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.
Quick disclaimer – I am required to clearly state that I am not a licensed medical professional nor do I pretend to be one on this site. Take what I write as a launching off point to do your own research. My advice, experience, and suggestions are not to be considered medical advice.
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 skin 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 skin. 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 skin 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 skin, 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. Housing and clothing have afforded us much protection, and our lipid layer has become somewhat expendable. Human sebum has a tendency to oxidize to a brownish hue, much like earwax. It is the “ring around the collar.” Sebum has a sunblock action estimated to be about SPF 6–8. Its removal may lead to cleaner collars, but it leaves the skin at higher risk for sun damage. The sun can cause skin damage on bald spots, which are sebum poor. The incidence of skin cancer on the head and face is high in North America. So is the use of soap and shampoo. Are they causally related? Sun damage in the child may be more severe than in the adult. Is this due in part to the absence of sebum in the preadolescent? My advice: wash with cool water, minimize or eliminate the use of soap, and wear a hat!
So after reading the links and information above you are pretty convinced that sunscreen and sunblocks are not the way to go, right? 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?
Slather on the COCONUT OIL!
Yes, that’s right. Get your body greased up and ready for the sun by simply using coconut oil, preferably from my affiliate partner Tropical Traditions!
According to Dr. Bruce Fife of the Coconut Research Center, “one of the oldest uses for coconut oil is as a sun screen / suntan lotion. Islanders have been using coconut oil for this purpose for thousands of years. In the tropics where the climate is hot, islanders traditionally wore little clothing so that they could keep themselves cool. To protect themselves from the burning rays of the hot tropical sun they applied a thin layer of coconut oil over their entire body. This would protect them from sunburn, improve skin tone and help keep annoying insects away. Coconut oil was applied on the skin daily. When a mother gave birth one of the first things she would do is to rub coconut oil all over her newborn. Every day coconut oil would be used on the skin. As the children got older they applied the oil themselves. They would continue this practice throughout their lifetime up until the day they died. Many islanders, even today, carry on this practice.”
The first commercial suntan and sun screen lotions contained coconut oil as their primary ingredient. Even today many sun screen lotions include coconut oil in their formulas. Coconut oil has an amazing ability to heal the skin and block the damaging effects of UV radiation from the sun. One of the reasons why it is so effective in protecting the skin is its antioxidant properties, which helps prevent burning and oxidative damage that promotes skin cancer.
The general consensus in the natural health community is to apply coconut oil liberally being mindful that it will not prevent sunburn 100%. Follow the guidelines above to build your base suntan and wear protective clothing when possible. Reapply the coconut oil after swimming or sweating. And do not sit out in full sun for 8 hours and expect to walk away with a perfect bronzed body. It won’t happen. You will get burned.
I have used coconut oil as sun protection for the past four summers. This summer will be my fifth. I apply it before going outside to any part of me that will be exposed. I often find myself outside during “peak” hours. I hate protective clothing. So lots of me is exposed with nothing but coconut oil on. I do take care to only say out for an hour or two and if I will be out longer, I add in carrot seed oil and red raspberry seed oil that I find a good deal on from my affiliate partner Amazon. You can learn why in this post. I have not burned once in the past four years. I use to always burn despite how high of an SPF protection I used. Hmmmm….
If you want the exact recipe I use for sunscreen, check out this post.
Still not convinced that it will work? Check out this great pictorial from someone who accidentally discovered how effective coconut oil is as a sunscreen.