offers a complex arsenal of antioxidant compounds. How it works and what’s doing it isn’t fully understood, but it’s generally accepted that drinking green tea is a smart move and a mainstay of many healthy traditional cultures. Unsurprisingly, there’s also evidence that dietary green tea, specifically its polyphenols, inhibit the development of skin tumors by controlling inflammation and preventing DNA damage. Topical green tea extracts applied directly to the skin also offer photoprotection.

Get Some Proanthocyanidins

Proanthocyanidins, which can be found in wine and grape seeds, berries like blueberries and chokeberries, nuts like hazelnuts and pistachios, and certain niche grains like sorghum and barley, have been efficacious in preventing UV damage in hairless rodents. Whether it works for hairless apes remains to be seen, but drinking wine and eating berries sound like fine ideas regardless of their photoprotective efficacy. Actually, score one for the hairless apes who quaff wine: a recent study found that people who supplemented with grape seed extract (high in anthocyanidins) had a significantly lower risk of skin cancer. It sounds promising.

Consider Resveratrol

Resveratrol gets a lot of publicity for its possible anti-cancer, cardioprotective, and lifespan enhancing qualities, but it’s also gaining steam as a potential photoprotective agent. This study found that once incorporated into skin cells, resveratrol protected them from UV damage. Topical resveratrol seems viable, too, but I can imagine rubbing resveratrol into your sun-exposed skin would get expensive rather quickly.

Well, that’s what I came up with. I think the first four appear to be the most effective, but if you have a real problem with burning, it might be worth checking out all the strategies I mentioned. I’m also interested in what’s worked for you. Have you tried the above methods? Did they work? Fill us in and thanks for reading!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. All great suggestions! Far better than having to lather up every couple of hours.

    I’d always wondered about Vitamin D supplementation. It seemed logical that having Vitamin D already in your system would yield some protection from the sun. Nice to hear that this could be the case!

    Nick wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Heyy this is Kameron a big fann of the internet umm……seee i was reading your summer thing and i was wondering if you knew an other ways brecause umm…..like i am going to the pool a lot and like my mom makes me where sunscreen byt for sum reason sunscreen kind protects me but mainly i burn still.So what exactly do you know bout this um….if you can you can folllow me on ask or my space
      thanks kameron

      kameron wrote on June 26th, 2012
  2. It’s funny that you mention this because I hadn’t put much thought into my sun tolerance being linked to my diet lately. But I haven’t used sunblock all summer and haven’t received much worse than a golden glow. I have spent plenty of time outdoors and I’m usually adamant about the block but this year I haven’t had to. Only changes- eating more primally.

    katie wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Come to think of it neither have I?Been consuming lots of blueberries and SFAs while avoiding O6.Got to factor in the red wine as well…..(wink).

      No real intention to not use sunscreen but it has just seemed unnecessary this season?

      Interesting!
      Geo

      George wrote on July 22nd, 2011
    • ME TOO. I just noticed last week that I’m often in the sun now, no sunscreen, and I’m not burning. I am white as a ghost and usually burn within 10-15 minutes.
      I started eating paleo in February of this year, but still don’t get to eat a lot of everything Mark’s listed above.
      (I can’t have tomatoes or the wine)…yet the absence of burning is undeniable. Wow, this is really intriguing.
      ;-p

      Wenderful wrote on July 24th, 2011
    • Me N!

      I went paleo back in November. I’m one of the palest Irish freckled redheads you’ll ever meet and historically I can burn in 15-20 minutes of exposure to mid-Atlantic sun in a city. 45 minutes and I’m lobster-red and peeling for days. This summer, even when outside at a music festival for days on end, I skipped the sunblock. I followed the strategy of staying in the sun until I noticed my skin turning very light pink, and then tried to keep a light/breathable linen cover-up over my shoulders the rest of the time I was in the sun. I was surprised to notice I was able to get quite a bit more than 15-20 minutes of sun each day, though I broke it up into short-duration exposure sessions, and I didn’t burn at all in four days of doing this! Amazing to think it’s probably all that nourishing food full of healthy fat and vitamins that is protecting me.

      Related, I also camp in the Nevada desert every summer. The desert is made up of a dust about 50% silica by weight and it seems to act as a natural sunblock. Even before going paleo, these camping trips were the one time of the year I could walk out into the sun next to naked and stay in it all day and never worry about burning! (Silica dust is pretty harmful to the lungs and a bitch to get in the eyes, requiring one to keep a dust mask and goggles on hand in case of sudden winds, but I’ll take a bandana and goggles around my neck over sunblock smeared all over my body several times a day, any day.)

