Now that summer is here, it’s more important than ever to protect your skin from the sun to avoid burns and permanent sun damage.
However, some sunscreens contain harmful chemicals and have themselves been shown to cause cancer or hormone disruptions, making consumers unsure about the best ways to protect their skin.
So what are the safest ways to protect your skin from the sun? And what can you do to support your skin if you do get a sunburn? Here are our top tips:
- Stay in the Shade
Tanya Tanzillo, DNP, a functional medicine nurse practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says the best thing you can do to protect your skin from the sun without absorbing any extra chemicals is to avoid wearing sunscreen if possible. She suggests wearing clothes that can protecting you from sun exposure, putting on a hat, and staying in the shade.
- Gradually Increase Your Sun Exposure
Dr. Kelsie Lazzell, DC, a functional medicine doctor of chiropractic and naturopathy at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says being outside in the sunshine without sunscreen is crucial in getting enough vitamin D. “I see so many vitamin D deficiencies, which I think of as sunlight deficiencies and nature deficiencies,” she says. “You need to be getting 20 minutes of full forearm sunlight every day without sunscreen to get the amount of vitamin D that you need.”
That’s why she recommends gradually increasing your exposure to the sun throughout the summer, starting with just spending a few minutes in the sun without sunscreen each day and gradually increasing it up to no more than one hour in the sun without sunscreen, so you develop a natural tan instead of a burn. She says the increased melatonin in your skin will help protect it from serious long-term damage.
- Use a Good Quality Sunscreen
However, if you are going to be in the sun long enough that you may start to get burned, it is a good idea to apply sunscreen. Tanzillo suggests checking out the sunscreens recommended by The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit that educates consumers about toxins that are in many products that we use every day. In general, they recommend looking for sunscreens with an SPF between 15+ and 50+ that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which protect your skin from UVA radiation. They also say you should avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, which can penetrate your skin and disrupt your hormone system. You can look up many different brands of sunscreens on their website.
- Get Lots of Fat-Soluble Vitamins
Another important thing you can do to keep your skin healthy so it can keep producing new skin cells is by getting lots of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin A and vitamin D. “On a molecular level, you need a constant intake of fat-soluble vitamins to support the creation of skin cells,” Dr. Lazzell explains.
She says you can get vitamin A and E from organic butter (or ghee), eggs, nuts and seeds (specifically flax seeds and walnuts), and cold-water oil fish such as salmon, sardines and anchovies.
- Apply Coconut Oil
Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, clinical director of the Center for Holistic Medicine, says applying coconut oil directly onto your skin is a great way of keeping your body’s largest organ healthy as well. Although it won’t block out UV rays, it does help the skin by reducing inflammation and it has antimicrobial properties, as well. And coconut oil is also a great source of vitamin A and E, too.
- Get Lots of Antioxidants
The more antioxidants you eat in your diet, the better your body will be able to repair any cells that get damaged, which is why it’s important to eat lots of vegetables and fruits that are high in antioxidants. Dr. Lazzell says you should try to “eat the rainbow” to get lots of different kinds of fruits and veggies in your diet, and you can even eat an apple or sip on some green tea while you’re sitting out on the beach.
- Use Essential Oils Instead of Bug Spray
“Your skin goes both ways. It detoxifies and it absorbs,” Dr. Lazzell explains. “So when you put on a bug spray that contains chemicals in it, those chemicals could be blocking your pores, preventing your body from sweating and letting toxins out of your body, or those chemicals could be seeping into your blood stream.”
But Dr. Lazzell says there are many essential oils that you can use — such as citronella, lavender, eucalyptus, or peppermint — that are just as effective for repelling bugs and. “Ticks and mosquitoes are just as repellant to these essential oils that have no downstream side effects,” she says.
How to Repair Your Skin After a Sunburn
If you’ve already burnt your skin, here are some suggestions for things you can try to help you heal faster.
- Apply Natural Remedies
Aloe vera is one of the most tried-and-true natural remedies for a skin burn. That’s because each leaf of this plant contains a slimy, water-filled gel that is a powerful antioxidant with antibacterial properties. Dr. Lazzell recommends keeping an aloe vera plant in your house and simply cutting off a leaf and rubbing it on your skin if you get a burn. If you don’t have an aloe vera plant, you can also buy aloe vera gel.
Sara Donisch, the manager of the apothecary at the Center for Holistic Medicine, also recommends using apple cider vinegar on sunburns, which can soothe the pain and speed up the healing process. To do this, mix equal amounts of apple cider vinegar and water and then soak paper towels in the mixture and apply to your skin. It’s important to dilute the vinegar because the vinegar itself has been known to cause burns.
And Dr. Gore suggests using hypericum ointment, which is made out of the homeopathic remedy hypericum.
- Drink Water
When you burn your skin, your body’s natural inflammation response is to send water to the burned area, making the rest of your body feel dehydrated. Dr. Lazzell says need to increase your water intake to help your body heal.
- Get Sleep
“There’s a reason that when you get sunburned you just feel exhausted,” Lazzell says, explaining that protein synthesis and cell repair happen when you sleep. She says make sure to get lots of extra sleep after a burn to help your body repair damaged cells faster.
- Do Some Exercise
When the DNA in your cells becomes damaged due to a sunburn, your body has to then clear out the toxic byproducts through your lymphatic system. You can help drain your lymph nodes by doing some gentle movement, such as walking or swimming (with proper sunscreen of course!)
- Drybrush Your Skin
Another way to drain your lymphatic system is by skin brushing, an ancient Chinese medicine technique that involves using a dry, stiff brush to massage your body. This will also help remove the damaged layer of skin.