natural sunscreens (& why you NEED to switch)

most commercial sunscreens give me the willies. i wouldn’t touch them with a 10 foot pole! but we’ll save that for the end…

with summer pretty much here to stay (where i live at least haha) i’m gonna share with you how i’ll help protect my skin from the sun. i’ve also posted about sunless tanners if you haven’t checked that out yet.

first, what’s the deal with sunscreen?

in today’s society, we are so scared of getting skin cancer. we’re told to slather ourselves with sunscreen and to almost “hide” from the sun. skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., with 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people diagnosed annually, with ONE IN FIVE americans developing it in their lifetime. astonishing! just this year alone (2013), an estimated 3,170 deaths from nonmelanoma skin cancers will occur. and to top it off, about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

so to answer if we need sunscreen, we have to first understand if these suggestions to curb our sun exposure are of sound advice. to do that, we have to understand what the sun naturally does to the human body – increases the production of melatonin, serotonin, and gives us vitamin d. if you want to learn more about the positive effects of the sun, please check this gal out. my views on sun exposure align perfectly with hers, and i can’t express how pleased i am that she backs everything she says up with published research. i value that so highly, especially since i hold a Master of Science degree. everything i do to and for my body is well-researched, as it should be for you!

my personal opinion is that responsible sun exposure, combined with a healthy lifestyle and eating habits, is ESSENTIAL to every human. i am NOT saying “hey, go get a sunburn! it’s okay!”… because it’s not. but responsible exposure is an important part of keeping your body healthy. supplements don’t replace actual sunshine.

that being said, it is extremely important to protect your skin from overexposure and sunburns (aka, YES, you need suncreen!!!) so how do we do that SAFELY? here ya go:

naturalsuncreen

homemade options (different recipes below ingredients):

  • red raspberry seed oil – SPF between 30 and 50 (seriously!)
  • carrot seed oil – SPF 30
  • wheat germ oil – SPF 20
  • hazelnut oil – SPF 15
  • coconut oil – SPF 10
  • soybean oil – SPF 10
  • shea butter – SPF 6-10
  • macadamia oil – SPF 6
  • jojoba oil – SPF 4
  • rice bran oil – SPF 4
  • sesame oil, hemp oil, avocado oil, peanut oil – SPF between 4 and 10
  • vitamin E – helps protect against UV damage
  • zinc oxide (natural mineral… powder form) – reflects sun (add for a long lasting sunscreen)
  • titanium dioxide (powder) – reflects sun (if the zinc oxide needs a boost, add for a long lasting sunscreen)

recipes:

mix any of the above ingredients to make your own, depending on your SPF needs.
essential oils can also be added! if you want to know how much of each powder to add, check this chart out. there are TONS of other recipes out there. TONS! here are my top 3: one, twothree. some use beeswax, but the easiest and just as effective will be the consistency of a tanning oil (and more creamier if you add zinc oxide or titanium dioxide).

WHERE TO BUY INGREDIENTS: in your local health food store :) or try here.

don’t want to mix your own?? then try these - 

commercial options (safe, researched ingredients):

NOW, if you follow my blog, you know how i feel about chemicals and being more natural. so back to how i won’t touch typical store-bought suncreens with a 10 foot pole…

whyyoushouldthrowawayyoursunscreen

almost 60% of store-bought sunscreens contain chemicals that disrupt hormones and that can cause cancer. CAUSE cancer. not prevent it.

what do typical sunscreens contain?

  • retinyl palmitate – linked to skin cancer
  • oxybenzone – hormone disruption; potential cell damage that may lead to cancer
  • ANY nanoparticles – get into the bloodstream and liver (advertised as going on “colorless”)

check these popular ones out and their toxicity ratings:

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 10.22.45 PM

  • banana boat (baby & kids) – 7
  • hawaiian tropic (protective dry oil, sensitive skin, and shimmer versions) – 7
  • hawaiian tropic silk hydration lotion – 4
  • coppertone oil free – 3
  • coppertone (sport, ultraguard, and spray versions) – 4 to 7
  • coppertone kids – 7
  • aveeno (active naturals & baby versions) – 3

so now that you’ve decided to kick your sunscreen to the curb for a more natural version, how do you know what’s the best? check on EWG, and make sure you’re not playing the “NUMBERS GAME.” what’s that, you ask? check out this article from CNN.

