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The Secrets to Effective Natural Sun Protection: Part I

The Sun Conundrum 

Natural sun protection is becoming a more popular topic and is something that we have discussed previously on our blog due to its importance. Today, I am going to delve a bit deeper into the steps that can be taken to protect your skin, while basking in the sun.

It has become evident that our central star—the sun, is a confusing beast to say the very least. It’s not only the centre of our solar system, it sustains life on this planet in a myriad of ways, and is the only way we humans can naturally synthesize the ever critical, vitamin D. However, the helium radiation it emits which is comprised of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the form of UVA, UVB, and UVC (mostly absorbed by the ozone layer) are responsible for various kinds of skin damage ranging from rapid aging, sagging, mild to severe burning and worst yet, skin cancer—especially in those who are fair skinned and rate low on the Fitzpatrick scale.   

Moreover, the current methods for skin protection are a bit of a double-edged sword. Most modern sun screens are chalked full of ingredients that, although effective, may be questionable in terms of overall safety. These ingredients include: oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate, homsalate, parabens and phthalates to name a few. So, what exactly is a health conscious person to do when it comes to safely interacting with our central star’s rays? 

Well, the answer is not easy per se, but simple once broken down, so here I go! 

Let’s start with sunscreen, seeing it is the most common way to mitigate the damaging effects of the sun. Again, although gaining popularity, many are not aware that effective natural sun screens even exist, let alone work. The active ingredient in these sun screens is usually a non nanosized zinc oxide, meaning its particle size has not been altered and will stay on the skin to reflect the UV rays, as opposed to being absorb directly into the skin. It’s often forgotten that the skin is our biggest organ; thus, anything you put on it absorbs, which is why it’s so important to stay away from chemical based skin care products. What goes on—always goes in. That said, the issue most people have with zinc oxide sun screens is that they leave a heavy white film on the skin after application due to the zinc particles. When someone is lower on the Fitzpatrick scale, it’s not much of an issue, but when someone has noticeable pigment, fun in the sun comes with looking like you have been dipped in baby powder. That said, the natural cosmetic world has come a long way, so let’s take a look at what’s available.

One of the first companies to really formulate a truly “clean” sun screen was Badger. They have a large array of sunscreens and outdoor products, and of course plenty of care products for a little human. Even better, is that they just came up with a “clear” zinc oxide sunscreen. Generally, their products are heavier in weight and fairly white, but not too oily. They also have the cutest branding! Their SPFs range from 15-35. 

Another company that has been making clean sunscreen are our friends at Green Beaver. They paved the way for clean formulation many years ago, and are Canadian. They also have SPFs as high as 40 and also have spray options as well. Their sunscreens are a little less white, but tend to be on the oilier side, so better for those with dry skin. The oil will eventually absorb, so if one is patient, this sunscreen is a wonderful option. 

Derma E makes an excellent sunscreen. They just recently underwent a full re-brand, so their packaging looks great and their formulas seem better than ever. They have two sunscreen options at SPF 30, one for body and one for the face. I use the one for body on my tattoos because it’s light, absorbs, and it’s not white! Their face option is oil free, so even better for some, but comes in a small size, so will run out quickly if being applied over a large surface area.

There is a newer formulation that is popping up called Think Sport.

It’s very well formulated, has an SPF of 50, designed for water sports and uses the power of plant oils that are deemed to have natural SPF for additional benefit. However, it does use a dairy derived ingredient; thus, may not be suitable for those with allergies, etc. 

All of these sunscreens are deemed safe for our oceans, lakes and rivers as well.

A Word About SPF 

“SPF is not an amount of protection per se. Rather, it indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden without the product. For instance, someone using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will take 15 times longer to redden than without the sunscreen. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50, 98 percent. The Skin Cancer Foundation maintains that SPFs of 15 or higher are necessary for adequate everyday protection. For more extended or intense sun exposure, the Foundation recommends SPFs of 30 or higher.” Skin Cancer Foundation

Do Natural Plants Oils Have an Effective SPF? 

This has certainly become a topic of discussion as people strive for more holistic approaches to health and beauty, and seeing I am all about raw plant oils for skin, I wanted to offer some context for their use. Although there has been very little research conducted on plant oils’ SPF, there has been enough to establish an approximate baseline for protection, seeing these oils have not actually been tested and licensed with an official SPF rating.

