This month, we celebrate the Summer Solstice—the longest day of the year, when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky. This ancient holiday is thought to date back to Neolithic times, serving as a seasonal marker for crop planting and harvesting.
Many modern cultures mark the Summer Solstice with festivals and other celebrations of life. Indeed, the summer sun bestows one of the most life-giving nutrients of all—vitamin D (see page 4).
In the last century, scientists have discovered that healthy sun exposure is essential for natural activation and production of vitamin D in the skin. But “sun worshippers” began soaking up the rays long before that, naturally boosting their physical, mental, and emotional health. (Including lung health, as I discuss on page 1.)
That’s why it’s so perplexing and disappointing that in recent years, celebrating the sun has fallen out of favor. And nowadays, there’s a common medical misconception that everybody (and every body) must be protected against sun at all times…
The perils of photophobia
This hysteria about sun exposure was generated by the cosmetics industry and some narrow-minded medical specialists.
It’s parroted by clueless public health officials—which is particularly egregious because photophobia (or fear of light) is a major reason for the huge problems associated with vitamin D deficiency worldwide. (To put this into perspective, nearly 80 percent of Americans are D deficient.)
Why? Because people are now afraid to go outside without slathering themselves with toxic chemical concoctions marketed as “sunscreens.”
Many people persist in this behavior even though study after study shows that common sunscreen chemicals are linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and skin allergies. Not to mention that sunscreens actually screen out our bodies’ natural ability to produce vitamin D (and they exert toxic effects on marine life at extremely low levels).
How to safely let the sunshine in
Fortunately, the solution for this rampant D deficiency is simple. Spending just 10 to 15 minutes out in the sun each day in the summer—without sunscreen—will help your body generate enough vitamin D to keep you healthy. And if you prefer your sunbathing au naturel, a recent study found you may need even less time in the sun.
Researchers in Norway (not exactly a “hotbed” for year round sunshine) reported that just 40 minutes of midday sun exposure on your whole body per week is like getting a daily dose of 50 mcg (2,000 IU) of vitamin D.1 Which breaks down to roughly 5 to 6 minutes each day.
Of course, a lot of us spend way more time than that outside in the sun, particularly in the summer. So what can you do to help protect yourself, if and when you need to?
The good news is, there’s natural and effective sun protection available that helps you avoid sunburns—and slowly build up a healthy tan that allows you to spend enough time in the summer sun to generate adequate levels of D.
And, believe it or not, one of those natural sunscreens is edible. In fact, a new study found that the humble grape is a highly effective “sunblock.”
Sun protection from the inside out
Researchers gathered 19 healthy men and women and measured how sensitive they were to the ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause sunburn and skin damage.2 Then, each study participant consumed a whole-grape powdered extract (equivalent to 2 ¼ cups of grapes) daily.
After two weeks of this regimen, the researchers once again measured the participants’ skin response to UV light. They also performed skin biopsies to study changes in the participants’ skin cells at the microscopic level.
The results were truly amazing. The participants had an average 75 percent increase in natural skin protection after just two weeks of grape extract consumption. Meaning it required substantially more sunlight exposure to cause a sunburn or other skin damage.
Plus, analysis of the skin biopsies demonstrated that eating grapes resulted in fewer deaths of skin cells, reduction of inflammation, and decreased DNA damage in skin cells.
The researchers believe the grapes’ natural sunblock capabilities may be due to the polyphenols found in their skins. Which, of course, raises the possibility that red wine (which includes extracts of grape skin) is also photoprotective.
Perhaps other foods high in polyphenols may also be natural sun blockers, including dark chocolate, berries, hazelnuts, pecans, artichokes, cloves, and peppermint. But for now, I’d stick with grapes, based on this study.
If you’re not in a position to lie back on the beach and be fed bunches of grapes like an old Roman, the study showed you can get what you need with a whole-grape powdered extract. So, go ahead and look for it in high-quality dietary supplements.
