Sunscreen is important but there is a lot of controversy surrounding some of the ingredients that you find in traditional formulas. I am going to talk about lots of different types of sunscreen and things you can do to limit the use of them without exposing yourself to the sun more than you should. If you get burned, I have some tips for fast relief and treatment too!
Allergies and Ingredients
We are going to discuss sunscreens that are made of a lot of different things. I advise looking closely at any labels to make sure there are no minute amounts of anything that you are aware of being sensitive to. Some sunscreens may say they are hypoallergenic but you should still look.
Rubbing a small amount of a new sunscreen on a patch of your skin and waiting 30 minutes is a good idea if you are very concerned about potential allergic reactions.
While it may seem like an oil would increase the effect of the sun on your skin, the truth is that coconut oil is tolerated well by a lot of people and unless sweated off it does provide some protection from the sun. It is estimated that coconut oil will block up to 20% of the harmful rays of the sun. You need to be sure to reapply often and it is not going to provide the level of sun protection that a baby sunscreen is but for those that just need a low level of protection or occasional protection it is worth consideration.
If you don’t like the scent of coconut oil you can get the refined version that doesn’t have the typical taste or odor. I recommend buying large containers of coconut oil for the most economical price. You can use it for so many things too!
Coconut oil is also useful in combination with aloe for treating sunburns!
Viva Naturals Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
This is unrefined so it will have the flavor and the scent of coconuts. I think it is pretty pleasant and far better than a lot of sunscreen scents out there.
Carrot Seed Oil
I was amazed to find out that carrot seed oil boasts an SPF of 38-40! It is not inexpensive but it does go a long way. Below is the best deal I could find for you. Like any oil, you can probably get a discount by getting a quart or larger container from a bulk apothecary supplier. Remember that this is going on your skin though and that if a price is too good to be true, it pays to be cautious.
Carrot Seed Carrier Oil Unrefined Organic – Bella Terra Oils
This easy to get oil blocks up to 30% of the suns rays. Out of a lot of the oils that I have researched on this list, this is one of the more affordable ones. It has a slight scent but it is mild enough that it won’t clash with other scents you are wearing.
Banyan Botanicals Sesame Oil
You get a full quart of organic sesame oil for fairly affordably. That is a lot of skin protection. It is also one of those oils that you can use all over your body and hair. Some people use sesame oil for rinsing their teeth and gums. This prevents bad breathe and helps your mouth stay healthy.
Clothing that covers skin but breathes
My husband Matt and I have to work out in the sun a lot. Over the years we have learned that you need loose cotton or linen clothing that covers arms and legs and a good cotton hat that provides some shade for your neck and face. Synthetic fabrics may dry out fast but they can be pretty darn hot so if you can get away with cotton it is better where it is really hot.
Planning your day based on the sun and heat
In really hot climates people get their outside work done as much as possible when it is the cooler parts of the day. Even dinner times are later because let’s be honest, heat can make your appetite less hearty during the hotter parts of the day and if cooking hot meals, it can be unpleasant to cook inside and heat up your home, especially if air conditioning is limited, expensive, or not available at all.
Even in western North Carolina at 3,000 ft elevation, Matt and I try to plan out our day with the heat. We get more done this way and are more comfortable. I might come in and write awhile after a morning in the vineyard. When it starts getting into the 80s or 90s and direct sun, it is time for that or we might go to the woods and work on projects like firewood or mushrooms logs where it is shaded and a bit cooler.
SPF or Skin Protection Factor
The higher the SPF rating the more protection it provides. Those that are very pale or burn easily may use SPF 70-100 even! This is especially true if you are going from a colder climate to a tropical or subtropical one. If you live in a shady or cold place and then take a vacation to the Caribbean or the nearest beach even, you need to be careful. It can take little time to burn. Generally speaking, an SPF of 15 or more is recommended. A lot of products are SPF 30 which is a good number to look for.
