The Sunscreen You Swallow

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

May 14, 2012

  • Why the best protection against melanoma is an inside job
  • Don’t apply your sunscreen… eat it!
  • Summertime supplements

As much as you might want to enjoy the lazy days of summer, you can’t ignore the risks of sun exposure… even if you wanted to.

As Memorial Day approaches, sunscreen ads reach epidemic proportions. The news reports on the UV factor every day. And pharmacies devote entire aisles to selling sunblock with higher and higher sun protection factor (SPF) every year.

But recent – and mounting – research shows there may be other important ways to decrease your risk of melanoma. From the inside out…

I’ve also suspected that you can protect yourself from the sun from the inside out.

And a recent study backs that up. It shows supplementing with vitamin A could reduce the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

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The study spanned six years, and compared rates of melanoma in people who had never taken vitamin A with those who had been taking it for 10 years. They found those who took vitamin A were 60% less likely to develop melanoma.

And this isn’t the first study to make that claim. Another study found carotenoids and vitamin E, together, diminished sensitivity to damaging UV rays from the sun.

This is important since the sun is one of our primary sources of vitamin D. And since the introduction of sunblock, vitamin D deficiency is at an all-time high.

You see, the more you can protect yourself from the sun through diet and supplementation, the more you can enjoy the sunshine without worrying about melanoma and other skin cancers.

Here’s what I recommend:

For starters, increase your daily intake of colorful foods, such as sweet potato, pumpkin and carrots, and greens such as spinach and kale. They are loaded with beta-carotene which converts to vitamin A once consumed.

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Second, make sure you are supplementing with at least 5,000 IU of mixed carotenoids and 1500 IU of retinyl palmitate, which will convert to vitamin A in your body. It’s important that you not just take beta carotene: you need more lipids to convert the provitamin to the useful form.

Be sure not to overdo it, as too much vitamin A can be toxic. Doses higher than 35,000 -50,000 IU a day can cause hypervitaminosis A, which is when the amount of the vitamin exceeds the maximum limit for liver stores of retinoids. There is no risk of toxicity from eating too much beta-carotene in your diet, only from taking too much supplemental vitamin A, which is why getting enough beta-carotene in your diet is the number one recommendation, and the rest is supplemental.

You should also be sure to include the carotenoids lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. While these don’t convert to vitamin A, they do protect the eyes from UV rays. Even if you wear sunglasses religiously, it is a good idea to protect your eyes from the inside out as well.

And be sure you are getting 400 IUs of vitamin E as well. Be sure to get the natural form as mixed tocotrienols and mixed tocopherols as they are more biologically available and more readily absorbed. Check and see if you are getting these suggested nutrients in your multivitamin or any other supplement combination you take. If not, be sure to add them in, especially through the summer.

Also, a lesser-known carotenoid, astaxanthin, may protect your skin from sun damage and sunburn. It’s unclear exactly what levels are optimal, as studies on this particular carotenoid are new. You can get more astaxanthin naturally by eating more salmon, shrimp, crab, and lobster – not that hard to do in the summer!

Or you can supplement with astaxanthin at a safe dosage of 4-6 mg./day. And start now if you know you’ll be enjoying more sun exposure through the summer. It takes a few weeks for the levels to build in your system.

You’ll still need to be smart about your sun exposure. Don’t overdo it. 15-20 minutes of sun is what you need. After that, you need to think about covering up or wearing sunblock. Don’t be reckless with your skin, thinking your morning carrot juice is going to protect you completely.

But if you’d like to catch a few more rays than you have been in recent years, taking these additional precautions will bolster your body’s ability to protect itself, while still getting the benefits of the sun.

And just one last word on sunblock…

While the mainstream media calls for slathering your skin with sunscreen, remember there is controversy about sunblock. And there’s a good possibility sunblock may be more harmful than we’ve been led to believe.

First, sunblock does just that, blocks sun. But it also blocks our body’s ability to naturally produce vitamin D.

But what might be even worse is that people who use sunblock often don’t use any other forms of protection. They don’t cover up as much, or limit the duration of their exposure. They figure the sunscreen is doing the hard work for them. And this could explain why researchers are seeing an increase in the risk of melanoma among sunscreen users.

Also, some ingredients in sunscreen can be dangerous in their own right. I’ll cover that in more detail in an issue coming up soon.

For now, remember to allow yourself a little unprotected time in the sun every day to be sure you get some vitamin D the old-fashioned way. And use your diet, supplements, and a decent cover-up in addition to sunblock for a smarter combination of protection.

Summer can be a lot of fun, just as long as you take the proper precautions.


Jensen JD, Wing GJ, Dellavalle RP. Nutrition and melanoma prevention. Clin Dermatol. 2010 Nov-Dec;28(6):644-9.

Wilhelm Stahl, et. al., Carotenoids and carotenoids plus vitamin E protect against ultraviolet light–induced erythema in humans, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 3, 795-798, March 2000

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