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5 steps to safer sunning

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Stay safe in the sun by avoiding toxic sunscreens and protecting skin from the inside out

We’re constantly told to slather on the sunscreen to keep our skin safe from the sun, but that advice could be doing us more harm than good. The chemical filters in most sunscreens can penetrate the skin and are associated with hormone disruption, allergic reactions and other health concerns. Oxybenzone, one of the most hazardous, has even been linked to endometriosis and low-birth-weight babies.1

Sunscreens can also prevent us from getting enough vitamin D-the ‘sunshine vitamin’ now known to be a crucial factor in a long list of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and, ironically, skin cancer. So before you stock up on your usual sun creams and sprays, check out our simple steps to safer sunning.

1.Choose safer sunscreens

If you’re planning on spending a lot of time in the sun, safer alternatives to chemical sunscreens are the mineral filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which don’t appear to penetrate the skin. Zinc oxide is US consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group’s first choice, as it’s stable in sunlight and provides broad-spectrum protection.2 A number of natural-beauty brands like Badger and Aubrey Organics now offer zinc-oxide-based sunscreens. Look out for WDDTY‘s natural sunscreen picks in next month’s Healthy Shopping.


Taking supplements in the run-up to sun exposure can bolster the skin’s natural defences against sunlight:

oAntioxidants like vitamins C and E appear to work together to protect against UV (ultraviolet) rays.3

Dosage: 2 g/day vitamin C; 1,000 IU/day vitamin E

oCarotenoids like beta-carotene (found in carrots) and lycopene (found in tomatoes) have consistently been shown to protect against sunburn.4

Dosage: 30-90 mg/day mixed carotenoids; 16 mg/day lycopene (or take 1-2 Tbsp/day tomato paste)

oPycnogenol, an extract of French maritime pine bark, can improve the skin’s tolerance to UV rays.5

Dosage: 90 mg/day

3. Eat chocolate

Eating chocolate rich in healthy compounds called ‘flavanols’ (dark chocolate usually has the most) might work as a natural sunscreen, evidence suggests. Just 20 g a day, the equivalent of around six small squares of chocolate, more than doubled the amount of UV light the skin could tolerate before starting to burn.6 In general, the higher the percentage of cocoa solids in a chocolate product and the more bitter the taste, the higher the flavanol levels.

4.Drink coffee and exercise

The caffeine in coffee and tea could help ward off skin cancer caused by sunlight, especially when combined with exercise. Mice susceptible to skin cancer showed nearly two-thirds fewer skin tumours when given caffeine and allowed to run on exercise wheels. Animal studies don’t always apply to humans but, in this case, the researchers believe that humans could benefit from this combination of treatments too.7

5.Be sun-sensible

It’s important to expose your skin to the sun without sunscreen for about 15 minutes a day (depending on your skin type-you want your skin to redden slightly, but not burn) to keep your vitamin D levels topped up. But avoid prolonged exposures, especially between 11 am and 3 pm when the sun’s UV rays are at their strongest. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the sun, use natural sunscreens or cover up with clothing and seek the shade to avoid burning.


1 Environ Sci Technol, 2012; 46: 4624-32; Environ Health Perspect, 2008; 116: 1092-7


3 J Am Acad Dermatol, 1998; 38: 45-8

4 Proc Soc Exp Biol Med, 2000; 223: 170-4; Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol, 2002; 15: 291-6

5 Free Radic Biol Med, 2001; 30: 154-60

6 J Cosmet Dermatol, 2009; 8: 169-73

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Joanna Evans

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Article Topics: Sunscreen, Ultraviolet
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