“The EWG said consumers should not purchase sunscreens with SPF greater than 50. SPF (sun protection factor) works by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun’s rays on the skin. “It is very misleading to put high SPF numbers on labels because it gives consumers a false sense of security and doesn’t offer a lot more protection,” Leiba said. They are right. While SPF 85 may sound like a lot more protection than SPF 30, the higher the number doesn’t always give a high return. Studies show that sunscreen with SPF 15 can block about 93% of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 blocks 97%. SPF 50 blocks 98%. “The protective factors plateau from there. A product with SPF 100+ blocks about 99.1 percent of the UVB rays,” Ostad said. “You don’t really need a high number. They end up being expensive and don’t offer more protection than SPF 50.” Keep in mind, SPF protects only against UVB rays.”

as always, do your research. make an educated decision. be healthy. stay healthy. take care of your body :)

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(i am not making any statements to hurt those affected by skin cancers. i believe Mommypotamus said it best: “i realize that some people who read this have experienced the pain and difficulty of skin cancer, either personally or with a loved one. i would never dare to invalidate these experiences or to treat them lightly. it is my hope that by providing this research, i will make a compelling case for re-examining our cultural attitudes about sunlight. i am not a doctor and i do not advocate sunburns at all, but it is my opinion that responsible sunlight exposure positively affects our health when a good diet with plenty of healthy fats/antioxidants are present. my writing reflects a commitment to that lifestyle.” all i ask here at AlmostExactly is there be intelligible, data-based discussion and that everyone is kind.)

46 comments

  1. Do you think there is any real difference between baby sunscreen and adult sunscreen? Most baby sunscreens are more expensive but for what reason I have no idea. Any thoughts?

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    1. store-bought baby suncreens are “supposed” to have less chemicals and fragrances, cutting down on any possible irritations the regular version could cause. but some actually have MORE toxic ingredients than regular ones. no matter the version, babies could get it in their eyes or possibly ingest it, so whichever version is safer is the way to go!
      i honestly think it’s a branding gimmick… if it’s safer for a baby, shouldn’t it be safer for an adult???

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    2. i’ve also heard to not put sunscreen on infants under 6 months at all, and expose them to sun as little as possible (basically almost no sun), but i haven’t researched it enough to have an opinion :)

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    1. awesome! and i make mine with equal parts coconut oil, shea butter and *1/2 vitamin E oil. i’m not in the sun much, so it works just fine for me :) the last time i used store-bought suncreen was last july while boating. before i go boating again (or some other activity where i’ll be outside a long time), i’ll be mixing in zinc oxide. i really want to try red raspberry seed oil, but the pure organic version seems a little pricey for me right now. i have to wait!

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      1. Thanks – yep I’m thinking the red raspberry seed oil looks good too and share the same budget restrictions! There are a lot of organic or natural products which seem a lot more freely available in the US than the little ol UK too! Did using the coconut oil mix affect your face the same way as if you moisturise it with coconut oil? My pores are not happy if I use it on my face!

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      2. i dont put it on my face because of the coconut oil. im not in the sun much until summer and my makeup has taken care of my face so far :) i really want to mix zinc oxide in my makeup (post waiting for me to publish haha) but am still looking around to see if it’ll have long term effects. i’m still learning :)

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      3. that’s great – thanks! When the sunshine finally gets here I’ll be trying out a few recipes – will let you know if I come up with any that are helpful :)

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    1. hey amanda! the non-nano zinc oxide is the one that offers the most uvb/uva protection & doesn’t degrade in the sun, followed by titanium dioxide (less protection with uva, but still broad spectrum), and red raspberry seed oil. I’d suggest using the zinc oxide to ensure broad spectrum protection :)

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  2. Hi Alex Raye! Love your blog, I have found so much info, my head is swimming! Do you know how much Red Raspberry Seed oil you should add to a recipe to boost the SPF and if I add it to one of the suggested recipes will it change the consistency or cause the cream to break down? I’m looking to create a high SPF lotion for my boys (5, 4 & 2) but I don’t want to run the risk of ruining the concoction and wasting the RRSO. Thanks :)

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    1. hi paula! thank you so much!! i know all of the info can be overwhelming; it’s a lot to take in :)
      since you have younger boys, would you want a waterproof sunscreen? if so, try equal parts liquid oil (like RRSO), coconut oil, and beeswax. then add about 20% zinc oxide for maximum and full spectrum sun protection. the beeswax will help it to be waterproof, but you can most definitely leave it out if you don’t want that.
      if you add the RRSO, it’ll make it more of the consistency of a tanning oil, but the zinc oxide powder will help make it thicker again. how you make it is really up to you :)

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  3. Hi, I really want to try this, I like the look of what you mentioned that you use, coconut oil, Shea butter and vitamin E, do you just mix the ingredients together in a bowl or is it more complicated than that? How long does it last if you mix a big batch all at once? Thank you!