      Emily wrote on July 9th, 2012
      • Fascinating article, perfect to share after a recent conversation I had with my boyfriend. I never wear sunblock at BM and haven’t burned there in 8 years of a weeks camping. They may call us Burners, but not in this sense of the word!

        Ember wrote on July 9th, 2012
  3. Very interesting post. My wife and I have stopped using sunscreen this year, as my son reacts to every type we’ve ever used on him. We use ourselves as a barometer to know when to cover both him and ourselves up. It’s worked well so far, despite not having a good solid summer up here in the Pacific NW to acclimate to the sun. No burns, despite a few sporadic solar exposures.

    We already do the extra Vitamin D and the saturated fat. Might well try some other things as well (my wife is fairly light complexioned, and is thus concerned about burning – for good reason).

    Hal wrote on July 19th, 2011
  4. Perfect timing Mark! I have to guess that you thought of this post because of the hottest heat wave in the US since 1988!

    I am up here in Michigan where the avg. high is 83 for today. The heat index is going to be between 100 and 105 tomorrow and Thursday!!!

    I am staying out of the sun. My body is NOT used to this much heat. It’s simple enough to just stay inside sometimes. I’ll be fine being out there for about fifteen minutes a day this week but no more!

    Primal Toad wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Wow! Really?! I love reading this:

      ” Healthy women, aged 21-47, who ate 55 g of tomato paste containing 16 mg of lycopene every day for 12 weeks experienced significant protection against acute – and potentially long term – sun damage.”

      I am a HUGE fan of tomato paste. In fact its one of the 22 emergency foods that I listed in the blog post I published about 5 minutes ago. Its full of nutrition, portable and extremely cheap if you buy a store brand. (39 cents at Meijer per 6 oz can which gives you 150 cals for those of you in the midwest!).

      Get some Vitamin D: This confirms that a nice looking dan is probably the world’s greatest sun block. Am I right?

      One more note: One lady in the MDA forum claimed that using coconut oil on her skin prevented skin damage. She used to fry like a red lobster. One summer she slathered on coconut oil and did not get burnt once.

      I used this once and did not get burnt but since Primal Con I have yet to get burnt at all and I have not put anything on my skin.

      I just live primal. It works.

      Primal Toad wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • I think I rather put the coconut oil on my skin than sunscreen. It would smell better.

        Trevor wrote on July 19th, 2011
        • i was using coconut oil whenever i got out especially long hours in the pool. recently ii heard from friends that u get a lot more tan ans sun burn than otherwise. is this true…? i have observed it and think it does. any ideas?

          mina wrote on July 19th, 2011
        • Are you saying you heard that you get more sun burn if you use coconut oil? I do not quite understand what you are saying…

          Primal Toad wrote on July 19th, 2011
        • Yes, I applied coconut oil all of last summer and I got a really nice tan. I don’t suggest leaving it on for a long period as I don’t think it protects you from UV rays.

          Jen wrote on July 19th, 2011
        • Coconut oil protects your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, but it also allows you to get the vitamin D that sunblock keeps you from getting enough of. You can get a tan and the benefits of the sun without the burn and skin damage.

          Alley wrote on August 4th, 2013
      • Hi Primal Toad,

        I was just reading about your fondness for tomato paste on your blog yesterday; was looking for ‘travel food’ ideas. Sorry if this sounds daft but in the UK we don’t have anything specifically called tomato paste. There’s tinned tomatoes and tomato passata (which I believe in the states is called ‘sieved’ tomatoes) but obviously these are not right. We also have tomato puree, or tomato concentrate which normally comes in a tube (like toothpaste) and is used to flavor and enrich sauces, gravies and stews. Does this sound like the right stuff to you? Many thanks in advance for your help! :)

        Charlotte wrote on July 20th, 2011
        • Hi Charlotte

          Yes, it’s the puree/concentrate that’s the same as ‘paste’ in the US.

          Andy wrote on July 20th, 2011
      • Heyy this is Kameron a freak of the computer lol but umm……is there a way you could explain that ti me because i was reading i found it pretty interesting and im lways getting burnt at the pool abd this is really cool what you put up so ya you can follow me on facebook myspace or on ask
        thanks kameron

        kameron wrote on June 26th, 2012
      • old post, but anyway:
        yes, it works, oil is a natural sunscreen – not a strong one, but yes it is.

        Besides that, oil keeps the skin healthy, especially when we use modern shower gels – that drie out the skin and the best weapon to sun is intact and healthy skin.

        The skin has mechanisms to avoid burns – but they have to develop.
        You need to expose yourself to the sun.

