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Home » Wellbeing

The good news about nature’s SPF protection – by Joel Le Blanc

Submitted by on January 18, 2012 – 11:26 am 13 Comments

Slip, Slop, Slap — with Natural Sunscreens!

Have you ever thought about making your own sunscreen? You don’t need a laboratory or a degree in pharmacology to do this. Nature provides us with a whole host of natural ingredients that give SPF protection. Plants are exposed to the sun every day of every year, and so have evolved to produce pigments, phytochemicals and nutrients which protect them from sun damage. Many sunscreens available on the market in Australia and New Zealand contain synthetic chemicals, or minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as their active ingredients — but science shows it is possible to use plants as a source of protection from UVA and UVB rays instead.

Vegetable Oils   

Vegetable oils are the fats extracted from seeds, nuts, grains, vegetables and fruits, and they can serve as an effective base for a home-made sunscreen. Many vegetable oils, such as olive oil and jojoba, are already popular for both cosmetic and medicinal purposes. Depending on your skin type, you might have to experiment on which oil works best for you — but as a rule vegetable oils are cost effective, safe and beneficial for the health of the skin. Here are a few vegetable oils which have shown in studies to provide SPF protection when applied to skin: raspberry seed oil SPF 28-40, carrot seed oil SPF 30-40, wheatgerm SPF 20, olive oil SPF 15, soybean oil SPF 10, macadamia oil SPF 6, jojoba SPF 4, almond oil SPF 4, and sesame seed oil has an SPF of mild to moderate levels depending on the oil extraction methods used.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated and powerful oils extracted from flowers and plants using special distillation processes, and are often used in cosmetics as a natural source of perfume. But essential oils aren’t just about sweet smells — many essential oils are antioxidant, antibacterial, tissue healing and provide SPF protection. These oils are too harsh to be applied directly to the skin, so you must dilute them first before using as a sunscreen — just a few drops of essential oil added to another vegetable oil will increase the overall SPF rating of your natural sunscreen. Here are the SPF ratings of some common essential oils: peppermint oil SPF 7, tulsi oil SPF 7, lavender oil SPF 6, eucalyptus oil SPF 3 and tea tree oil SPF 2.

Antioxidants

Did you realize that vitamin C and vitamin E creams could offer you sun protection? Antioxidants like vitamin C and E are nature’s own sunscreen, designed to protect living organisms like plants from sun damage, oxidation and disease. The high presence of these vitamins may explain the SPF factor of many vegetable oils, such as wheatgerm and raspberry seed oil. In a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2003, researchers found that a combination of vitamin C and E applied topically to the skin was effective in reducing damage to cells from ultraviolet light, reducing skin pigment mutations and protecting against skin cancer. Other forms of plant-based antioxidants besides these vitamins are plant pigments — chemicals that give plants and flowers their colours. Many pigments are designed to protect plants from sun damage. Lutein (from yellow flowers), chlorophyll (from green leaves), zeathanthin (red and orange fruits) and astathanthin (from some red algae) all offer some degree of UVA and UVB protection.

Herbs

Herbal extracts defend against disease, support the healing of skin tissues, and protect against sun damage. While they might not mix well with an oil-based solutions, liquid herbal extracts can be diluted in a vitamin E or vitamin C cream base to make a light, natural sunscreen. In 2009 researchers from Ravishankar Shukla University in India decided to test a whole variety of herbal sunscreens on the market for their SPF rating and stability. In the results of the study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine, the researchers found the only herbal sunscreen with an SPF rating of 40 was a product containing carrot (most likely to be carrot seed oil), wheat germ oil and a herb known as symplocos racemosa. Among the other herbal sunscreen products tested in the study, pure aloe vera was found to have an SPF of 20; aloe vera, basil and tumeric had an SPF of 24; and lavender, jojoba, cucumber, orange and sandalwood oil had an SPF of 30.

Joel Le Blanc is a medical herbalist, NLP practitioner and freelance writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. His previous writing has featured in various publications, newsletters and websites, and currently Joel is studying towards a BA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Canterbury. When not working on freelance projects or publishing poetry, Joel spends time sitting in and weeding his organic herb and vegetable garden, where he hopes to grow enough produce for the whole winter long.

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The good news about nature's SPF protection - by Joel Le Blanc, 4.8 out of 5 based on 4 ratings

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13 Comments »

  • Lynsey Ferrari says:

    Thanks for all that info Joel. Fascinating!

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  • Nicky O says:

    Hi Joel, thanks for the info. I had heard this once before but wondered how come when I was at college and we used baby oil on our legs in the lunch hour that we fried? Was that because of the different properties of mineral oil? Also, if we cook in oil it seems a little illogical to put it on our bodies in the hot sun. Thanks a lot.

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  • Glad you found it interesting, Lynsey!