Sun protection from the outside in
In the April issue of Insiders’ Cures, I reported about using natural plant oils in aromatherapy for relaxation, stress reduction, and sleep. But these essential oils can do even more…
In fact, there are several natural plant oils that provide a good level of natural protection against the sun—without the unwanted chemical ingredients. And they still allow sufficient sunlight to reach the skin to make vitamin D naturally. (As an added bonus, they also make your skin look healthy and feel soft!)
My top three natural plant oils for sun protection include:
Carrot seed oil filters the sun’s rays while allowing your skin to naturally build its own tanning protection from melanin. Plus, it has plenty of alpha- and beta-carotenes, which are natural antioxidants that help your body produce vitamin A.
Red raspberry oil has all of the protection of a chemical sunscreen. And it’s high in vitamin E, which is healing and protective for the skin.
Wheat germ oil is inexpensive and has no scent. It’s also lighter and less oily than carrot seed or red raspberry oil.
Because these essential oils can be strong on your skin, I recommend diluting them in a carrier oil like coconut, olive, jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado oil. You can also combine different essential and carrier oils to your liking. Experiment until you find a texture and scent that’s right for you!
You can find all of these oils at your natural foods store or local farmer’s market. Look for organic versions, as they don’t contain pesticides or other toxins.
What you need to know about SPF…and VDDF
Of course, mainstream medicine will tell you not to make your own natural plant oil-based sunscreens because they don’t have enough sun protection factor (SPF). But this made-up term is based on yet another lopsided notion about sun exposure that’s causing more harm than good.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, an SPF of 30 blocks 97 percent of skin-damaging UV rays.3 But contrary to popular belief, no sunscreen on the market can block 100 percent of UV rays. And choosing products with higher SPFs does nothing more to protect you from sun damage.
Basically, anything beyond SPF 30 is meaningless except as a marketing gimmick. In fact, I would like to suggest the term VDDF instead (meaning “Vitamin D Deficiency Factor”).
Why certain plant oils are sun protective
Of course, natural plant oils have a nonexistent VDDF. But what about their SPF?
Well, one study found that raspberry oil has an SPF of 28-50.4 Another study found that wheat germ oil has an SPF of 22 and carrot seed oil has an SPF of 19.5
So when combined with the carrier oils I mentioned earlier, which have SPFs between 5 and 10 each, all of these natural plant oils are sun protective.
Bottom line: If you can make a healthy salad dressing, you can make a healthy sunscreen, despite what the mainstream and “natural-know-it-alls” try to tell you. What’s more, creating your own natural sun protection helps nourish your body from your skin to your cells.
So this Summer Solstice, I suggest you celebrate the sun…and all of its vital, healthy, life-giving energy…without toxic chemicals.
SIDEBAR: How does your skin react to the sun?
Freckles or burns and peels. Typically fair, pale, or ivory skin. This skin type never tans and should only be exposed to the sun for 10 to 15 minutes daily, even after using a natural, healthy sunscreen.
For longer periods of exposure, I recommend wearing protective clothing (like light-weight long sleeve shirts and pants, and a hat).
Burns on occasion, rarely, or never. Typically beige, olive, light to darkest brown, and Black skin. These skin types are better capable of slowly increasing sun exposure to build a healthy tan.
But, as always, it’s important to protect your skin from burning through the use of natural sunscreens and, eventually, with protective clothing.
1“Effect of vitamin D supplementation and ultraviolet B exposure on serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations in healthy volunteers: a randomized, crossover clinical trial.” Br J Dermatol. 2013 Aug;169(2):434-40.
2“Dietary table grape protects against ultraviolet photodamage in humans: 1. clinical evaluation.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2021 Jan 20:S0190-9622(21)00183-3.
4“Characteristics of raspberry (Rubus idaeus L.) seed oil.” Food Chemistry 69 (2000) 187±193.
5“In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics.” Pharmacognosy Res. 2010 Jan;2(1):22-5. doi: 10.4103/0974-8490.60586.