        I’m very pale but I almost never get a sunburn – I ride my bike every morning throughout the year, at least an hour and I do sports outside – my skin can handle about 30-40minutes extreme sun and hours in the afternoon while my sister (same model ;-) ) gets a heavy sunburn after 10 minutes or so.
        Plus: I never use showergels or soap, water is enough. Even if I took a longer bath (swimming) I put on some oliveoil if the skin is dry – but I never use lotion on daily base.

        I just started with paleo, so the main part has to be exposure.

        sun is not evil – get used to it in spring, get small doses during summer and your skin will be fine if you need it to be. Keep your skin healthy and everything will be fine.

        ratwoman wrote on September 25th, 2012
    • Man, you’re telling me! I’m in Michigan on vacation. I left Virginia to escape the heat, but it followed me here! A good jump in the lake always helps though =)

      Sarah Due wrote on July 20th, 2011
  5. I live near several beaches in the North East and I work a desk job- read pasty white form winter. My solution has been to get a few hours at the beach after work (weather permitting). I’ve been doing this since June and have yet to burn. On the weekends I am at the beach for 4-8 hours. I do use a beach shelter (primitive lean to) to avoid mid day sun.

    liberty_1776 wrote on July 19th, 2011
  6. It makes sense. Just following PB will cover most of the suggestions naturally. I live in South Florida, don’t wear sunscreen, and I don’t get burned. That being said, I also pay attention and cover up or seek shade when I know I’ve had enough.

    skink531 wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • We are also in S. FL, and don’t wear sunscreen. We get a little sun – my 3 kids have beautiful tans – and then we cover up with hats and long sleeved rash guards. The kids can still get wet and play, but they are protected from sunburn.

      Melissa wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • My three have great tans too! It is so interesting to see the difference with the diet shift. I often forget to bring sunscreen places like the beach because we rarely need it so it doesn’t cross my mind anymore!

        Crunchy Pickle wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • west central florida. plenty of sun, no problem no sun screen. just right eating.

        Dasbutch wrote on July 19th, 2011
        • wow interesting!!!!!!!!!

          kameron wrote on June 26th, 2012
    • wow that is really cool umm…and like where did you find this out??

      kameron wrote on June 26th, 2012
  7. I’m not 100% primal, but I have noticed since decreasing my grains and increasing the amounts of fish I eat as well as taking Vitamin D and an Omega 3 supplement that I burn less frequently. I still burn, as I am very fair skinned (Irish/German blonde, blue eyed with freckles). I try to stay out of the sun between the hours of 11-3 and find that I can go out anytime prior to or after that without sunscreen, even when I was in Mexico, without burning at all.

    I did get fried earlier this summer when I didn’t put any sunscreen on all day, so I wouldn’t recommend no sunscreen if you are outside all day in the sun, but there are non-chemical mineral sunscreen options that are much better (even though they do make you look kind of chalky). I try to find shade before I resort to these sunscreens though.

    Jaime wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • I read a book about Vitamin D and it actually debunked the 11-3 notion as a myth. According to the author, the “good” rays are the ones out mid-day, with higher “bad” rays at the later daylight hours (sorry, I always get my UVA & UVB confused!). I’d be curious if anyone else has read about this or has insight on if this is true.

      Thanks for the awesome post, so informative!

      Alisa Fleming wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • What’s the name of the book or the author?

        Paleophil wrote on July 24th, 2011
        • The author was probably Dr. Holick, he is the one that came up with the D3 version of vitamin D, he’s a research scientist at Univ of Wisconsin, Madison. His most recent book (2011) “The Vitamin D Solution: A 3-Step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problems” is a very good read.

          In short… UVA causes skin Aging (and the worst cancers), UVB causes Burns (note the first letter after UV, this will help you remember). UVB is what our skin uses to make vitamin D. UVB is easily filtered, by the atmosphere, window glass, haze, the cheapest sunscreens. UVA blasts right through those things. For years sunscreen manufactures sold us sunscreens that blocked UVB (the good stuff) and allowed UVA right through, so it blocked natures natural sunblock mechanisms and let us get the harmful UVA.

          So sit outside during between 11am and 1pm (earlier and later in mid summer, forget about it in the northern states during the winter months, all UVB is filtered by the atmosphere). Do not wear sunscreen, stay out until your skin starts to turn pink and then cover up. Get 30-40 minutes per day (mostly uncovered) during the summer (maybe 10 minutes in S. Florida, 60 minutes in northern Maine) to get your vitamin D. You can start to up that as you tan.