    Nick: in answer to your question, it has a lot to do with the quality of the oil. Mineral oil or baby oil is not a natural oil — it is a cheap byproduct of the petroleum industry and, while it may have benefits for cosmetics such as softening the skin, it has no SPF protection that I am aware of. Vegetable and plant oils contain phytochemicals and vitamins that are designed to protect plants from sun damage, oxidation and disease — and many of these are damaged in the cooking process. Oil that has not been damaged by heat should retain its beneficial properties — because it’s not just about the oil itself, it’s about what is IN the oil. SPF may fluctuate in vegetable oils depending on geographical area the plant is grown in, the season it’s harvested, and fluctuations of plant biochemistry between batches, but natural oils do offer a much wider range of benefit than anything the petroleum industry has or can produce.

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  • Mia R says:

    Thanks for this info. It will be fun to experiment with all this. I have to say, though, that I wouldn’t recommend using turmeric on your skin unless you want to dye yourself yellow. Though who knows? You could start a trend.

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  • Christina says:

    This is fantastic info. I am planning on trying it out, now that summer is upon us here in NYC. Can I apply carrot seed oil to the skin by itself or would you recommend mixing it with something else? A carrier, perhaps, that wouldn’t affect its efficacy? I would really appreciate your thoughts. Thanks!

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  • Amanda says:

    Dear Joel, I am curious to the process of determining the SPF ratings as specified in your article.I guess what I am asking is where might I find the credentials for those who are responsible for such findings. I am interested in this because I am wanting to make my own products at home and am extremely interested in the suggestions you make in your article.

    Thanks!

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  • @Mia R: That’s true! it might be a somewhat questionable coloring on the skin — unless of course you are looking for a natural fake-suntan ingredient. Might require some tweaking to get it to match your skin type though!

    @Christine: Glad that this article was useful. I would recommend a carrier with carrot seed oil, as it may be a bit harsher on the skin than the other oils.

    @Amanda: Sure thing Amanda, I have several links you can follow up if you are interested. It took several hours to find all of the information when researching the article, and as well as the book “Oils of Nature” by Anthony J. O’Lenick, Jr (2008) I found these academic articles:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12789176

    http://www.phcog.com/article.asp?issn=0973-1296;year=2009;volume=5;issue=19;spage=238;epage=248;aulast=Kapoor#ref14

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/6346236.html

    http://carcin.oxfordjournals.org/content/21/11/2085.abstract

    http://www.phcogres.com/article.asp?issn=0974-8490;year=2010;volume=2;issue=1;spage=22;epage=25;aulast=Kaur

    http://www.academicjournals.org/ajb/PDF/Pdf2005/Jan/Athar%20and%20Nasir.pdf

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  • lisa says:

    Thanks joel for all the info and the other web links. I was surprised none of the studies mentioned carrot seed oil or raspberry oil which have the highest spf. Why do you think these were not included? Also is it “Carrot seed oil” or just “carrot oil” from the flesh of the carrots that have the SPF….I have seen more references to “carrot oil”. I have read that L-ascorbic acid is not stable in sunlight…please explain.

    thanks
    lisa

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  • Carol says:

    I simply love this information. It’s hard to find info like this the educate others that commercial products are not the only thing that has SPF. I make lip balm and one of the first things I was asked is how much spf is there and now I have something to print to show them natural products have spf and why they are so great. Thank You for publishing this info.

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  • Joel says:

    @Lisa: Sorry for the late reply! I don’t make a habit of checking back with this article often enough. Yes, ascorbic acid is one of the most unstable vitamins that exist, with a tendency to degrade with heat, light, and oxygen. For this reason I don’t often recommend using it in skin products. Sometimes you can find ascorbic acid cream in pharmacies, but I have no idea how they ensure the stability of the ascorbic acid. When they say “carrot oil” I assume it is a misnomer, and are simply referring to “carrot seed essential oil”. Why do I assume this? Simply because carrot roots do not contain fat, oil or essential oil, where as carrot seed essential oil is very commonly used in aromatherapy and herbal medicine. It simply isn’t possible for them to source oil from the carrot roots themselves.

    @Carol Happy to help! Good luck with the manufacturing of your products. Just know that when you combine ingredients with different SPF factors, it may be hard to predict the end result. Sometimes 1+1=5, and sometimes not.

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  • Katie says:

    This information is fantastic. Thank you. I was just wondering whether the SPF of these oils change as they age, so that if, for example, some wheatgerm oil reaches the ‘best before’ date, will it still have an SPF of 20 or will it have degenerated by then?

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  • Stefanie says:

    Hi Joel, I’m late to the party on this one, but I just got some carrot seed oil to give this a try. I have a dilution of essential oils I use for my skin that I added some carrot seed oil to for it’s SPF. The smell was very strong and gave my boyfriend a headache. Even hours later, he was repulsed by it. I was only mildly bothered. I wonder if it’s just something he is sensitive too or I didn’t dilute it enough? It did seem to keep me from burning in the sun though so I’m not quite ready to give it up! What do you recommend for dilution to maintain the SPF benefits, but not stink so much? Thanks!

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  • Susan says:

    I have noticed that ingesting 1 tsp of turmeric paste every day (in tea or added to soup) has made me sunburn proof. I also take 1 cup spinach and Kale every day and I supplement with spirulina and chorella. I tan much faster and resist burning. I keep looking for any published information that can validate my personal discovery. I believe it is the turmeric because I was taking the other supplements and foods first. It was when I added the turmeric that I noticed the ability to discontinue sunscreen.

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