Safe Sun Protection and Natural Health

Safe sun exposure in the modern age is generally accepted to include the application of sun screens or blocks with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15+. As our awareness of the potentially harmful nature of some cosmetic ingredients grows, so does an ever increasing amount of natural and organic labelled sun screen products become available.

What issues should you be concerned about when it comes to safe, natural sun exposure and sun protection creams, lotions and potions?


Phototoxicity and photoallergic skin reactions can make any sun exposure potentially harmful and extremely uncomfortable for sufferers. Both conditions can occur when ultra violet (UV) radiation transforms certain chemicals on the body which then go on to damage and irritate the skin, causing rashes and other reactions. Potentially phototoxic chemicals are found in everyday beauty products including some sunscreens and can include anti-ageing ingredients and perfumes. It’s worth noting that some plant products, foods and essential oils are also known to cause photosensitivity, so if you have a reaction you should pay attention to what you’re wearing on your skin, what you’re putting on your skin and what you’re eating.

Chemical Sunscreens

These sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays and dissipating their energy and need constant reapplication. In addition to being found in dedicated sun protection screens, these chemicals are also added to everyday personal care products such as lipsticks and moisturizers, with some known to cause skin irritations. From an environmental viewpoint, this group of chemicals is seen to be causing significant damage to the coral reefs, with significant amounts of sunscreen found in both freshwater, seawater and marine life (up to a quarter of sunscreen is released into the sea during a 20 minute submersion). Perhaps more worryingly, some researchers are expressing doubt over their ability to protect against skin cancer in the first place, in addition to causing hormone disruption.


Physical barrier creams work by deflecting the sun’s rays and zinc oxide is probably the most well-known of these. A natural ingredient pre-processing, this thick, opaque white paste is difficult to apply and is very visible and so the sunscreen manufacturers have been utilizing nanotechnology to turn this ingredient into a transparent sunblock.

Nanotechnology works by engineering particles down to tiny sizes. The concern over this is that particles become so small, they are absorbed by the skin to deeper levels than when the particles are large, with potentially harmful results. Research into the potential dangers of nanotechnology in personal care and food packaging industries is being undertaken and meanwhile the consensus by the nanotechnology industry and public safety regulators is that the particles do not penetrate skin to the level that they may cause harm.

However, there is some research quoted by Friends of the Earth which indicates there may be health risks involved and as such they have called for full safety testing and labelling of nano-ingredients in sunscreens. They have also produced a guide indicating which products contain nano ingredients and which do not, recommending that the public continues to use non-nano zinc based sunblocks for safe sun protection.

Natural Oil Alternatives

The Ancient Greeks used olive oil as a sunscreen when they felt the sun’s rays were too strong. With a natural sun protection factor of 2, this barrier of oil reflects half of the UV rays back at the sun!

There are other organic oils and butters with in built sun protection values and these include;

  • shea butter (SPF4)
  • sesame oil (SPF4)
  • jojoba oil (SPF4)
  • hemp seed oil (SPF6)
  • coconut oil (SPF2)

Other high value SPF oils are wheatgerm oil (SPF20) and soybean oil (SPF10). Some seed oils are reputed to have extremely high SPF values and these include red raspberry seed oil (SPF between 28-50) ; and carrot seed oil (SPF 38-40).

Before you go rushing off to find some of these oils, SPF ratings are measured in laboratory conditions and there’s no indication that you will achieve the same effect by taking the raw ingredient and applying it to your own body. However, using these natural oils in their raw state or by blending into your own personalized compounds, you will benefit from the other well documented healing and nourishing properties, in addition to obtaining some protection from the sun’s rays without depleting your absorption of Vitamin D.


1. Toxic Beauty, Dawn Mellowship: ISBN 978-1-85675-306-7
Friends of the Earth Nano Project
Red Raspberry Seed Oil
Natural Oils That Contain SPF
Are Sunscreens Safe

Photo by thinkjose


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