It is that time of year again. Great weather, lots of sun, long days spent outdoors. This is also the time of year where everyone worries about damage to their skin from exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. Sunscreen flies off the shelves at every store. Moms slather it on their children in thick layers. And this summer, like every summer, harmful chemicals will be absorbed into millions of bodies.
But don’t we need sunscreen and don’t the risks of using it outweigh the damage from unprotected skin exposed to the sun?
There is a lot of debate about sunscreen, its effectiveness, and more recently, it’s potential to actually increase our chances of developing skin cancer. Yes, that’s right. Studies are showing that sunscreens are not all they are cracked up to be. I could get into this topic here, but instead, I would like to direct your attention to a wonderful article which succinctly outlines why sunscreen may indeed cause cancer. You can find it here. You can also read a little further to learn why sunlight actually prevents cancer by clicking here. And to further enlighten you, here is one more article which outlines the pros and cons of sunscreen and sun exposure.
An important factor in preventing skin damage of any kind from too much sun exposure is understanding your skin type and your resulting SPF needs. Here is a quick breakdown:
- Type 1 skin burns and freckles but never tans. If you’re red haired with blue or gray eyes, you may fit into this category and should use a sunscreen with the highest SPF rating.
- Type 2 eventually develops a tan but always burns after 20 to 30 minutes in the sun. Type 2s are light blondes with blue or green eyes and should stick to a high SPF (45) sunscreen.
- Skin cancer occurrence drops drastically at Type 3. People with this skin usually have dark blond or light brown hair and blue, green or brown eyes. They can develop a dark tan but will burn moderately, so should begin with a high SPF (30) sunscreen and gradually work down.
- Type 4 is naturally dark complected, has brown hair and eyes and always tans dark brown. Still, they can burn minimally and should start tanning with an SPF of 15 and work down.
- With Middle Eastern or Latin American ancestry, Type 5 hardly ever burns but should use a slight sunscreen of SPF 4.
- Type 6, with black hair and dark skin, usually never burns but should play it safe with a sunscreen of SPF 4.
One of the most effective ways to protect yourself from sun damage is to slowly expose your skin to the sun and develop what is commonly referred to as the “base tan.” Type 1s would do this more slowly, over a longer period of time and Type 6s would need a very short amount of time to build up natural sun protection. A good rule of thumb is to expose your skin to the sun without any sort of “protection” for 15 minute increments every day, between the hours of 8:00am and 10:00am. Over time, your skin will build up natural defenses. Proper clothing choices are also essential and a healthier way to protect your skin from the sun. Cotton clothing has a natural SPF of 15. There are lots of clothing options which allow for layering and increased sun protection while not being too warm or constricting. Hats are a must have year round.
Here is an expert from a report in the Canada Medical Association Journal by Dr. Ralph Douglas Wilkinson entitled, “The Xerotic Nephrologist.” This is some pretty interesting information regarding proper care of the skin before sun exposure:
Homo erectus existed for over a million years using the cool-water,no-soap system. The earth’s general fauna still use this system,which removes sweat without disturbing the waxy barrier. Housingand clothing have afforded us much protection, and our lipidlayer has become somewhat expendable. Human sebum has a tendency to oxidize to a brownish hue, muchlike earwax. It is the “ring around the collar.” Sebum has asunblock action estimated to be about SPF 6–8. Its removalmay lead to cleaner collars, but it leaves the skin at higherrisk for sun damage.The sun can cause skin damage on bald spots, which are sebumpoor. The incidence of skin cancer on the head and face is highin North America. So is the use of soap and shampoo. Are theycausally related? Sun damage in the child may be more severethan in the adult. Is this due in part to the absence of sebumin the preadolescent?My advice: wash with cool water, minimize or eliminate the useof soap, and wear a hat! – Ralph Douglas Wilkinson
So after reading the links and information above you are pretty convinced that sunscreen and sunblocks are not the way to go. Other than gradual sun exposure and protective clothing, what can you do to protect delicate skin on those days where you will be out in the sun a lot? There are a lot of natural, healthier sunscreen and sunblock products that are not as chemically laden as other. For a comprehensive review of natural sunscreens, read this great post.
There is also another alternative and quite frankly the most natural one of all. Natural oils in their purest form. Certain natural oils offer SPF protection from the sun that is better than protection found in any commercially produced sunscreen. Combine one or more of these oils and you have created a divine concoction of safe sun protection that anyone in your family can confidently use. Here is a list of the natural oils that can be used as sunscreens:
Red Raspberry Seed Oil – Red Raspberry seeds contain high levels of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids in addition to 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 and may also contain clinically significant anti-inflammatory properties.
Carrot Seed Oil – Carrot seed oil is an essential oil with significant antioxidant, antiseptic, antifungal and fragrant properties with high levels of vitamin A. When applied topically to the skin in the form of a diluted carrier oil, carrot seed oil also provides natural sun protection. According to a study published in “Pharmacognosy Magazine” in 2009, products containing carrot seed oil have a natural SPF of 38 and 40.
Wheatgerm Oil – Wheatgerm is one of the best sources of natural vitamin E and is also a good source of vitamin K, B vitamins and choline. When applied to the skin, wheatgerm oil helps to moisturize tissues and acts as an antioxidant to prevent free radical damage. In a study published in “Pharmacognosy Magazine” in 2009, a sunscreen comprised of wheatgerm and vitamin E had a natural SPF rating of 20.
Soybean Oil – Soybeans are a nutritious and cost-effective addition to sunscreen.ripe soybeans image by Carbonbrain from Fotolia.comSoybeans originally come from China and are a rich source of essential fatty acids, protein, lecithin, iron and calcium in the diet. When used topically on the skin, soybean oil is a cost-effective moisturizer compared to other oils and has a natural SPF of 10.
Macadamia Oil – Macadamia nuts provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidant fatty acids.Macadamia Nuts and Shell image by MrGreenBug from Fotolia.comMacadamia nuts are native to Australia though most of the world’s supply comes from Hawaii. Good sources of magnesium, iron, phosphorous, potassium and vitamin E, the oil from Macadamia nuts also contains a natural plant chemical called cinnamic acid which provides a variable SPF level of 6.
Jojoba Oil – Jojoba is a desert shrub effective for treating eczema, psoriasis and dry skin.desert plants image by Carol Tomalty from Fotolia.com The oil of jojoba is effective as a moisturizer for dry skin and contains a natural plant chemical called myristic acid which provides some limited sun protection. Jojoba oil has a low SPF of 4.
Other Oils – A variety of vegetable oils such as olive and sesame contain low SPF protection. Other natural plant oils with low SPF levels include sea buckthorn oil, sesame seed oil, shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil and hemp seed oil. In addition, green tea extract provides antioxidant polyphenols with low to moderate SPF protection. These oils and extracts are all great additions to any homemade, natural sunscreen.
If you are not convinced of your own ability to properly prepare a homemade sunscreen from natural oils, I suggest that you look into one of my favorite products: Purple Prairie Sun Stuff. Their line of sun protectants is made from the above mentioned natural oils without any other additives. It is as natural as it gets and the price is awesome!
In the event that you do get a “little too much sun,” there is a wonderful, easy to make sunburn rescue that will offer you some much needed relief.
6 ounces pure aloe vera gel
3 capsules vitamin E oil, broken
1 tablespoon zinc oxide ointment (available from most pharmacies)
15 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops wintergreen essential oil
5 drops carrot essential oil
Blend all ingredients together in a large measuring cup or bowl. Scoop into a clean, sterile container and apply to the skin as often as needed.
Enjoy the sun this summer and consider using natural oils as your go-to sun protection.