          I’ve followed most the articles suggestions and they do work wonderfully. Astaxanthin is GREAT at preventing burns but you need to also be on a low PUFA diet, eating saturated fats. I use to burn walking from the store to my car, now I can lay out all day at the beach (in Minnesota, half a day at the gulf). I go from pink to tan overnight! Its truly amazing.

          MN_John wrote on April 29th, 2013
      • I’ve also read similar info that the best time for sun exposure to promote Vit. D production is lunchtime (11-1). One place I know I’ve seen this is on Dr Mercola’s website. The new thing now is that you’re not supposed to shower w/soap after getting the sun exposure – apparently, research indicates that it takes up to 48-hrs to get the full synthesis (Vit D starts w/our natural skin oils then converts, which takes time.) Fortunately, this Phoenix girl has never been afraid of the sun and my Vit D lab results are always at the high end of the range regardless of my level of sun exposure(w/no supplementation.) And, sorry, researchers, I shower when I want!!

        AmyC wrote on June 29th, 2012
      • I’ve come across this somewhere too. Between 10-2 both UVA and UVB rays come through the atmosphere and balance each other. Before and after that time, the “good” rays bounce off the atmosphere when they come in at more of a slant, while the “bad” rays still get through and can do their damage. So yeah, what we were told growing up, to avoid the sun between 10-2, was apparently exactly wrong. (Of course, I tend to believe anything that is simplified — even my explanation above — doesn’t get it all right. Nature is complex…)

        Ember wrote on July 9th, 2012
  8. I am so fair and have always had to use sunblock… thanks for all the suggestions! I just started taking 1200mg omega3 fish oil plus 1000iu vitamin d3. We’ll see how I make out at the beach in two weeks.

    Brooke wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • It can take over a year of going primal to get the sugar out of the system and then you shouldn’t burn so much.

      Do a test….check it out when you marinate a steak….the sweet marinades burn the meat black…the others not so much.

      We are the same if we are “marinated” in sugar.

      Jo-Anne wrote on July 9th, 2012
  9. Thanks for all of the tips Mark…I have been wondering about this, as I burn very easily.

    I have been using my lunch break to go home and layout for 30 minutes…15 minutes of direct sunlight on each side…about 3 – 4 times a week, and I have started to build up a light tan…slowly increasing my exposure during other parts of the day, and I haven’t been burnt yet :-)

    Do you know of any studies conducted on people who have already been badly burnt several times in their lives…this is what I’m really worried about, because as a kid, I had several bad sunburns, which I’ve been told probably already determines my fate to get some form of skin cancer. I have light freckly skin.. hopefully living primally will make up for it (fingers crossed)

    primalpal wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Primalpal, there was one study in Australia that demonstrated that office workers had much higher skin cancer rates than lifeguards. So sun exposure is not the primary culprit. (Google for more details.)

      I too had several horrific sunburns as a child and your complexion sounds pretty similar to my own. In my case, living primally provided total sun protection. At age 35 my skin is healthier than ever before, despite my blasting it with UV at every opportunity.

      Timothy wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • There is a postulated “hardening” effect of some UV-induced tolerance against melanoma. More research needed to corroborate this. This has led to more of a “weekend warrior” mentality toward melanoma risk (intense, less frequent burns vs daily low-grade damage). Be careful, however, as total life cumulative sun exposure is definitively linked with risk of squamous cell carcinoma development. While it ain’t melanoma, SCC has very real metastatic potential.

        Blake wrote on September 28th, 2014
    • Primalpal, I agree with Timothy and be 100% compliant about avoiding sugar……as it feeds cancer. Google sugar+cancer……

      That should minimise any damage.

      Jo-Anne wrote on July 9th, 2012
  10. Proanthocyanidins and resveratrol eh? Sounds like a good time for some more nice red wine.

    freqz wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • I was thinking the same thing…

      Wendy wrote on July 19th, 2011
  11. I’ve noticed that if I eat a lot of omega 6s I will burn a little even being primal. Otherwise, since going primal I’m just tan. I don’t have to bother with the extra resveratol, lycopene, etc. Just eating primal foods seems to work wonders.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on July 19th, 2011
  12. It’s probably also worth adding that behavioral adaptations to sun are just as important. This summer I have been avoiding unprotected exposure between like noon and 2ish. After that, especially after 3, is when I go to the pool.

    Also, does anyone know of any good supplements that collect some of these nifty nutrients (specifically things like the lycopene and astaxanthin) in one place? Cause I’m somewhat less than thrilled at the idea of eating cooked-tomato-and-seaweed-salads all summer ;)

    cTo wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Aloha,
      BioAstin is an awesome astaxanthin supplement, produced on the Big Island of Hawaii where sun is king!

      zj wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • I know it’s a late reply, but I wanna say this about BioAstin Astaxathin, it contains corn starch, sorbitol and bad oils, god knows why, but it does.
        Jarrow Formulas has a better one.

