One hundred years ago the majority of jobs involved working outdoors yet the sunscreen craze was nowhere to be found, and skin cancer was a rare thing. So what did the people in years gone by know that we don’t?
- they were a more modest in their dress and wore lots of protective clothing.
- they knew to stand in the shade if at all possible.
- they avoided direct exposure to the noon sun.
- their diets were wholesome and consisted of real foods.
It may surprise many to hear that we can dramatically improve our resistance to the sun’s harmful rays through dietary changes! But if we think about it, our skin is our body’s largest organ right? So when our immune system is functioning on low due to an over consumption of processed foods we weaken our first line of defense and place ourselves at greater risk.
But back to the topic of sunscreens…
The problem with commercial sunscreens
There are some convincing arguments against commercial sunscreens, some of which include:
1. No proof that sunscreen prevents skin cancer.
The FDA’s 2007 draft sunscreen safety regulations say: “FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer.” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) agrees. IARC writes that “sunscreens should not be the first choice for skin cancer prevention and should not be used as the sole agent for protection against the sun.
2. There’s some evidence that sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest form of skin cancer for some people.
Some researchers have detected an increased risk of melanoma among sunscreen users. Scientists also speculate that sunscreen users stay out in the sun longer and absorb more radiation overall, or that free radicals released as sunscreen chemicals break down in sunlight may play a role.
3. There are more high SPF products than ever before, but no proof that they’re better.
In 2007 the FDA published draft regulations that would prohibit companies from labeling sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) higher than SPF 50+. The agency wrote that higher values were “inherently misleading,” given that “there is no assurance that the specific values themselves are in fact truthful.” Scientists are also worried that high-SPF products may tempt people to stay in the sun too long, suppressing sunburns (a late, key warning of overexposure) while upping the risks of other kinds of skin damage.
4. Too little sun might be harmful, reducing the body’s vitamin D levels.
Sunshine serves a critical function in the body that sunscreen appears to inhibit: the production of vitamin D. The main source of vitamin D in the body is sunshine, and it is enormously important to health. Over the last two decades, vitamin D levels in the U.S. population have been decreasing steadily, creating a growing epidemic of vitamin D deficiency.
5. The common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A may speed the development of cancer.
Recently available data from an FDA study indicate that a form of vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight, may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions. This evidence is troubling because the sunscreen industry adds vitamin A to 41 percent of all sunscreens because it is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. That may be true for lotions and night creams used indoors, but vitamin A can spur excess skin growth (hyperplasia), and in sunlight it can form free radicals that damage DNA. The FDA recently conducted a study of vitamin A’s photocarcinogenic properties finding the possibility that it results in cancerous tumors when used on skin exposed to sunlight.
6. Pick your sunscreen: nanomaterials or potential hormone disruptors.
The ideal sunscreen would completely block the UV rays that cause sunburn, immune suppression and damaging free radicals. It would remain effective on the skin for several hours and not form harmful ingredients when degraded by UV light. And, it would smell and feel pleasant so that people use it in the right amount and frequency. Unsurprisingly, there is currently no sunscreen that meets all of these criteria.
The major choices available are between chemical sunscreens, which have inferior stability, penetrate the skin and may disrupt the body’s hormone systems, and mineral sunscreens (zinc and titanium), which often contain micronized (or nanoscale) particles which can form free radicals when exposed to UV if not properly treated. After reviewing the evidence, EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices.
So what can we do if we don’t use commercial sunscreens?
Ingredients that Naturally Protect Us from the Sun
There are some natural ingredients that work to protect us from over-exposure to the sun. Many are oils that contain SPF properties. It is important to understand that there is a difference between fixed (non-volatile) oils and essential (volatile) oils. Essential oils are the result of distillation, with completely different properties than the thick viscous fatty seed oil. It’s also important to remember that SPF claims can vary depending on the methods of extraction and individual quality of raw material used. You should also note that plant oils protect from UVB but not UVA, so while they may stop you getting sunburn, they may not protect you from deeper damage or skin aging/wrinkling.
High SPF Oil claims debunked
There are numerous places that claim the high SPF factors of two oils: carrot seed oil and raspberry seed oil.
Carrot Seed Oil. Many list estimated to contain SPF levels of 30. I have been unable to find any source that gives evidence of these claims. Many site a study noted in an article that appeared in Pharmacognosy Magazine in 2009, this study rated the SPF of the product they used at around 30, however, carrot seed oil was only one ingredient in that product, and the SPF factor is more likely to have come from other ingredients.
Raspberry Seed Oil. ‘contains a reported estimated SPF of 30-50’. Raspberry seed oil is a carrier oil with great anti-oxidant properties, but where do the SPF factor claims originate? I can’t find any sources, but do drop me a link in the comments if you know of one.
Pharmacognosy Research performed a study testing non-volatile and volatile oils. Using the spectrophotometric method they found:
The SPF values for nonvolatile oils (olive, coconut, castor, almond, mustard, chaulmoogra, and sesame) were between 2 and 8.
The essential oils (peppermint, tulsi, lavender, orange, eucalyptus, tee trea, rose, and lemon grass) came out between 1 and 7.
Neither carrot or raspberry seed oils were on that list. But if people are using natural oils with 1 to 8 SPF thinking that they are 30 to 40 SPF there is a very great risk of sunburn.
Personally, I don’t burn (or even tan) easily so I just use coconut oil and sensible sun exposure. However, some of my more sensitively skinned friends want a higher SPF, and a way to increase the protection to include UVA. The way to do this is to use Zinc oxide (avoiding micro particles mentioned earlier if you want to be extra cautious).
“Zinc oxide is EWG’s first choice for sun protection. It is stable in sunlight and can provide greater protection from UVA rays than titanium oxide or any other sunscreen chemical approved in the U.S.”
Having said all that I have, here is a recipe for your DIY sunscreen.
- 1 ounce oil blend (any combination of the non-volatile oils listed above)
- 1 ounce beeswax (adds waterproof properties)
- 1ounce Shea butter
- 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
- 0.36 ounces zinc oxide powder
- 30 drops essential oils (any mentioned above – optional)
- Gather ingredients and kitchen tools.
- In a double boiler, over low heat, melt the oils, beeswax, and butters.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly prior to adding the vitamin E oil, zinc oxide powder, and essential oils. Note: Wear a mask when working with zinc oxide. Although it has not been proven harmful when used topically, inhaling the substance can be dangerous.
- Stir until zinc oxide is dissolved.
- Pour into container. You could easily clean out and re-purpose a used deodorant or lip balm container, or just use a shallow jar. This recipe will produce a product similar to a lotion bar or sunscreen stick.
- Allow to cool and harden overnight and then you’re good to go!
- During times of heavy sun and swim exposure be sure to reapply often for the best coverage.
- This recipe contains zinc oxide at 12% which gives it an SPF of around 10-12 (untested).
- 5% zinc oxide = 2-5 SPF
- 10% zinc oxide = 6-11 SPF
- 15% zinc oxide = 12-19 SPF
- 25% zinc oxide = > 20 SPF
- Don’t shun the sun completely! Our fear of the sun has precipitated a societal vitamin D deficiency that is unfortunately taking us by storm — potentially producing an increase rate of cancers, autism, asthma, heart disease, and mental illness, just to name a few.
- This recipe is adapted from one used in the Arizona desert with success. However, it is still not a scientifically tested recipe. In other words, you are responsible for your body so make sure you research any pariculars individual to you.