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 photo-aging, the damage done to our skin by years of sun exposure. Benefits include promoting collagen synthesis, photo-protection 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:


4 ounces distilled water

OR 4 oz Home Health Rose Water

OR 4 oz George’s Aloe Juice

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


3 ounces distilled water

OR 3 oz Home Health Rose Water

OR 3 oz George’s Aloe Juice

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

1 ounce anhydrous glycerin 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 re-spray 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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