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    1. hey there! yep, just mix in a bowl. i tried that last year. this year i’m mixing coconut oil and zinc oxide. i found the zinc oxide powder was cheapest thru my local pharmacy, & they had to order it in. it should be here in a couple days and i’ll repost with pictures :)
      and how long it lasts depends on how much you make and how much you use. if you’re referring to it going bad, all of those ingredients are stable and it should keep at room temp for about a year.
      **you might have to use a hand mixer to get a nice consistency if you’re adding shea butter!

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  4. You know what, I’m REALLY HAPPY that I found your site/blog. I’ve been wanting to live a more, I’m not sure if I’m using this word right, “Holistic” lifestyle. I’ve been slowly cutting things out, like shampoo, and other man made hair products. The only man made hair product I use is silicone free conditioners, my hair is super dry and its the only thing that helps me detangle my kinky/curly hair. But yeah, I’m super excited about trying a lot of stuff on here.

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  5. my sister made me a batch of coconut oil, shea butter and essential oil for body cream. i was wondering if i could use that for sunscreen? i have read that some people only use coconut oil? but your recipes have more ingredients. i have used my body cream once to lay in the sun and didnt burn, but it was only an hour. i am going to the beach in two weeks and will be out in the sun everyday all day for more than a week. id like to only use coconut oil instead of the chemical filled sunscreens, but the oil makes me so oily and greasy!

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    1. since youre gonna be in the sun so long, I’d say go get a bag of zinc oxide from your local pharmacy and mix it with your coconut oil (about 20% zinc oxide). it’ll be full spectrum protection and won’t leave you so greasy. it wont be water proof though!

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  6. Is there anyway to make a natural sunscreen that is water proof? I was just curious because my sister and I are doing a lot of swimming this summer

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    1. hey brie! absolutely! you can melt down beeswax and add it to your mixture. you’ll still have to reapply as with regular sunscreen, but it will give it a waterproofing factor :)

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  7. Hey Alex

    So I tried some Sunflower Seed Oil yesterday when I went on a bike ride. I rode from 11ish until 12ish in almost direct sunlight. I put the oil on my arms, neck, a little on my face, and I tried getting it on my back as best I could since hubby was gone. So I’m not exactly sure what went wrong, but I FRIED my back. It is SOOOOOOOOO sunburned. Ouch! So I’m wondering if I just didn’t get enough oil on my skin. I haven’t been able to find the Zinc Oxide powder yet, and I’d like to find it in a store before I go to the internet and pay shipping. So it was just oil. Do you have to put quite a bit on? My arms are fine, and I coated them pretty well, also my neck was fine (although it was covered by my pony tail and I think my helmet cast a shadow on my neck as well), and I burned the back of one hand. Random I know. I’m going to try it one more time and apply more oil, but if it doesn’t work I’m gonna have to throw in the towel and buy some organic stuff. Thanks, and as always, I just LOVE your blog!

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    1. i’m so sorry you got burnt! with natural sunscreens (without zinc oxide) i’ve read that some people’s bodies need to learn how to use them as sunscreen. our own natural sebum has an spf of 6 to 8, so not showering and applying the oil all over should help when you gradually build up your “base” for the summer. also, SS oil only blocks about 40% of uv rays, which would be the spf equivalent of less than 2. uv ray blockage and spg ratings aren’t numerically interchangable :(
      i got a bag of zinc oxide from my pharmacist (CVS) for pretty cheap. they had to order it in, but i ordered it on a friday and got it the following tuesday.
      i’ve used a natural sunscreen from aubrey organics (with green tea i think) and it worked :) keep in mind that spf ratings are based on the tests from using a full ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glass’ worth). so if you’re using less than an ounce of sunscreen at a time (highly likely haha) you’re not getting the full spf rating you bought. but anything rated over 50 is a waste of money! hopefully you don’t burn again & you heal quickly! i’m so sorry!

