It’s that time of year again everyone – time for sunscreen, lip balm and sun hats. But have you wondered about the safety of the sunscreen you’re using? I mean, we do actually slather our skin with the stuff. We also know that our skin soaks up whatever is rubbed on, as the skin is considered the largest organ of our body. So should we be worried about our sunscreens? Well, it depends on just what sunscreen you’re using, and it’s a discussion for a larger article than this one. However, in the meantime, there are some alternative options to conventional sunscreens out there, and that’s what we’ll discuss today.
Recently I was in the Italian and French Riviera, and the sun there was blazing hot. Before my vacation I heard how some women were using simple oils for sunscreen. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never enjoyed how sunscreen feels on my face, so I decided to try sea buckthorn seed oil instead of conventional sunscreen. The entire time we were there, about three weeks, I’d liberally oil my face in the morning, and if the sun was really ferocious I’d put more on as I thought of it throughout the day. I’m not entirely sure if it was just beginners luck, as my trial was definitely not scientific, but I was suitably impressed with the sea buckthorn seed oil. I got a little colour – just slightly darker, but I didn’t get burned on my face – not even once. So my positive experience with sea buckthorn seed oil got me wondering about the SPF of other oils. What I found out is quite fascinating.
The queen of oils, as far as sun protection is concerned, isn’t sea buckthorn seed oil, it’s red raspberry seed oil. This amazing oil contains high levels of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. It also is high in antioxidants and natural vitamin E. According to Anthony J. O’Lenick, author of “Oils of Nature,” red raspberry seed oil has a natural SPF between 28 and 50. It also contains significant anti-inflammatory properties.
Second to red raspberry oil is carrot seed oil. This essential oil is high in anti-oxidants, and it also has antiseptic and anti-fungal properties, as well as being high in vitamin A. When you apply this oil to the skin with a carrier oil, carrot seed oil can provide natural sun protection with a SPF between 38 and 40.
Next up is wheatgerm oil, one of the best sources of vitamin E as well as vitamin K, B vitamins and choline. When applied to the skin, wheatgerm oil helps to moisturize tissues and acts as an anti-oxidant to prevent free radical damage. In one published study, sunscreen composed of wheatgerm oil and vitamin E had a natural SPF rating of 20.
After my research I realized that though sea buckthorn seed oil does have some natural SPF properties it’s not nearly as high as some of the oils I’ve mentioned in this article. However, sea buckthorn seed oil is very high in anti-oxidants such as vitamin C as vitamin E and Beta Carotene – powerful anti-oxidants that help neutralize free-radical activity in the skin, thereby preventing oxidative damage. Specifically, sea buckthorn seed oil is documented to be effective in preventing daily, long term, cumulative sun damage and photo aging – but it’s not recommend to be used singly as a preventative to sunburns. Guess I got lucky.
Though we should treat the sun with a healthy dose of respect, it’s not the culprit of all things bad as we’ve been led to believe – in fact, sunlight is vital to our health. The best protection is to stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 – 4, but that’s not always practical or possible. So for the rest of the time this summer be sure to wear your large brimmed hat, cover those shoulders if you can, and don’t forget your sunscreen – either traditional or alternative. However, it’s important to note that none of the oils mentioned in this article will give us 100% protection from UV rays, so we must practice common sense when using natural oils as sunscreen.
Here’s a recipe for a DIY sunscreen that I’ve adapted from a recipe by Jessica Espinoza at deliciousobsessions.com.
Homemade Coconut Oil Sunscreen
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup shea butter
1/8 cup wheatgerm oil
2 tbsp. beeswax granules (makes the sunscreen slightly water repellent)
1-2 tbsp. zinc oxide powder (optional – available from some pharmacies)
1 tsp. red raspberry seed oil
20-30 drops carrot seed essential oil
Essential oils of your choice (lavender, rosemary, vanilla, and/or peppermint are nice) Note – You can use whatever essential oils you would like for scent, but make sure to stay away from phototoxic essential oils, which includes the citrus family and a few others. When these essential oils are exposed to the sun, they can cause the skin to burn faster.
- Using a double boiler (or a small pan over very low heat), melt your coconut oil, wheatgerm oil, beeswax, and shea butter together. The beeswax will be the last to melt. Only heat to melting, don’t let it get too hot.
- When the beeswax is melted, remove the mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature. If you’re using zinc oxide, whisk it in at this point, being careful not to create a lot of dust. (Be careful not to breath in any of the dust – use a face mask if necessary) If there are some lumps, that’s OK. They will break up when you whip the body butter in step 4.
- Move the mixture to the fridge for 15-30 minutes. You want it to start to set up, but still be soft enough to whip.
- Take the mixture out of the fridge and using a stand mixer or hand mixer, start to whip it. Drizzle in the red raspberry seed oil, the carrot seed oil, and any essential oils of your choice, and continue whipping until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Use as you would any regular sunscreen. Application rates will depend on your activity and exposure to water. Store in a glass container in the fridge between uses.