Love the Sun, Ditch the Sunburn

Mom and I were talking the other day about getting sunlight on your skin to make vitamin D, while not getting so much sun as to get a sunburn.  Your body makes something like 10,000 IU of vitamin D from just 10 minutes of midday sun exposure -- assuming a decent amount of uncovered, non-sunblocked skin is exposed -- so it’s pretty easy to get enough D without getting burned.  But then mom brought up an interesting question: why is it that, as kids, we were able to play outside in the sun all day with no sunblock and not get sunburned, whereas today, just an hour of sun will often cause a sunburn?

One theory is that ozone depletion, which has led to more ultraviolet light reaching Earth’s surface, is the cause of the increased sunburn incidence, but there doesn’t seem to be much solid evidence for that.  It makes sense and I think it’s a factor, but probably not the whole story.

A few days after this conversation, Mark Sisson wrote a piece on natural sunburn prevention in his usual thorough and well-referenced style.  It turns out that avoiding the sun, avoiding saturated fat, and loading up on omega-6 fats (e.g. vegetable oils) all increase the likelihood of getting a sunburn when you do get a rare bit of sun exposure.  Of course those three things are all recommended by the US government, and by now I’m well beyond the point where I’m surprised that US government recommendations actually cause harm rather than helping.

I didn’t realize this until I read Mark’s article, but since I switched to a more primal/paleo diet earlier this year, I’ve been able to get a lot more sun exposure without getting sunburned.  Last year, after hearing Steve Gibson’s comments on vitamin D and then deciding to go out and get some midday sun a few times per week, I could only get about 20 minutes before starting to burn, as I discovered one day when I tried to push it up to 30 minutes.  But this year, although I again started at 20 minutes, I have since pushed it up to about 45 minutes and I’m not getting burned at all.  The only difference is that this year, with my new way of eating, I’m consuming much less frankenfood like vegetable oil, and much more natural saturated fat.

Be sure to read Mark’s whole article on the topic for more natural ways to prevent sunburn, and don’t miss the comments, which are full of people reporting a complete lack of sunburn since having gone primal.

And if you’re worried about skin cancer, then you should seek the sun, not avoid it.  Sun exposure protects against skin cancer, as long as it’s not overexposure.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies


01. Jul 26, 2014 at 08:20pm by knightpremier:

This article is very old but nevertheless:

Although I’ve seen a fair bit of good science in some of your other articles, this one is rather unscientific.

When it comes to children and the sun: Dermatological research indicates that the majority of the sun damage we receive in our lifetimes, and the majority of UV-induced skin cancers, are accumulated during childhood. In particular, children under age 6 tend to sunburn very easily for a variety of reasons.

Furthermore, there are a key differences between children and adults when it comes to sun exposure.

Firstly, children (and younger people in general) have cells that are in very good condition. Because of this, they have a fantastic ability to repair damage. However, as our cells age and take damage, this repairing ability decreases. Kids tend to bounce back from sunburns quickly, adults do not.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, many children have the interest and the luxury of spending time outdoors during peak UV exposure nearly everyday. Because of this, they not only develop a tan, but keep it! Tanning is a defensive mechanism of the skin, and kids are wearing it around all the time - your tan as a kid kept you from getting sunburned. As an adult in the modern world, however, you probably don’t have things like "pool parties" or "recess." You do spend time in the sun every now and then, and you do tan, but it fades away before your next encounter, and you get burned again.

There is some evidence that certain foods/vitamins help your cells in dealing with UV damage, but it tends to be that you recover from sunburns faster with these diets, not that they prevent you from being burned.

02. Jul 26, 2014 at 09:03pm by Anthony:

I don’t see what’s unscientific about my post here.  I linked to an article containing lots of scientific research on this topic.  And I documented my own experience -- shared by many other people as well -- whereby switching from a Standard American Diet to a paleo/primal-type diet allowed me to significantly increase my sun exposure without getting burned.

Regarding your comments: yes, it’s true that a suntan provides some protection against sunburn.  So people who maintain a tan are less likely to burn.  But that is not limited to children.  If you make an effort (as I do) to start getting 10 or 20 minutes of sun exposure per day, a few days per week, starting in the spring, then you will build up a tan, which will be maintained as long as you keep up that level of sun exposure.  It doesn’t have to be every day, and it doesn’t have to be for hours at a time.

Here are a couple of more recent articles with more of the science behind why sun exposure is so crucial for proper health:

Why Kids Need the Sun

Does Avoiding The Sun Shorten Your Lifespan?

Reply to this message here:

Your name
Website (optional)

HomeCreate PostArchivesLoginCMS by Encodable ]