        Greetings from the Netherlands!

        Remco wrote on December 17th, 2012
  13. With my northern european skin and an innate revulsion to sunscreen, I used to burn all the time before going Primal. I mean really heinous burns; after just one hour I would be unable to stand the feeling of anything on my skin except lukewarm water for days on end.

    One of the first effects I noticed after going primal was that I could spend hours under the sun without burning. I credit this to rebalancing my O3-O6 ratio and eating saturated fats, which are the only things on the above list that I did at first.

    Later, I added astaxanthin, my favorite antioxidant and one that evolved specifically to protect against UV. Now it is virtually impossible for me to burn. The only time in the past year that I have burned was when I deliberately spent all day, from dawn to dusk, at the beach wearing no shirt (thanks PrimalCon!) And that burn wasn’t even painful, despite looking alarming and prompting a certain paleo blogger to insist that I wear sunscreen. The burn vanished in a couple of days despite continued sun exposure.

    To reinforce what Primal Toad said, coconut oil has a mild SPF (5 I think) and is a great way of topically nourishing your skin, so it both protects and heals. Plus it makes your primal musculature look extra ripply. :)

    I can’t change my genetics; my body barely produces enough melanin for a smattering of freckles. My “tanned” complexion is red/orange from hemoglobin, carotenoids, and astaxanthin. But I’ll take that coloring any day over my natural pallor, which a friend once described as resembling “the upper, inner thigh of a piglet.”

    Timothy wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Hahahaha. “The upper, inner thigh of a piglet” is a great visual. I have been told that I’m so white I glow. And my (unwelcome) nickname in grade school was “mayo legs”. Of course, at the time, I didn’t think it was funny. I have Nordic/German/Irish ancestry with pale, freckly skin and blue eyes that are so sensitive to the sun.

      This is an interesting post. In the past, I often wished I had a sunscreen dunk tank because my skin is so pale and I’ve always burned so fast, and covering my whole body takes SO LONG. About 15 years ago, I got a burn on my back when I sat outside with my back to the sun (to protect my face) for 20 minutes to eat lunch. I hadn’t realized that my shirt had lifted up above the top of my pants. I was not a little pink – I was RED and burned! The friend I was eating lunch with was stunned.

      I read a few years ago about how the chemicals in sunscreen might actually be worse for us than the sun exposure, so I’ve switched to mineral-based sunscreen and try to avoid using it as much as possible by wearing a hat and keeping my skin covered.

      I only discovered this “primal stuff” a few weeks ago, but I’ve been grain / sugar / soy / dairy / potato / legume free for 1.5 years because I follow the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (minus dairy, since I personally cannot tolerate it) to manage my IBS.

      I moved away from canola oil to olive oil years ago, and then in December, I read “Real Food: What to Eat and Why”, and as a result started cooking with coconut oil and just use EV olive oil for salad dressing. Memorial Day weekend (end of May, for you international folks), I was talking to a friend who told me that she uses coconut oil on her skin and even takes a spoonful or two every day to keep her insides healthy. I had just run out of my facial moisturizer (decent, non-chemical, organic, plant-based stuff but a little pricey), so I started using coconut oil instead. I love how it makes my skin feel, so that’s still what I use. Around that same time, I decided to eat more walnuts for their omega-3 content in place of the almonds, cashews, and pecans I usually snacked on.

      We had a long winter here in Salt Lake City, so I haven’t had too many long days in the sun yet, but I do take about a 20 minute walk everyday around 2pm – with no hat. My face hasn’t gotten pink AT ALL during my walks. Not even my nose. I’ve thought about it a couple times and have been surprised and wondered why I haven’t even gotten pink, but didn’t give it much thought. “Maybe the bad air we have here keeps the harmful rays away – who knows.”

      But reading this post, it actually kind of makes sense. Thanks for sharing this information, and thanks to the other posters for sharing your experience too! I have even more reason to eat coconut oil and slather it on my body. Yay!

      Jen wrote on July 23rd, 2011
      • I’m so pale I’m transparent! You can count my veins! But this summer I actually got a little bit of golden coloring, no burns, and NO sunscreen at all! Primal FTW!

        Robin wrote on August 7th, 2011
  14. I have to say that my body’s natural skin protection has been one of the most surprising affects of going Primal. Both in my husband, myself and the kids. We are very fair skin folk and all our lives we have been caking on the sun screen and still getting the two or three time a year peeling skin sunburns…..since going Primal….not one sunburn for any of us!! And we don’t us sunscreen, not even on the kids. I also think that wearing light clothing that covers well and hats when being outside for extend time periods is a good idea.

