Why Sunburn Happens and How to Prevent it from the Inside Out
Summer is right around corner! Despite the widespread use of sunscreens, sunburn remains a common issue. According to skincancer.org, sunburn accelerates skin aging and is a leading cause of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. In this article, we discuss why sunburn happens (and cold sores), four strategies to prevent it and a few remedies if it happens to you.
Why Sunburn Happens
It involves the balance between three nutrients: Vitamin D, fats and how they affect calcium. A rapid production of Vitamin D that is not balanced with enough polyunsaturated fats removes calcium from skin leaving it vulnerable to damage from UV light.
First, let’s talk about it Vitamin D. Vitamin D pulls calcium out of tissues.
When the ultraviolet rays of the sun hit the skin, it converts cholesterol in the skin into vitamin D (cholecalciferol). One of Vitamin D’s mechanisms is to draw calcium into the blood, not only from the digestive system from the food we eat, but also from other tissues in the body, like muscles, bones and skin. Too much vitamins D leads to rapid calcium removal from the skin which changes something known as the epidermal calcium concentration gradient. The gradient affects many skin functions, including skin cell development, barrier formation, and homeostasis. With less calcium, this leaves our cells vulnerable to burning, and even ulcers and cold sores. How of many of you get cold sores on your lips after sun exposure? The below tips will help to prevent those too!
Now let’s talk about polyunsaturated fats, specifically omega-3 fatty acids. They bring calcium back into tissues and also protect the skin.
Fats in our cell membranes facilitate transport of calcium across membranes or in other words back into tissues.
In addition, omega-3 fatty acids in the skin have many roles which include: maintaining the skin’s permeability barrier, growing new skin cells, inhibiting inflammatory immune cells, promoting wound healing, and reducing skin cancer risk. They are even used to support many skin disorders, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, lupus, nonmelanoma skin cancer, and melanoma.
When we are in the sun, as Vitamin D pulls the calcium out, we need protective omega-3 fats to bring the calcium back in, maintaining balance.
What We Eat Impacts Our Skin Health
Studies in mice show consumption of a high fat diet rich in omega-3 fats reduced skin inflammation and tumor incidence during UVB exposure when compared with an equivalent dietary level of omega-6 fats. The omega-6 corn oil-fed group had ∼6-fold greater increase in inflammatory markers, induced acute inflammation and increased UV cancer expression. Yikes.
The omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) are known to elevate sunburn threshold and one of the richest sources of the plant-based ALA is flaxseed oil.
What Does All of this Mean?
The types of fats we eat play a protective or harmful role in our skin’s health and ultimately, our sunburn and cancer risk.
We must increase intake of fats and calcium during times of increased Vitamin D production in order to balance calcium levels in our skin cells.
4 Strategies to Prevent Sunburn
1. Supplementation as Sunscreen
I have had great success with my below protocol in my most sunburn prone patients: fair, light skinned, white skin, freckles, blond or red hair, blue or green eyes who always burn even when they apply protection every hour!
Even if you do not burn, supplementation is recommended if you spend excessive amounts of time in the sun to protect your skin health and reduce aging.
Begin 4-7 days before expected sun exposure :
- Everyday take:
- 6 Cataplex F tablets (Flaxseed oil, fat multivitamin)
- 6 Wheat Germ Oil (which is 75% unsaturated fatty acids)
- 12 Calcium Lactate equal to 500mg calcium/day, lactate/citrate is better absorbed form than calcium carbonate)
- The ratio of Calcium:Cataplex should be 2:1 to maintain balance.
- When going into the sun, for continued sun protection
- take additional 2 pills of each these three products
- Do this every 60-120 minutes of continuous sun exposure
- In case of sunburn, every hour take
- 2 Cataplex F tablets
- 2 Wheat Germ Oil
Please consult with your healthcare professional before taking supplements.
Find equivalents to these recommended products or to get your hands on these specific supplements, please visit Fullscript for one click ordering, or contact me directly.
2. The shade is your friend.
Hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, protective clothing,
3. Learn How Long it Takes You to Burn When You are in the Sun
If you burn 30 mins into exposure, moving forward you should proactively get in the shade and/or cover up with at 15 minutes into exposure. Remain shaded for 15 mins. Then repeat that time exposure alternating with shade.
4. Eat the Right Fats
- Eat Omega-3 fats daily. Top sources:
- Fatty fish: salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, cod liver oil
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Avoid omega-6 fats, especially refined industrial vegetable and seed oils. Read all food package ingredient labels. Swap out cooking and baking fats in your kitchen.
- Corn oil
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Eat Omega-3 fats daily. Top sources:
Remedies for Sunburn
- Supplements to heal from the inside out. Take 2 Cataplex F tablets and 2 Wheat Germ Oil every hour, until pain received.
- For Pain: topical Lavender essential oil to unbroken skin only.
- Topical moisturizer containing animal fats, like beef tallow, and ghee.
But Wait…What About Topical Sunscreens and Sunblocks?
According to an article by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), chemicals in sunscreens and sunblock products have been shown to have endocrine-disrupting effects contributing to breast and other hormone driven cancers, and also skin allergies and rashes.
The European Commission has published preliminary opinions that the chemicals oxybenzone and homosalate are not safe when their concentration exceeds 2.2 percent for oxybenzone and 1.4 percent for homosalate. “In the U.S. sunscreen manufacturers are legally allowed to use these two chemicals at concentrations up to 6 and 15 percent, respectively, and hundreds of sunscreens manufactured in the U.S. use them at concentrations that far exceed the European Commission’s recommendations.”
So What is Safe?
In 2019 the FDA classified only two ingredients as safe and effective: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. When purchasing products, reading labels and look for organic products that only contain these two as the active ingredients.
Check out EWG’s Guide to Suncreen for more information and selections.
1. Sunburn is TOO MUCH VITAMIN D.
2. Cataplex F tablets (fatty acids) off sets the vitamin D by moving calcium to the tissues ie: skin
3. Supplementation is your friend here, for short term and long term skin health
4. The best sunblock is shade and clothing, proper nutrition by eating more omega-3 fats and less omega-6 fats and avoiding chemicals in sunscreens.