The Safe and Skin-Nourishing Sunscreen Alternative

Now that you’re aware of the known dangers and potential risks of sunscreen use, you may well be freaking out. Understandably so!  While excess sun exposure can certainly cause skin cancer, commercial sunscreens compromise our health in equally insidious ways. So what are we supposed to do—hide in a cave?

Fear not, dear reader, you can step into the light, for there is an alternative. It’s simple, completely safe, ridiculously inexpensive and highly effective: Vitamin C to the rescue!

Vitamin C is not a sunscreen per se, it’s better than that. When applied topically it is absorbed into the skin and protects you from within by quenching the free radicals produced by ultraviolet radiation. At the same time it allows your skin to produce Vitamin D from the sun, unlike commercial sunscreens, all of which block this essential process. And, as if all that weren’t enough, we now have studies demonstrating Vitamin C’s capacity to reverse photoaging, the damage done to our skin by years of sun exposure. Benefits include promoting collagen synthesis, photoprotection from ultraviolet A and B, lightening hyperpigmentation, improvement of a variety of inflammatory dermatoses (skin lesions and eruptions), and a decrease in “deep furrows” (that’s science-speak for wrinkles).

I’ve been sunning successfully with Vitamin C since the early 2000s. With it, I tan but never burn. Nor do the many people—friends, family and clients—with whom I’ve shared this formula. It feels miraculous, but it’s pure biochemistry, and I learned it all from Krispin Sullivan, CN, a clinical nutritionist who has helped me address a panoply of health challenges over the years.

Among other areas of study, Krispin has spent more than a decade researching Vitamin D and how to have a healthy relationship with the sun. Her book, Naked at Noon, Understanding the Importance of Sunlight and Vitamin D  provides all the information you’ll ever need to know about Vitamin D, sunning, and the use of Vitamin C to bring it all together—as well as the hard science to back up her assessments and recommendations. What I’m offering here is a distillation of her diligent work and wisdom.

Easy as Brushing Your Teeth

Well, you may ask, if Vitamin C is so great, why isn’t the formula available in stores, and why isn’t everyone using it?  Two reasons. First, Vitamin C is highly perishable; to ensure potency you have to make a new batch once a week. Second, for consistent protection and tissue rejuvenation you need to apply it daily—twice a day if you’re doing serious sunning. In other words, effective skincare requires an ongoing commitment. But guess what? Maintaining the health of your skin takes less time than brushing your teeth, and you manage to do that twice a day, right?

So let’s get started by unveiling Krispin’s Vitamin C Formula To Prevent and Reverse Sun Damage:

SKIN SPRAY FORMULA—MILD4 ounces distilled waterOR 4 oz George’s Aloe Juice

OR 4 oz Home Health Rose Water

10 grams (about 2.5 level teaspoons) ascorbic acid powder USP

(optional: add essential oil fragrance)

Put in 4 ounce spray bottle

Shake and use one or two times a day

Put make-up or other creams or lotions over the top

Always re-spray AFTER sunning

LOTION FORMULA—STRONG3 ounces distilled waterOR 3 oz Home Health Rose Water

OR 3 oz George’s Aloe Juice

1 ounce anhydrous glycerin USP

13 grams (about 3 level teaspoons) ascorbic acid powder USP

Put in 4 ounce twist lock pump bottle

Shake and use one or two times a day

Put make-up or other creams or lotions over the top

Always reapply AFTER sunning

The C-Spray is non-sticky, goes on like water.  Once your skin has absorbed it, the C is part of your skin: it doesn’t wash off, even when you’re swimming!  And making it could hardly be simpler.

Advance Prep

1. Get a 4 ounce spray bottle, ideally glass—to minimize your plastic footprint on the Earth.

2. Buy Vitamin C in the form of pure ascorbic acid powder. I recommend Nutribiotics because it is certified free of GMOs (90% of Vitamin C sold in the US is made from—mostly GMO—corn grown in China, a country with an abysmal record when it comes to food safety). The cost is less than $15 for 16 ounces, which could easily last you an entire year, depending on how much time you spend in the sun. If you purchase at, use my code MED420 and get five dollars off your first purchase.

3. Make your first batch as per Krispin’s directions above. Instead of distilled water, I use reverse osmosis carbon filtration water from a system I have attached to my kitchen faucet. Either is fine. Just make sure you never use water containing fluoride or chlorine (most tap water and plenty of bottled), both of which destroy Vitamin C.  Your version of the spray can be as simple as water + C, which is all I use. Or you can have fun with it using some of the other luscious ingredients that Krispin suggests.

Daily Maintenance

1. Keep your spray bottle next to the shower. After bathing, towel dry and apply a light mist everywhere. Let it dry on your skin, don’t wipe it off. During the 2 hours after you spray it on, the C is in the process of being absorbed into the skin.

2. Once dry, apply whatever lotion or moisturizers you use, if any.

Add this one step to your daily ablutions and your skin will be healthier and better protected than it would be with anything else you could possibly do.

With regard to sunning, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Before venturing out onto the beach, make sure that you have pretreated your skin by spraying with Vitamin C daily for at least three days.

2. Krispin advises that you don’t spray immediately before or during sunning as you may turn orange from the unabsorbed Vitamin C oxidizing on your skin. There’s no harm in this and the discoloration resolves rapidly. However, it won’t be as effective.