    We play outside a lot and we all have nice light tans going and have yet to get sunburn, even on the 4th of July when we spent the whole day out in the sun…not one oz of sunscreen used!!

    I think its probably a combination of Vitamin D, saturated fat, proper clothing and spending some time in the shade that have prevented us from getting sun burns!!

    And I love having a tan!!! With sunscreen I was this pasty white girl walking around all summer…its nice to have some color!!

    Ditch the sunscreen and go Primal!!

    The Real Food Mama wrote on July 19th, 2011
  15. I just want to point out: just because you’re tanning rather than burning doesn’t mean your skin isn’t being damaged.

    LaP wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • I agree. I find this “sunscreen is stupid” mentality very disturbing.

      Shari wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • It’s not that “sunscreen is stupid”, it is that sunscreen is full of toxic chemicals. That is a huge motivator to avoid the stuff. I use sunscreen w/ zinc oxide and no harmful chemicals, or no sunscreen at all.

        Eileen wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • I dunno, I’m leaning towards the sunscreen-is-stupid idea, with chemical sunscreens being really stupid. Humans NEED a degree of unprotected sun exposure for a multitude of health benefits. I’m not saying unlimited or unwise unprotected sun exposure, but at least some. (Same with sunglasses – limit their use because your eyes need some of the sun’s wavelengths for their health.) Sun exposure should not be viewed as an all-or-none proposition.

        However, a good sunscreen for your face (and, yes, I occasionally use it myself) is Josie Maran’s Argan Oil w/spf 50 – contains zinc oxide, not a bunch of chemical ingredients. The argan oil provides moisture, the zinc oxide really does protect, and it’s WAY less irritating if you sweat and it gets into your eyes. :) Not cheap, tho.

        AmyC wrote on June 29th, 2012
  16. I live in Phoenix, AZ aka “The Valley of the Sun”. Since going Primal almost a year ago I haven’t had one sunburn and I’ve been spending A ALOT more time in the sun with no sunscreen. I’m a saturated fat junkee and take astaxanthin and everyday. Yesterday was 112 degrees (not the heat index either) and today will be “cooler” at 108. Bring it on!!

    Desert Caveman wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Of course, giant dust storms blocking out the sun doesn’t hurt either;)

      Desert Caveman wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • I’ve been seeing articles and little personal stories around the net about astaxanthin just like yours. I just ordered some the other day and now I’m extra excited to get it!

      Jen wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • heyy i live in phoenix too! :) i never got sunburn in my life (genetics). I just always get nicely toasted, but i dont like being too dark–feel like my skin might get wrinkly before it should.

      Giftty wrote on July 22nd, 2011
  17. I didn’t realize actually eating coconut oil would help protect the sun, but I have been wondering if actually applying it directly to the skin would act as a sort of sun screen.

    I’ve been using the Vit D method – I try to get 10-30 mins of sun per day while I can – I’m in upstate NY and we don’t get much sun here after labor day. I find this amount does have a protective effect.

    The Primal Recipe wrote on July 19th, 2011
  18. I have a complexion that doesn’t burn too easily, but I still spend a ton of time in the sun. This summer I’ve relied on big hats and a scuba-style swim shirt at the pool. I didn’t know my diet was providing protection!

    This is a big issue for me in the summer, so I’ll be evaluating my omega 3s and 6s and added vit 6 for sure.

    So, red wine and hazelnuts are good for my skin? Love MDA!

    Anne wrote on July 19th, 2011
  19. Since I have gone primal I know I have been far less prone to burning. I am a fair skinned individual that was always warned not to step outside into direct sunlight unless I was covered. Now I go out all the time without a shirt and I have not burned in the past 2 years.

    Whatever I am doing works for me and keeps me from having to slather on greasy sunscreen.

    Chris Tamme wrote on July 19th, 2011
  20. Seafood salad with tomatoes – sounds so much tastier than sunblock! Thanks Mark

    Corinne Spiers wrote on July 19th, 2011
  21. Avoiding sunburn for me goes into the little bit a day scenario that applies to the vitamin D explination. In the beginning of summer I try to expose myself little by little every day or every other day extending the time period each time. Now in the middle of July I’m able to play for hours without worry of burnt skin, and only limited to the time I have to spend outside. Since I’ve gone primal I’ve almost completely eliminated dairy products so I’m in the category of needing my body to produce vitamin D from sun exposure.

