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Kristin Cavallari, 37, claims she doesn’t need sunscreen in viral interview

On her podcast, Kristin Cavallari said she skips sunscreen. Here's what doctors think and why you should use SPF.
Kristin Cavallari
Kristin Cavallari arriving at "Dolly Parton's Pet Gala", a two-hour variety show on Jan 30, 2024.AFF-USA / Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

The benefits of sunscreen for protecting skin from damaging UV rays, preventing premature aging and reducing cancer risk are well-documented. That's why TV personality Kristin Cavallari has come under fire recently for questioning whether sunscreen is necessary in a controversial interview.

The 37-year-old, who rose to fame on the sun-soaked reality TV series “Laguna Beach,” shared her hot take on UV protection earlier this year during an episode of her podcast, "Let's Be Honest."

A resurfaced clip from the Jan. 16 episode, in which Cavallari discusses her views on SPF, is now going viral on TikTok, garnering thousands of views and reactions.

"I know it's controversial. I don't wear sunscreen," Cavallari told podcast guest Ryan Monahan, who, according to his website, is a practitioner of functional and eastern medicine. (Cavallari referred to him as her doctor, but he does not hold an MD.)

"Anytime I do an interview, I get a lot of sh-t when I admit that I don't," said Cavallari. She then prompted Monahan to talk "about the health benefits of the sun and why we maybe don't need sunscreen."

"We've literally spent our whole existence as humans under the sun all day, until the last like 100 years or so, and now we're like shut-ins who spend 93% of our lives indoors, and that's really bad for a lot of reasons. The sun is life-giving and nourishing," Monahan replied.

He went on to claim that, instead of sunscreen, eating "an anti-inflammatory diet," building up an "antioxidant reservoir" in the body and a developing a "base coat" through incremental sun exposure can allow the skin to tolerate the sun without burning.

Multiple dermatologists tell that they disagree with these claims, noting that a "base coat" is just a sign that your skin has been damaged from the sun and that antioxidants alone cannot prevent the sun from harming the skin.

Dr. Adam Friedman, dermatologist and professor of dermatology at the George Washington School of Medicine, also points out that while our ancestors may have been in the sun all day without sunscreen, they often didn't live past their 30s, whereas the average age of skin cancer onset today is 66.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher is necessary to reduce the damage UV rays have on skin cells.

Asked about dermatologists disagreeing with his claims, Monahan told via email in part: “Statements regarding sun exposure without sunscreen were made in the context of discussing personal approaches, not meant as a recommendation for every person. We fully recognize and acknowledge the fact that many people are unable to sustain prolonged exposure to sunlight without the use of sunscreen without risking sun damage and sunburn.”

Cavallari’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s true that there are benefits to spending time in the sun — but with protection, according to the dermatologists spoke with. Here’s what else they had to say about claims regarding diet, antioxidants and “base coats” to protect against UV rays.

Are there any benefits of sun exposure?

"The most well-known benefit of sun exposure is vitamin D synthesis," Dr. Shari Lipner, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, tells

When UV rays hit skin (with or without sunscreen), this triggers the formation of pre-vitamin D3 that the body converts into vitamin D, which supports bone health and immune system function, previously reported. Vitamin D is also found in some foods, added to fortified food products, and available as a dietary supplement.

When asked about the harmful effects of UV rays on skin, Monahan pointed to the positive of vitamin D, writing in part: "Sunlight has many health benefits for humans, particularly supporting vitamin D levels, which a large percentage of people today are deficient in."

About 35% of adults in the United States have a vitamin D deficiency, per the Cleveland Clinic.

However, it's important to note that wearing sunscreen does not prevent the body from producing vitamin D when in the sun.

"Research studies show that wearing sunscreen does not interfere with skin’s vitamin D production," Dr. Andrea Saurez, a Houston-based dermatologist whose response video to Cavallari's interview is going viral on TikTok, tells

Further, clinical studies have never found that daily sunscreen use leads to a vitamin D insufficiency, per the Skin Cancer Foundation.