I was unaware of the possible color change until I contacted Krispin recently to make sure I understood all the fine points of her protocol. In fact, during all these years I’ve been using the Vitamin C spray, I was spraying when I arrived on the beach, and then after I got out of the water I’d dry off and spray again, all while in full sun. Yet I’ve never turned orange, nor has anyone else with whom I’ve shared the formula. And it has definitely protected against sunburn.

Perhaps people with very fair skin are more vulnerable to discoloration when the spray is not used as directed. In any case, I strongly encourage everyone to err on the side of caution and follow Krispin’s recommendations: pretreat with Vitamin C several days before sunning, don’t spray while in the sun, do spray after your day in the sun.  That’s what I’m doing now, because I want all the benefits Vitamin C has to offer.

It is crucial to point out that Vitamin C does not confer absolute and total protection against sun damage; it does not absolve us from abusing the sun. Roasting for hours on end like a rotisserie chicken is not a good idea for anyone, no matter how much Vitamin C or commercial sunscreen you use. In an era of climate change, extreme weather and ozone holes we all need to be mindful and take responsibility for our own health whenever and wherever we can.

And now that you know you have an ally in Vitamin C, you can get out there and enjoy the sun and all its benefits and pleasures…in moderation.

© Lisa Martinovic

Photo of the sun courtesy of NASA.

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10 Responses to The Safe and Skin-Nourishing Sunscreen Alternative

  1. james says:

    I have been using the spray formula and thank you for that. However, i have noticed that i get orange stains on my pillowcases or clothes – is there any way to avoid this?

    • Lisa says:

      Hmmm, I’ve never had this issue come up. Here are a few things you might consider:

      1. Make sure you apply the spray formula to clean, unadorned skin, meaning, don’t spray it on top of any other kind of ointment or lotion.
      2. Make sure that you allow the spray formula to dry completely before you put clothes on or nestle into your bedsheets or put any other lotion on top of it. The ascorbic acid absorbs into the skin and becomes part of it.
      3. If you follow both these steps carefully and you still have a problem, the only thing I can imagine is that perhaps whatever lotion you are using on top of/in addition to the spray formula is reacting with it in some way. You might experiment with using the spray formula alone and see if you still have a problem.

      I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if this resolves the situation or if we need to do more troubleshooting.

  2. james says:

    Have you ever combined the ascorbic acid with vitamin E? i was reading that this increases sun protection when they are used together. Do you know whether it would be possible to add a vitamin E powder to the recipe above?

    • Lisa says:

      The ascorbic acid works so well alone I haven’t messed with the formula. I’m not aware of any research on E as sun protection but I haven’t been looking for it either. I’m also leery of dry versions of fat-soluble vitamins. Certainly vitamin E’s internal bioavailability is contingent on the presence of fat. That said, it probably would’t hurt to make the experiment if you are so moved. What standard would you use to determine efficacy?
      BTW, did you resolve the staining issue?

  3. Mary says:

    I made the formula with Aloe Juice and the spray bottle; not only did my sheets and pillow cases develop orange stains, but my pajamas did too. I don’t use any other lotions or creams; just the Vit. C spray. My skin also started turning orange in places, and I only used the spray a few days. I am extremely fair. Wherever I sweat, is where rust-colored stains developed. I had high hopes for this, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

    • Lisa says:

      Well, Mary, I have to say that I am mystified, especially with you being the second person who has had this reaction. I will consult with the nutritionist who gave me this formula and report back if she has any explanation and/or resolution. In the meantime, please do make sure that what you’re using is 100% pure ascorbic acid powder, that it does not contain bioflavonoids or anything else. Also, you might try making a batch using distilled water instead of aloe juice, just to minimize the variables. And then make the experiment on only part of your body, say, one arm, so as to minimize any potential staining. Please let me know what happens. I want to make sure that this formula is successful for as many people as possible!

  4. Lisa says:

    Mary, I checked back with my nutritionist who reminds us that the orange color is the result of the Vitamin C oxidizing and is, of course, perfectly harmless. During the 2 hours after you spray it on, the C is in the process of being absorbed into the skin. Thus, if you put on clothes (pajamas or other) and then sweat within that 2 hour window, some of that C could moisten and transfer to your clothes. So be sure to let the C-spray air-dry completely before you put on any clothes, and then don’t do any sweat-generating activity for the next 2 hours. Over time, your body should adapt as the C becomes part of your skin so that you don’t have to jump through so many hoops. You also might experiment with a more dilute version of the spray. More is not necessarily better. Hope this helps!

  5. Mona says:

    I have been using vitamin c spray (1 tbsp per 1.5 cups water) after swimming to neutralize chlorine, but I find that it makes my hair stiiink, even after multiple washes with clay and baking soda. I assume this is from oxidization. Any ideas for how to get the smell out, or any suggestions for good quality brands that wouldn’t have this reaction?

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Mona. My first thought is that your formula might be too concentrated. I also use the vitamin C spray after swimming, but only on my body, not my hair. I use just *two heaping teaspoons* in 3 cups of water and that lasts me three swims. I never tried using it on my hair because my hair doesn’t smell of chlorine afterwards as does my skin. Do you leave the vitamin C spray in your hair without rinsing it out? If that’s the case try using a much more dilute formula and see if that resolves the problem. Also make sure that what you’re using is 100% pure ascorbic acid powder — nothing else. The brand I use is Nutribiotic because it certified GMO free. And remember to make a fresh batch every week to ensure efficacy.

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