Natural SPF Oils: Can You Use Natural Oils as Sunscreen?

Summertime has finally rolled around, which means that everyone and their gran is looking for an all-natural way to stay safe in the sun. And we do love our naturally occurring oils here, so it’s not much surprise that people have turned to oils taken from things like carrots and raspberry seeds for some extra sun protection.

In fact, some people are so confident in the supposed sun protection abilities of these oils that they’re willing to ditch every last bottle of drugstore sunscreen and lather on some oil instead. But can we really count on oils from stuff you’d usually find in your garden to protect us from harsh UV lights?

Seriously good question. And one that deserves a full-on answer. So here goes…

Which Oils (are Said to) Have Natural SPF?

First of all, we have to take a closer look into some of the oils in question. There’s been a number of different oils thrown around as the perfect natural sunscreen, and most of them have been claimed to have an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of their very own.

Like any new trend, we definitely have our superstars.

There’s raspberry seed oil, which is said to have an SPF of 30-50. To put this in perspective, SPFs of just 30 can block up to 96% of all UV rays- more than enough protection to last you the whole day.

On a more subdued note- but still freaking awesome- carrot oil is proclaimed to have an SPF of around 38 to 40.

And dwindling a little bit behind, you have your coconut oil at SPF 8. Considering most of us already have coconut oil at home that we use to moisturize, cook our eggs in, and even to help boost eyelash growth, you may be tempted to use it in lieu of sunscreen. But is it a good idea?

Can These Natural Oils Replace Sunscreen?

At face value, the natural SPF of the first two oils is pretty outstanding. Natural oils with SPFs over 30? Wonderful. Add to that the fact that natural oils are ridiculous easy to spread (no missed spots!), immensely nourishing and come with a range of skin benefits sans toxins – and it’s no wonder this sparked a cascade of homemade sunscreen recipes.

But while we don’t want to be the pooper in this natural sunscreen party – we do want to point out the fact that these natural oils have not gone through much testing to verify the SPF or even to determine whether they suffice as adequate sun protection.

The only real research verifying the purported SPF of raspberry seed oil is a study published in Food Chemistry in 2000 that reports that “raspberry seed oil showed absorbance in the UV-B and UV-C ranges with potential for use as a broad spectrum UV protectant.

The optical transmission of raspberry seed oil, especially in the UV range (290±400 nm) was comparable to that of titanium dioxide preparations with sun protection factor for UVB (SPF) and protection factor for UV-A (PFA) values between 28±50 and 6.75±7.5, respectively (Kobo Products Inc., South Plain®eld, NJ).

The above sounds promising, but again, it’s only one study and the “potential” still stands to be tested and verified.

And what about carrot seed oil with its purported SPF of 38 to 40? Well, this one’s even tricksier – turns out this notion of carrot seed oil having natural SPF is based on a study not of carrot seed oil’s SPF, but of a sunscreen product containing extracts of carrot, symplocos (sweetleaf) and wheat germ. The product in question also contains zinc oxide, which is most likely the result of this product’s SPF – not carrot extract.

As for the actual SPF of carrot seed oil – there are no reliable sources or studies measuring this.

So, wait – does this mean there is no such thing as natural SPF oils?

Well, no. As one study demonstrated, there are several natural oils with SPF values. The thing is, though, the SPF for these oils range between 1 to 8 – and an SPF of 8 really doesn’t do much in protecting you from the sun.

…the SPF value of olive oil and coconut oil was found to be around 8; castor oil, around 6; almond oil, around 5; mustard oil and chaulmoogra oil, around 3; and sesame oil, around 2. Hence it can be concluded that olive oil and coconut oil have the best SPF values, a finding that will be helpful in the selection of fixed oil during the formulation of sunscreens. (Pharmacognosy Res. 2010 Jan-Feb; 2(1): 22–25)

For a full guide to SPFs, you can check out our guide to safe sunscreens, but in short – if you’re planning on having a proper day out on the beach then you’re best off with an SPF 30 and 15 SPF could work as a bare minimum. This, of course, means that even the best SPF natural oils (i.e. coconut oil) still a big red, ‘UNSAFE’ sticker for prolonged sun exposure.

The Bright Side to Using Natural Oils for Sun Protection

But wait – don’t dismiss natural oils just yet.

While natural oils aren’t a replacement for sunscreen, the good news is that they come with a heap of skin benefits like essential fatty acids and anti-oxidants, which offer protection against oxidative stress that keeps your body from doing its job properly, as well as fighting off the pesky free radicals that tend to come with lengthy sun exposure.

Raspberry seed oil in particular contains something called ellegic acid which is actually capable of preventing damage to our precious collagen – the stuff that keeps our skin tight. Also, coincidentally, the stuff that UV rays have made an arch nemesis out of.

Carrot oil, on the other hand, is widely known as an anti-septic and used as an alternative remedy for cuts and bruises. And despite having a less-than-satisfactory SPF, coconut oil is just kind of awesome. It’s a natural moisturizer, works as an anti-septic, and can give a boost to your skin’s natural healing powers.

Even plain ole’ olive oil – which most of us have in our kitchens – contains a bit of natural SPF and was shown in an animal study to effectively reduce UVB-induced skin tumors.

The Bottom Line on Natural SPF Oils

Now that I’ve sung some praises, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. In all honesty, natural oils are not adequate as replacements for sunscreen.

Especially when it’s not like we’re starving out here – there are great options for chemical-free, natural sunscreens that use physical sunscreen filters like zinc and titanium oxide which effectively protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.

Be sun smart and use these lovely antioxidant-laden natural oils to help protect your skin against the free radical damage that comes with UV radiation. Slather them on before you go out in the sun, as an after-sun moisturizer, or an add-in to your sunblocks to give your natural suncreens a boost so you get an actual sunblock and an extra dose of antioxidant skin protection – just don’t use them as a stand-in for sunscreen. 

Leave a Comment:

1 comment
Rosemary says January 5, 2017

Hi Ellie
As an organic chemist,may I kindly point out your article on natural oils as sunscreen has some fundamental errors. You say that “To put this in perspective, SPFs of just 30 can block up to 96% of all UV rays- more than enough protection to last you the whole day.” This is unfortunately inaccurate. SPF of 30 does Not block 96% of ALL UV rays. There are two types of UV rays that reach our atmosphere and which sunscreens protect against. They are UV A and UV B rays.
SPF is a measurement factor against only UVB rays. So a number on SPF scale only tells you how much protection you are getting from UV B rays. The product may or may not contain protection against UV A but a SPF number will not tell how how much if any protection you are getting against UV A rays.
Another very important point to note is that except for Red Raspberry seed oil, most plant seed oils that you mention in your article for example carrot seed oil and coconut seed oil provide no protection against UV A rays, they only protect against UV B rays which is stated as per the SPF number. So it is very inaccurate to state that plant seed oils that have SPF number provide protection against all UV rays.

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