Protection from the sun with the right natural products.

The days are longer, the weather is getting warmer and people are gearing up for fun in the sun. While barbeques and trips to the beach are good ways to spend a summer day, sunscreen is needed to protect the skin from burns, premature aging and cancer. 

Trade In Traditional
Traditional sunscreens are made with chemicals. Because no single chemical can block all ultraviolet rays (UVR), traditional sunscreens contain more than one active ingredient most of which  only block the rays responsible for sunburn, UVB (1).

One active ingredient in many traditional sunscreens is oxybenzone. What has been called into question by some media reports what it does to the human body once it is absorbed. In a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, oxybenzone was found in the urine of 97% of test subjects. The presence of oxybenzone in pregnant women has been correlated with low birth weights, as oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor. It also may cause skin allergies and sensitivities.

While studies have shown that adults don’t absorb enough of the chemical through their skin to cause any concern, kids may be another story. Leslie Baumann, M.D., director of the Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute in Miami Beach, Fl, says, “Oxybenzone has low acute toxicity in animal studies, yet little is known about its chronic toxicity and disposition after its topical application in people. For this reason, sunscreens containing this agent are not recommended for use in children” (2).

Another additive in some sunscreens is a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate, which has anti-aging properties. A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that retinyl palmitate, in combination with the sun, increases cancer risks in rats.

Natural Sunscreens
To err on the side of caution, one may choose to use a natural sunblock. Two popular active ingredients used in natural sunblocks are titanium oxide and zinc oxide. Titanium oxide is reflective, nonallergenic and doesn’t cause or worsen acne. Zinc oxide absorbs UVA rays, is a mild antimicrobial, benefits wounds and also doesn’t exacerbate or cause acne (3). Neither substance is absorbed into the skin, which makes them safe, but they can leave a tell-tale layer of white on the skin.

Some formulators use nanotechnology to break titanium and zinc oxide into tiny particles so that they no longer leave white residue, but there are safety concerns surrounding nanoparticles; the main concern is absorption by the human body, as the tiny particles may penetrate the skin. After reviewing research, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the nanoparticles did not penetrate unbroken skin at concentrations higher than 1.5% (4). Long-term safety information is not available, however.

Another active ingredient found in natural sunscreens is red raspberry seed oil. Red raspberry seed oil is rich in vitamins A and E, as well as other antioxidants. Along with its moisturizing, emollient and anti-inflammatory properties, it offers skin protection against UV rays, with an SPF rating as high as 28–50 (5).

Natural sunscreens may also contain beneficial ingredients such as sunflower oil, which is lightweight and rich in vitamin E; shea butter, which has a high content of antioxidants and vitamins A and E; cocoa butter, which soothes dry skin and locks in moisture; jojoba oil, which nourishes the skin because of its similarity to the oils found on human skin; and beeswax, which helps seal moisture in and is often used as a natural thickening agent (6).

Taking Care of the After-Effects
If you have already been overexposed to the sun and are suffering from a painful burn, aftercare products may alleviate some of the discomfort as well as help lessen sun damage.

One of the most well-known post-burn remedies is aloe. Aloe is said to have anti-inflammatory effects, as well as hydrating properties.

Cucumbers are rich in antioxidants and have analgesic properties, which make them popular for use on sunburns. It is recommended that the cucumber is chilled; the coolness restricts capillaries, which reduces inflammation (7).

Another alternative for aftercare is oligomeric proanthocyanidins, or OPCs. They are rich in antioxidants and are found in green tea, grape seed, pine bark, turmeric and in woody parts of plants. OPCs work by neutralizing free radicals (unstable molecules from UV exposure that cause cellular damage) (8). WF

1. Skin Cancer Foundation,, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
2. N. Zevola, “Skin Care Ingredients and Supplements Pregnant or Nursing Women Should Not Use,”, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
3. “What to Look for in a Sunscreen,”, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
4. Aubrey Organics,, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
5. Natural Source, “Red Raspberry Seed Oil,”, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
6. W.S. Badger Company,, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
7. C. Bailey, “Best Natural Sunburn Treatment Remedies,” July 24, 2012,, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.
8. “Anti-Oxidants, OPCs and Natural Skin Care,”, accessed Apr. 3, 2013.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, June 2013