"You don’t have to be a vampire to stay safe. I encourage patients to have a healthy outdoor, active lifestyle, but to do it in a way that protects their skin,” Dr. Jennifer Stein, a board-certified dermatologist at NYU Langone, tells

If you do have a vitamin D deficiency, there are much safer ways to get more vitamin D than forgoing sunscreen. "For people who have to be very careful about sun protection, it’s important to make sure you get enough vitamin D through your diet or a supplement," Stein adds.

If you're concerned about your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor.

Do UV rays damage skin even if you don’t get a sunburn?

Sunburns are a result of overexposure to UV radiation. The more you burn, the greater your risk of skin cancer, per the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Tanning is another sign of injury from UV rays. It occurs when the body produces melanin (which gives color to the skin) to prevent further damage from UV rays, says Friedman. The more melanin produced, the darker or more tanned the skin will appear.

Tanning can also cause premature aging of the skin, such as wrinkles, age spots or sagging, per the Cleveland Clinic.

"Realize that if your skin is darkening, it also means your skin has been injured," says Friedman.

Additionally, it’s a misconception that having dark skin provides full protection against UV damage. UV rays can still damage dark skin if sunscreen isn't used, leading to age spots, hyperpigmentation and skin cancer — regardless of whether a tan or sunburn was visible — the dermatologists say.

"UV rays can still cause DNA damage even if you do not visibly have a sunburn ... and UV rays are responsible for skin cancer," Lipner adds.

The "base tan" theory to prevent a sunburn is a myth. "A base coat is a just sign of injury," says Friedman.

Trying to get a base tan is especially dangerous for people who burn easily, says Stein. "People with light skin, especially people with light or red hair who burn more than they tan, are at higher risk for skin cancer," Stein adds.

The bottom line: People should avoid intentionally tanning. “People talk about that ‘healthy glow,’ well, there’s nothing healthy about it. Tanning is a defense mechanism,” says Friedman.

Can you prevent UV damage without sunscreen?

Applying sunscreen is one effective way to prevent damage from UV rays, but there are other methods. The dermatologists encourage everyone, regardless of skin tone, to use a combination of these to protect their skin.

"Wearing clothing is another great way to protect your skin. The more skin you cover, the less you need to worry about sunscreen," says Stein. Sun-protective or UPF clothing can offer even greater protection from harmful UV rays, Liper adds.

Wearing a hat with a wide brim can keep the sun off the face and the top of the head, and sunglasses can protect the eyes from UV rays, Saurez adds.

"Sitting in the shade and avoiding the midday sun (when UV rays are strongest) are also important sun protection tips," says Stein.

No one method is perfect or foolproof, so "the more we do to protect ourselves, the better," says Friedman.

Can antioxidants prevent damage from the sun?

Exposure to the sun can lead to the formation of free radicals, an unstable molecule that can damage the skin through oxidative stress (an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body), says Friedman. The body naturally creates some antioxidants to fight free radicals, but it produces less as you get older.

However, the dermatologists warn that taking antioxidants is not a proven method to protect against sun damage. “There is no such thing as a supplement that provides an internal sunscreen,” says Saurez.

Antioxidants may help increase the efficacy of sunscreen in protecting against UV rays, but they are not effective on their own, Lipner adds.

"There is some evidence that particular oral antioxidants can make it more difficult to get a sunburn, but they should not be used as a replacement for sunscreen," says Stein.

Astaxanthin, an antioxidant Monohan mentioned in the podcast episode, is a carotenoid found naturally in some plants and marine animals.

There are a few small studies on astaxanthin looking at its ability to make it harder to get a sunburn, says Stein.

"Taking oral astaxanthin may help prevent sunburn in a small group of people, but it has a much lower SPF than sunscreen," says Lipner. “Astaxanthin has not been shown to prevent skin cancer, (and) I would not recommend using astaxanthin instead of sunscreen,” says Stein. Any antioxidant should be taken in addition to sunscreen.

Eating a balanced diet full of foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can help promote overall skin health, but it's not going to prevent UV damage either.

Sun avoidance and sun protection, including sunscreen, are your best bet. When using sunscreen, remember to:

  • Use sunscreen that is labeled broad-spectrum, which protects against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Make sure your sunscreen hasn't expired, as this can make it less effective.
  • Use SPF 30 or higher.
  • Use a shot glass-size amount or more to cover your entire body.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after getting wet.