Summer often means more outdoor fun time and more time spent slathering on sunscreen to block ultraviolet (UV) light of various wavelengths. Many of us pick a sunscreen based of its sun protection factor (SPF), which reveals a product’s ability to block UVB, a shorter wavelength UV most often linked to skin cancer. The longer wavelength UVA wreaks its own kind of havoc and “…also increases the damaging effects of UVB, including skin cancer…”. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using a “…sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection”.
Sunscreen manufacturers use a fairly small set of chemicals to provide UV protection. These chemicals absorb and/or reflect the UV light of interest. Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, 3-octanyl salicylate, and oxybenzone are popular choices, being used solo – or in combination – to limit our skin’s exposure to UVA and/or UVA.
The SPF of coconut oil is about 7.1. This oil’s ability to absorb UV also appears to decrease with increasing wavelength, i.e. it’s probably not providing good protection against UVA. While coconut oil is popular ingredient in commercial sunscreens, it’s not the ingredient doing the hard work.
Take for instance Alba Botanica‘s Natural Hawaiian Dry Oil Sunscreen, advertised to have a SPF of 15. This product’s active ingredients homosalate, ethylhexyl salicylate (also known as 3-octanyl salicylate), and octocrylene are providing most of the defense, rather than the oil ingredients such as coconut oil.
What about a sunscreen you’d make yourself? This “natural homemade sunscreen” recipe, which lists coconut oil and almond or olive oil as ingredients, isn’t getting its purported SPF of 20 from those oils. Olive olive has a SPF of about 7.5, while almond’s is around 4.7. Where could the SPF of 20 be coming from? A classic blocker of UVA and UVB – zinc oxide.
The most popular oils – olive, almond, peppermint, tea tree, lemon, orange, and coconut – simply don’t provide a good level of UV protection. It’s best to conserve that coconut oil for cooking a delicious curry and use better suited chemicals to protect your skin.