Natural Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer Without Using Sunscreen

No one really likes wearing sunscreen, but it’s one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. After all, we’re not invincible! Our skin may seem strong, healthy and impervious to both skin cancer and sun damage, but that damage builds up over time. Bad habits can slowly damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen regularly is a great way to prevent skin cancer, but it’s not always enough. Here are other, natural ways to prevent skin cancer without using sunscreen.

The Dangers of Sun Exposure

The sun generates ultraviolet (UV) light. Ultraviolet A or UVA can cause photoaging or premature aging of the skin. It weakens the connective tissues in the skin so it becomes weaker and less elastic. The skin starts to sag as a result. Photoaging can also make the skin dry and rough and cause wrinkles and discoloration. Ultraviolet B or UVB causes sunburn, and both types of ultraviolet light can cause skin cancer.

The skin produces a dark pigment called melanin which gives the skin its color and protect the skin from UV rays. The body produces more melanin when exposed to sunlight in an effort to protect the skin from UV rays. The additional melanin turns the skin darker in the process.

The resultant tan is supposed to block the UV rays and prevent sunburns and skin cancer. Unfortunately, many people — especially if they have fair skin — cannot produce enough melanin to protect themselves properly. Those with fair skin can easily get sunburnt and have an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Sun exposure occurs on cold or cloudy days since up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays can penetrate clouds and reach the ground. Snow, water, and sand all reflect sunlight. This reflected sunlight can also cause a sun tan. Tanning beds and sunlamps produce UV rays which can directly cause sun burns and skin cancer.

Behavioral Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer

The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Staying inside during these hours is a simple way to protect your skin. Schedule outdoor chores (i.e., mowing the lawn, walking the dog) for the early morning or late afternoon whenever possible.

One way to estimate the strength of the sun’s rays is to look at your shadow. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are strong, and you should go back inside. If your shadow is taller than you, the sun’s UV rays are comparatively weak, and you can be outside.

Avoid using tanning beds or sunlamps.  The UV rays they produce can cause sunburns and skin cancer as powerful as the rays produced by the sun.

Some medications can increase a patient’s sensitivity to UV rays. Please ask your doctor about medications that cause photosensitivity since their may be a safer alternative.

Clothing as a Sunscreen Alternative

The Australians have a motto: “Slip, slap, and slop.” That means, “Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, and slop on sunscreen.” Clothes, hats, and sunglasses can all help protect the skin from sun exposure. The most effective garments will have a UV protection factor (UPF) of at least 30 and/or be made of tightly woven synthetic materials like acrylic or lycra. Long-sleeve shirts and pants plus dark clothing provide more protection than shorts, short-sleeve shirts, and light clothing.

Hats with broad brims that are at least four inches around can protect the face, neck, and scalp. Sunglasses should be dark and provide 100 percent protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Foods for Preventing Skin Cancer

Some foods can serve as a sunscreen alternative. The sun’s UV rays damage skin cells that then release free radicals that damage DNA. The altered DNA can make skin cells grow out of control and become cancerous. Some foods, however, can protect the skin from free radicals and ensure the body produces healthy new skin cells.

Dark chocolate, for example, contains an antioxidant called flavanol. One study at European Dermatology London found that adults who ate 20 grams of dark chocolate every day could absorb twice the amount of UVB rays before their skin started to redden as adults who ate no dark chocolate.

Leafy greens like kale, swiss chard, and collard greens contain antioxidants like carotenoids and polyphenols. Scientists at the Istituto Dermopatico dell'Immacolata in Rome found that leafy greens may protect people from melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer.

Green tea, olive oil, colorful vegetables, and legumes are rich in antioxidants which can directly help prevent skin cancer.

Natural Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer

If you really want to avoid chemicals, the above natural ways to prevent skin cancer are all good alternatives to sunscreen. However, it is recommended to use at least a natural sunscreen in order to best prevent skin cancer. If you’re concerned about skin cancer or issues you’re experiencing from sun damage, reach out to Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. at Advanced Health for a consultation!


Dr. Payal Bhandari Dr. Payal Bhandari M.D. is a leading practitioner of integrative and functional medicine in San Francisco.

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