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  8. I am curious how well these recipes work on being waterproof. My husband has very fair skin and we go swimming all the time. Even if he slathers on sunscreen 10 times in 5 hours he still usually ends up a little burnt. (We us SPF 50). I usually tan pretty well and if I burn it is gone within a few days. We have a daughter though who is only a year and a half old. I am not sure whose skin type she has currently, but I am not one to risk finding out. I want to be able to make some of this natural sunscreen, but I am worried it won’t work too well when we go swimming or even just when we perspire. What are your thoughts on this and any suggestions on how to make it waterproof?

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  9. Hi Alex!

    A little late on our reply here but we still wanted to thank you for including our SPF in your guide! We pride ourselves in making all of our products synthetic & parabean free.

    Be sure to let us know if you have any questions about our products or if you just want to say hi!

    Warmly,
    Will Reynolds Young
    Chief Digital Officer
    SKINourishment, Inc/climbOn

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  10. Holy smokes!!! Good to know, as I’m taking the kids to the beach for the weekend. Hope I can find one of the safe brands at Target or walmart today.

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  11. Oh my gosh I am so happy to have found this blog! I feel EXACTLY the same. It makes me crazy that the FDA thinks that getting skin cancer is a higher risk than slathering toxins on your skin, therefore they allow those horrible chemicals in your sunscreen! GRRR!! I didn’t see Bare Bellie Organics on your list of great sunscreens, but it should be! It’s our favourite natural sunscreen, way easier to apply than Badger. Thanks for getting this info out there!

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  12. Hi Alex,

    are you sure zinc oxide is safe? I found info that it is one of the dangerous ingredients in sun screens, especially iwhen it comes sa nanoparts – and is rated as medium hazard ingredient on ewg? Or am I missing something? :)

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    1. hey lenka! yes! it is, as long as it’s non-nano and not in an airborne form. it’s rated as a medium on the ewg’s database because it’s bioaccumulative and poses trouble when you inhale it when it’s in airborne form (which is a no-brainer lol). you need to look at the research behind the rating and not just the rating :) the powdered zinc oxide i talk about is safe! :) no worries!

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  13. I love using sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide but….I’ve heard it’s not great to obtain these in powder form because they are very easily breathed in and I don’t think minerals are supposed to be ingested this way. Maybe wear a surgical/medical type mask when making your products if you must but there are a few healthier brands of sunscreen on the shelves, too…avalon organics, california baby, etc.

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  14. Hi! I’m travelling and living in New Zealand at the moment, I was VERY foolish the other day and got caught out and got painful sunburn on my back/stomach…(doesn’t help the UV here is so much stronger than anywhere else) any way, the damage is done….but what do I do? Usually I’d slather myself in store bought products filled with chemicals but since my no pooing for the last 6months I’m super concious. I’ve been given draplene (not sure if you get it in the states, it’s basically nappy rash cream) but the ingredients look very scary!! What would you do? Please!!

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    1. I know Eleanor will have got over her sunburn by now, but in case anyone else is wondering – Aloe Vera is *incredible* at healing burns. I was shocked at how well it worked and have tried my own experiments applying it to one side only etc.
      Grow your own if you want to be sure it doesn’t have any preservatives or other unnecessary ingredients added. Nothing complex – just break a leaf off, squeeze and apply the gel to your skin! Phenomenal. :)

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  15. i love this blog. first time I’ve been here, but won’t be the last. i like when we’re encouraged to look into product information when considering natural alternatives to market brand products. ingredient lists can be very interesting reads. we can recite the jingles of so many commercial brands yet have no idea what’s inside the package. take a look at those ingredient lists. the fact that commercial brand lists are 10 times longer and contain ingredients you can’t pronounce is a little scary. And theres good reason to be afraid. The points made here are significant and reason enough to educate yourself to product materials and ingredients, and avoid chemical and petroleum based products at all cost. 80% of our finite resources have been depleted in the past 20 years in the name of product desire (mass consumption). Pretty much anything not natural is detrimental. i try to be more conscious of my purchasing decisions. one thing i’ve found once i changed my purchasing habits is how superior the products are when you go natural. i’m really into hemp, and it outperforms any commercial brand I’ve put it up against. by a large margin. i think about the saying ‘Purchasing makes companies relevant and strong; Purchasers decide who these companies are’.
    hate to finish with a downer visual, but we’ll only change habits when exposed to ugly realities…like with this excellent article. add the fact that 600 tons of non degradable substance is deposited on our coral reefs yearly from sunscreen use. that’s not a pretty image. hemp sunscreen? 100% biodegradable, for a guilt free swim.

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