Food as sunscreen

Use nutrition not sunscreen to protect yourself against sunburn, cancer, and premature aging, writes organic cosmetologist Shirley Conlon who is no fan of the chemical-laden sunscreen creams.

In recent years, we’ve increasingly been told to stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer or to slather ourselves in sunscreen creams. But is the sun alone really the main culprit in causing skin cancer? Much research suggests that it’s not. Many experts believe excessive sunshine, combined with bad lifestyle choices such as highly processed junk foods, caffeine, sugar, nicotine and sweetened fizzy drinks would have a different impact on the skin and could cause sunburn, premature ageing and increasing rates of skin cancer. The sun damages the skin through free radicals and anti-oxidants counteract free radicals.

However, the sun is also a major healing force responsible for sustaining all life on earth. Apart from being the most vital nutrient ever, the sun makes you feel good – just close your eyes and look in the direction of the sun for a couple of minutes (like a sunflower), and you instantly feel the regeneration and energy flow through your body, well, that is if you’re not inside hiding from it.

Should we be laying out in the full strength of the sun at midday? No, of course not.

Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation can be extremely damaging. In the same way that laying unprotected in snow in Antarctica will get you frostbite, over- exposure to sun will burn. As humans, there is a degree to which we need to protect ourselves from the elements but shrinking from the sun like vampires and slathering ourselves in the cocktail of laboratory-created chemicals found in a tube of sunscreen may not be the best solution and in fact may be doing more harm than good.

Most sun creams block the production of vitamin D and contain a host of carcinogenic ingredients that give a false sense of security by disabling the warning sign ‘sunburn’ resulting in overexposure to radiation and cell damage.

Some scientists now say that sunscreen may not prevent skin cancer at all.


The fact that the UAE is located in a desert yet many of its residents are vitamin D deficient is a pointer to how crazy our lifestyle and concerns have become. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight and studies have found that optimising vitamin D levels could actually help you to prevent at least 16 different types of cancer.

Theories linking vitamin D deficiency to cancer have been confirmed in more than 200 studies. In fact, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has published scientific research showing that sunlight exposure reduces the risk of skin cancer.

The American academy of neurology confirms that vitamin D deficiency is associated with dementia and Alzheimers. And one case study in Italy suggests sun exposure improves the survival rate in melanoma patients.

Dr Joseph Mercola, an alternative medicine practitioner and osteopathic physician, recommends not washing with soap for 48 hours after sun exposure (apart from necessary parts of the body) as chemical soap can rid the skin of vitamin D.


So how do you build up your body’s natural protection against sun damage?

Here’s an interesting clue from history. The term ‘Redneck’ comes from colonial times in the southern states of the USA. At the time, farmers lacked B vitamins (the result of not knowing how to treat their crops) and this B vitamin deficiency combined with long periods of sun exposure caused sunburn on the back of their necks.

So, your first line of defence against sunburn, cancer and premature aging, is consuming a diet high in vitamins and minerals – a type of edible sunblock, in other words.

Such good sun-protection foods include: carotenoid rich eggs, spirulina, chlorella, dark-leafy greens and yellow/ orange colours (apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash). The most potent carotenoid known is astaxanthin found in algae, salmon, trout, shrimp and lobster. Antioxidant rich berries, garlic, tomatoes, green tea, seeds, nuts and off course a good quality Omega 3 fish oil.

I believe that moderate sun exposure is essential for good health, along with a balanced, antioxidant- rich diet of sun- ripened fruit and vegetables, and gives your body everything Mother Nature intended.

Be sensible. If you’re going out in the sun, choose appropriate clothing, hats, and umbrellas and consider your skin type. Only on the rare occasions that I would be exposed for an entire day would I use a sunscreen – ideally a non-toxic brand. Use nutrition along with nature’s plant oils to enjoy early morning or afternoon sunshine.

Almost all plant oils offer a degree of UV protection; raspberry leaf oil found in SCO Frangipani body oil contains NSPF (natural sun protection factor) of between 28-50 along with sesame, shea, macadamia and avocado with NSPFs between 2-10. Beta-carotene rich calendula, carrot and sea buckthorn all benefit sun-exposed skin. I apply SCO rosehip oil or hydrating serum and shea body butter on my skin but at the same time I am always careful of how long I spend in the sun.

A $5 billion dollar a year industry has a vested interest in promoting the deadly effects of sun exposure from skin cancer to ageing, I can’t help but wonder, if some large corporation figured out a way to charge us for sunshine, would it be then start to be marketed as the vital nutrient it actually is?


SHIRLEY CONLON is the founder of Shirley Conlon Organics, a range of premium skincare products specially developed for hot climates using ethical, eco-friendly ingredients.




1. Eco luxury nail polish: Priti NYC

Priti NYC aims to decrease the amount of chemicals and pollution poisoning the earth and give beauty lovers a green option. Available in over 100 different shades including metallics, mattes, bright neons, rich darks and nudes
Buy it: Priti NYC is now available in the UAE online at

2. Izil Natural Argan Beauty

The new Moroccan organic beauty brand, Izil Natural Argan Beauty, includes two facemasks, The ‘Golden Glow’ 2 in 1 Face Scrub and Mask and the Green Tea Antioxidant Face Mask.
Buy it: Both masks are AED 140. Izil Natural Argan Beauty is available in Dubai at Dubai Festival City, Souq Madinat Jumeirah, and Ibn Battuta Mall. In Abu Dhabi, at Al Wahda Mall, Dalma Mall.

3. Lush shampoo bars – ditch the bottle for the bar

Unpreserved solid shampoo bars from Lush mean you save three bottles of liquid shampoo going to landfill. New additions to the range include Copperhead, a mild shampoo ideal for colored locks, with coffee and melted henna (caca rouge) for shine. Great for colour treated dark hair, conditioning it and bringing out the tones. Lullaby, a gentle shampoo with ground almonds to exfoliate the scalp, softening oats milk and lots of lavender to help sleep. Ideal for young people washing their head before bed. Braziliant, strengthen and condition hair with andiroba oil, a new ingre- dient from the Brazilian rainforest.

Buy it: AED 65-75 for a 55gm bar. Available at LUSH shops nationwide and online from 11 December 2014.

4. Four Cow Farm Baby Care

100% natural Australian brand made on a Green Energy Family Farm. Includes moisturisers, wash and cleansers, oils and balms and bathing accessories among other things plus the newly introduced baby care range. Buy it: Holland & Barrett outlets throughout the UAE.


Shea butter is the fat extracted from the nut of the Shea tree. Grown in Africa, it is used as a skin protectant against sun and wind. It’s become a common ingredient in beauty products ranging from lip balms to skin lotions, cleansers and hair conditioners because of its awesome ability to seal in moisture. How to use it:
On your skin: Apply to your face as a moisturiser or on any exposed skin to protect against the elements.
In your hair: Tame flyaways and sculpt short ‘dos. Holds hair in place without being stiff and moisturizes your hair.
On your hands: Rub shea butter into your cuticles and over your nails after a manicure for a beautiful shine.
On your body: Massage into dry, cracked or chapped skin in need of moisture, especially on tougher areas such as elbows, knees and heels. Massage into fatigued muscles and joints. Use on a baby to prevent diaper rash. Rub on a pregnant belly to reduce stretch marks.

LEENA AL ABBAS is founder of The Organic Glow Beauty Lounge, the UAE’s first eco-friendly beauty salon. Tel: 04 380 4666.


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