    Marktavious wrote on July 19th, 2011
  22. Does vitamin D3 work through increased dopamine signaling and therefore increased melanin production? I think I read a few things that led me to that.

    Serotonin receptor antagonists reverse UV damage and inhibit UV-induced immune suppression in hairless mice: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18483284.

    john wrote on July 19th, 2011
  23. I and my hubby have both noticed a huge difference since coconut oil became a staple in our diets.
    My husband is a typical fair-skinned red-head, and besides getting easily sun-burned, his nose would actually look purple from his blood vessels being so inflamed.
    After two years of consuming massive quantities of coconut oil, I can’t even remember the last time either of us has been sunburned.

    dragonmamma wrote on July 19th, 2011
  24. I wonder if these methods work just as well down here in South Florida. The sun is most unforgiving…but the beaches are awesome!

    WhatAboutJason wrote on July 19th, 2011
  25. I’ve noticed that since I started eating Paleo/Primal and supplementing with Vitamin D and Fish Oil that I don’t really burn any more. I used to get sunburned within 15 minutes of being outside…the past 2 years I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in my sun tolerance and don’t get burned much anymore. My changed diet includes most of what you’ve listed here Mark as things to help prevent sunburn naturally.

    Laura wrote on July 19th, 2011
  26. Since I started eating coconut oil I have noticed I do not burn as easily. If I avoid being unprotected from 12-3 then I can be out in the sun with no sunscreen and no burn.

    Gary Deagle wrote on July 19th, 2011
  27. I see coconut oil referenced a lot here and other places. Is there another oil that gives comparable benefits? I’m allergic to coconut.

    Kim wrote on July 19th, 2011
  28. Just wear a hat

    kevin walker wrote on July 19th, 2011
  29. A big culprit that you don’t specifically mention here, but that goes hand in hand with primal eating is sugar or the avoidance of it. Sugar creates inflammation which makes you prone to sunburn. That’s why it seems that the more margaritas we have, the more crispy we get. Going primal greatly limits this intake, especially in its refined forms and other sugar precursors like grains. I’ve been touting the avoiding sunburn thing for years, but only how it related to sugar and inflammation. All these other suggestions make perfect sense too!

    Jenny wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Course more margaritas also increases the risk of passing out in the sun ;D

      cTo wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • Yeah, there’s always that…… but of course I’m talking about ppl who can hold their liquor. ;)

        Jenny wrote on July 19th, 2011
  30. Shoot, I wish I’d come upon this article 2 days ago. I burned quite a bit at the beach last weekend and am still licking my wounds.

    Thank you for some great suggestions. Doing a lot of it already, so hopefully didn’t get too much damage from this recent burn.

    chocolatechip69 wrote on July 19th, 2011
  31. Great article Mark!

    My wife and I actually found through travelling through SE Asia that lathering coconut oil 1) kills sandflies and 2) prevents burning. It truly is amazing stuff.

    alan wrote on July 19th, 2011
  32. I’m of Norwegian descent and have very fair skin. As a kid, I’d get one or two sunburns a summer and then I’d get a tan afterwards, but those sunburns sure did hurt!

    As an adult, I used sunscreen like I was told by everyone. Eventually I started using the spray on sunscreen. Up through last summer, I’d spray on the sunscreen before mowing the lawn, and would still get a little red on my neck and sometimes on my legs.

    Last Fall (around Thanksgiving), I went primal and started eating lots of saturated fats and supplementing with Vitamin D.

    This summer, I purposely did not use any sunscreen when going outside or mowing the yard. I wanted to know if the saturated fat was going to help. Sure enough, I was fine!

    Eventually, I got some pink on my neck once after being outside long enough, but it was limited to my neck only. Plus it really wasn’t a full sunburn (no peeling skin, just a little pink, not very painful at all).

    As a precaution, I purchased some SPF 8 sunscreen (lowest SPF I could find) and now put a small amount of that on my neck when I know I’ll get a lot of sun.

    Otherwise, I still don’t use any sunscreen. It’s amazing to discover that when eating right, the sun will not kill you. Even for guys like me of Norwegian descent. :D

    Jon wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • I should also add that I live in South Dakota. That means I have the added disadvantage of only really getting out in the sun for about 3-4 months each year.

      So this Norwegian decent, fair skinned, stuck inside all winter dude doesn’t sunburn when he eats right.

      Awesome!

      Jon wrote on July 19th, 2011
  33. Another key point: After moving from the Mediterranean latitude of Cleveland OH to Seattle, WA, the frequency of sunburns to my pale Irish skin dropped substantially

    Sean Kelly wrote on July 19th, 2011
  34. Not that anyone following PB would need to take prescriptions meds, BUT if you do, be sure to read the flyer that you get with your meds because one of the common side effects listed could very well be “This medicine may cause increased sensitivity to the sun”.

