In the past few years, sunscreen safety has been talked about a lot. There are good reasons for this, many sunscreen products are not healthy and might even cause more damage then you were hoping to prevent. The Environmental Working Group is the best place to get reliable information on this topic. Their yearly sunscreen guide is best resource I've found to find out about the best and worst sunscreen products on the market.
After learning about all the dangers of sunscreen products, many people wonder if they can get the same or better sun protection just by using natural oils and avoiding sunscreen products all together. Homemade sunscreen recipes are now all over the internet because people want better alternatives to the products from companies who really don't care about the safety of consumers (read my article about Johnson & Johnson's negligence here).
You'll even find a recipe for homemade sunscreen on my blog. This is a recipe I have used for a few years. It works for us but my particular mixture is in no way scientifically proven.
What is SPF anyway? SPF measures the sunscreen protection from UVB rays (which is what causes sunburn). If you would usually burn after 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF 15 sunscreen would allow you to stay in the sun for approximately 150 minutes without burning (which is 15 times longer then you'd be able to without it).
In order for a product to be able to make an SPF claim, it needs to go through extensive FDA testing to prove this sun protection factor. One of the reasons for that is that different combinations of oils and ingredients will give different SPF ratings, it's not as easy as just adding together the natural SPF ratings of each ingredient.
Proven Natural Oils SPF
The truth is, some do have natural oils SPF and can help protect us from the sun. The only problem is we don't really know exactly how much protection you are getting when ingredients are combined. There was a helpful study done on the sun protection factor of some individual natural oils. The results were quite interesting. A number of oils in the study were rated SPF 5 or more, those oils are:
- Olive Oil – SPF 7.5
- Coconut Oil – SPF 7.1
- Peppermint Oil – SPF 6.6
- Tulsi Oil – SPF 6.5
- Lemongrass oil – SPF 6.2
- Lavender oil – SPF 5.6
- Castor Oil – SPF 5.6
Something that was surprisingly not mentioned in this study was shea butter (maybe because it's a butter and not an oil). Shea butter has been used as a natural sunscreen alternative claiming to have an approximate SPF of 6. I tend to use a heavier sunscreen (with zinc) in the beginning of the summer season or on long days in the sun but in general for low to moderate sun exposure I often just use a shea butter body butter (like this one that I make) and it helps. It's also amazing for healing sunburn should you get it, the mix of aloe vera, shea butter and coconut oil is cooling and helps to prevent peeling later (you can purchase a jar here).
These SPF ratings of the oils in this study seem quite low compared to some of the sunscreen products on the market. I've seen SPF claims of 50 or higher on some conventional products. Keep in mind that experts say anything over SPF 30 is not even beneficial. Using these natural oils, in my opinion, is certainly much better then using nothing at all but the addition of zinc oxide is really helpful to make a big jump up in sun protection.
Aside from natural oils SPF, zinc oxide is the healthiest way to get longer and stronger protection from the sun. The biggest problem with zinc oxide is that, because of it's pasty white nature, sunscreen makers are using smaller and smaller particles of zinc (called nano-particles) in their products. The particles have gotten so small that they can even penetrate the skin or get into the lungs (in the case of sprays or powders) and that's where the health concerns really lie. Using a non nano-particle zinc in your own mixtures is the way to go (or just look for products made without nano-particles)
Raspberry Seed Oil & Carrot Seed Oil
There are also several articles on the internet referencing the natural oils SPF of Raspberry Seed Oil and Carrot Seed Oil (somewhere between 25-35 spf). I wish I could find a study to back up this information because the SPF claims are much higher then the ratings of the oils in this study. There are many natural sunscreen products made with both of these oils which leads me to believe it just might work (carrot seed essential oil is one of the ingredients in my handcrafted face cream available in my shop). Since everyone has different skin, these two natural oils may or may not work for you.
Have you tried any of these natural oils for sun protection? Please share in the comments!