A 2009 study established that the oils of almond, avocado, coconut, olive, and sesame, and have been reported to have UV filters that range from two to eight. Of all the oils studied, olive oil offered the highest level of protection. They also studied essential oils and established that they too have an SPF. Peppermint and tulsi (holy basil) oil rated the highest, while lavender, orange and eucalyptus successively rated a bit lower. The only issue with the latter findings is that it’s never recommended to wear citrus based essential oils in the sun, seeing they make the skin photosensitive (prone to more damage), although they offer an SPF.  See data below: 

Table 3

Spectrophotometrically calculated sun protection factor values of herbal oils

Now although these numbers are not high, they have been established, but only protect us from UVB rays with SPFs that are all lower than 15; thus, fall short in many ways. However, what if I told you there was an oil that not only protected the skin from both UVA and UVB, but offered a possible SPF as high as 50? Would you say I was telling an outlandish tale? Well, it’s a true story and there is evidence to prove it! This magical wonder is known as red raspberry seed oil and in 2001 Oomah et al., established that it may act as broad-spectrum UV protectant and provide protection from both UVA and UVB. This is very important, seeing UVA penetrates deeper into the skin’s layers and is now being associated with mutagenic effects. The optical transmission effect of raspberry seed oil, especially the UV range (290-400nm) was comparable to that of titanium dioxide preparations, with SPF values ranging from 28-50. Moreover, I consider this oil a super food, seeing it’s packed to the brim with vitamins (E and A), antioxidants, essential fats, and pigments. It’s used in skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, burns, skin lesions and rashes, reduces oxidative damage to the skin and is a powerful anti-inflammatory, with immense anti-aging effects. Because raspberry oil has not been officially tested and licensed for an SPF, along with the aforementioned oils, it’s not recommended that one rely solely on these oils for effective sun protection—especially when one rates low on the Fitzpatrick scale. However, due to their high spreadability, dense nutrient profiles, and water-resistant properties, it’s suggested that they be used in tandem with the above sunscreens to pump up the overall sun protection, while keeping your skin hydrated, nourished and beautiful. For example, I feel my BFF rates closer to -0.5 on the Fitzpatrick scale due to how fair she is, and remarkably started burning much less often, with less severity once she started using both raspberry oil and natural 30 SPF sunscreen. Mind you, this is just anecdotal (her personal experience), but as long as she reapplies both oil and sunscreen frequently while chilling in the sun (in tandem with proper shade breaks), exposure to it is less painful overall. Her skin does become quite red; however, but it calms down once she is back indoors and in most cases, there is no burn the next day. Again, this is not to say that this combination for someone like my BFF will completely abate burning, but it does seem to drastically reduce it in general. Remember, consistent reapplication, shade and trying to avoid UV reflection from water is key if you are anything like my BFF. 

As with any new skin regime, you would start with a patch test of a chosen carrier oil and possible essential oil on your ankle or wrist, apply sunscreen and then see if you react whilst in the sun. This can often take up to 5 days to establish, so be patient and pay close attention to your patch area. If there is no reaction, then apply the oil or combination right after the shower, while the skin is still damp. This helps with glide and absorbability. Once absorbed, apply your sunscreen of choice. Please refer to my previous blog, Time to Go “Oil” Out for Your Skin to learn the ins and outs of how to use raw oils on your skin. 

Now, my beloved raspberry seed oil is a pretty penny, but worth its weight in gold. Our friends over at Rae Dunphy Aromatics have the highest quality raspberry oil you can find, along with every carrier and essential oil your heart could possibly desire. They are located in Calgary as well! Many oils—especially raspberry oil, are extracted using hexane, but Rae’s COA confirms that it’s cold pressed and free of all solvents and water processes for extraction. Myself and my entire family have been using their raspberry oil (and entire cosmetic line) for years and have no intention of stopping. For more information, please check out their website.

Although I feel that we have successfully delved into the secrets of sun protection, there is still much more to say on the topic, so please stay tuned for Part II: Sun Protection from Within.


 Saraf, Swarnlata, and Chanchaldeep Kaur. “In Vitrosun Protection Factor Determination of Herbal Oils Used in Cosmetics.” Pharmacognosy Research, vol. 2, no. 1, 2010, p. 22., doi:10.4103/0974-8490.60586. 

Oomah, et al. “Characteristics of Raspberry (Rubus Idaeus L.) Seed Oil.” Food Chemistry, vol. 69, no. 2, 2000, pp. 187–193., doi:10.1016/s0308-8146(99)00260-5.

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