    I know that was the case when I took tamoxifen for 5 years after my bout with breast cancer back in 2002. That warning was in big, bold letters. I’ve seen that same issue stated with other meds also and it’s probably true of OTC meds as well.

    PrimalGrandma wrote on July 19th, 2011
  35. Love everything primal. But be careful folks. The sun can be both deadly, and proven to add years to how old you look. Just look at many people in their 40s and 50s who look much older, and who have spent a lot of unprotected time in the sun. I know women who are 50 who were careful (sunscreen/hats and common sense) who look 35. Literally.

    This is one facet of primal living that could be regretted when its too late.

    Again…I love everything primal, in fact after reading this I threw a tomato in the bacon fat to have with my bacon and eggs today, as I do believe every little bit helps. I live in the Rockies at 7000 feet, so the sun is intense, though not that hot out. I’ve also had my fair share of actinic keratosis, etc, from sun exposure.

    Let me reinforce again…I am ALL FOR primal living…but certain areas of the lifestyle might, in my opinion, be worth heeding a little bit of good old CW.

    OK, as long as I posted something that even with my disclaimers will be construed by some as negative, let me add here to get it out of the way…does anyone else find it annoying when posters (other than those who link to their blogs/posts as part of their signature…which is fine) kind of ride Mark’s coat tails by referring to their own sites or blogs (especially when they are selling something there) within their posts? That’s an uncool shortcut to readership by trying to hijack a site that has been built organically by Mark and his team. Hell, Mark even gently asks people NOT to do that at the top of the comments section on every article.

    OK, I feel better now :-)

    June 1: 240 lbs, 6′-2″.
    July 18: 219 lbs, (still 6′-2″)
    Goal: Sub 200 lbs, and more lean muscle.
    Amount of Cardio required: WAAAAAY Less!
    THANKS MARK for this amazing (and paradigm-shifting) knowledge!

    Peter wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • Yeah, I hate that too.

      Visit my website at buy-supplements-for-less(dot)com to read more about how I hate that sort of thing.

      Average Joe wrote on July 19th, 2011
      • joke by the way

        Average Joe wrote on July 19th, 2011
    • When I lie in the sun, I cover my face with my t-shirt. My face gets enough sun anyway and in this way it does not age without chemicals.

      If people link to relevant articles, that is fine by me. That is what the web is all about.

      Victor wrote on July 20th, 2011
  36. This reminds me of when my sister and I were kids. Our mother would mix up a homemade sunscreen of oil and vinegar and we’d rub that all over us and go to the pool smelling like salads:-) We’d spend the day there and never burned.

    Katie J wrote on July 19th, 2011
  37. I always wondered why I didn’t seem to burn even though I have a fair complexion. Healthy lifestyle wins again!

    Emily wrote on July 19th, 2011
  38. Don’t know what I’d do if I lived in the southern US, but here in Lancaster, UK (latitude: north of Edmonton) it amazes me the way that people slather their kids in sunscreen the moment the sun comes out. I was furious in March because on the first sunny day of the year the children were instructed to wear hats and sunscreen! In March! At Lat. 54N!

    PaleoMum wrote on July 19th, 2011
  39. Yup, check, check, check – do all of those before having recently found this MDA website – all good information. My wife and I are in the sun a lot and do a lot paddling (kayaking) during our very, very short summers in New England, USA. We also found, at times, when additional protection is needed that Dr. Mercola has a completely natural, harmless lotion that adds to protection for very lengthy exposure days.

    John D. Pilla wrote on July 19th, 2011
  40. A few weekends ago my bf and 3 of our friends spent a couple of days at the beach and it was kinda nifty to see everyone’s reaction to long hours in the sun.
    One slathered on sunblock every hour, another slathered on tanning oil as often as possible, one didn’t put hardly anything on (except aloe vera after he fried to a crisp) and my bf put sunblock on two or three times and burned pretty pink (but to be fair, it was the first time his legs saw the light of day in 5 years lol).

    I put on sunblock twice, on areas that were pretty exposed to the sun all day long (we had tied inflatable boats together and paddled/floated around the lake – so the only parts I was concerned about were my shoulders and legs)
    I’m a natural blonde with fair skin and what was interesting was that everyone burned except me and our friend that slathered on sunblock every hour.

    This is my first summer being primal, and not having to worry about sunblock is great!

    Caleigh wrote on July 19th, 2011

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