Baby sunscreen is not just for babies.
A lot of the very high SPF factor sunscreens are designed with babies and their sensitive skin in mind. If you have sensitive skin or young kids you may want to look for a baby formula. Organic is best for very sensitive skin since there is usually less of a chance of a reaction. Of course, you should always check the ingredients list to see if anything stands out that you or someone in your family is sensitive to.
Natural Based Sunscreen
Natural sunscreens are mostly mineral based and suitable for sensitive skin.
JASON Kids Broad Spectrum SPF 45 Sunscreen
Jason is a brand that I have used successfully in the past. It is hypoallergenic and affordable. Some of the formulas have a scent to them that are stronger than others but all versions are fairly mild. This is a brand that is easy to find at a grocery store.
Alba Botanica Sunscreen Sport Mineral SPF 45
Over the years I have really had to watch what I use on my skin. I have a lot of different issues that we suspect are related to my dad’s exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Watching what I use and sticking to a good skincare regime finally led to in my 30s being able to not have cystic acne breakouts and major skin infections. Alba is really affordable and has been a go-to of mine for awhile. I recommend that anyone try their full line of products. The sunscreen doesn’t break you out and it comes in a lot of formulas to suit the whole family.
So how often do I really need to use sunscreen?
Doctors and skincare specialists like to tell you to use sunscreen all the time. I am a bit skeptical that this is the best option. I know that UV rays can lead to skin cancer but I also know that a lot of skincare products have some pretty nasty stuff in them.
I think how often you need to use sunscreen is something that is unique to you. Don’t let yourself burn but at the same time, I don’t think that you need to use SPF 100 every time you go out the door. Those with darker skin tones usually don’t burn like those with fairer skin tones. Use an SPF level that is suitable for you and your skin tone. If you are really fair skin and going to the beach then use some of that SPF 50-100 but if you are darker then SPF 15-30 is likely adequate for some protection against the worst of the sun’s rays.
Of course, if you are sweating a lot or swimming then you need to apply it more often. How long a sunscreen lasts depends on what exactly you are using. A lot of sport style sunscreens recommend reapplying every 80 minutes. I think that is excessive for most people. I burn fairly easily early in the year and applying once every 4-5 hours using a commercial sports sunscreen seems to be enough.
Real Sun Versus Fake Sun
I cannot tell you how many times I have turned down tanning beds. These seem to be very popular with women even now. I always figured that if I wanted a tan then I could just get it by working outside or catching a rare moment to read a book in the sun.
Tanning beds are not safer than the natural sun. Sure you may have a timer but you are still cooking yourself in the light. Going to a tanning bed once a week is not necessarily any better for you than going out in the sun without sunscreen a few times a week.
Premature Aging Of The Skin
I grew up in a rainy place so tanning beds were popular. Even as a kid I noticed that leathery skin with wrinkles was the result of too much sun or exposure to tanning beds. I started wearing SPF 15 often when I was a teenager after seeing this type of effect. If you want your skin to age a lot faster than nature intended, overexposure to the sun is going to do it.
Working out in the hot sun was why a lot of older people looked so leathery in old pictures. I have a lot of farmers in my background and they had to work hard. A good hat and covering up helped but working that much in the hot sun with no sunscreen definitely took its toll and it is apparent in those pictures from way back.
Is there a history of skin cancer in your family?
If any close relatives like siblings, parents, or grandparents have experienced skin cancer or had to undergo removal of any moles or skin growths, you need to be careful yourself when it comes to exposure to the sun. Any sudden changes in moles or skin sores that don’t seem to go away should be looked at by a doctor. If something is caught early on, there is a greater chance that it can be taken care of more easily and not lead to a more serious condition.
Sunscreens To Avoid
While researching I came up with a list of brands that seem to get pointed out a lot for containing harmful ingredients and overall performance. A lot of these are the ones that are the most common at grocery and convenience stores. These are some of the worst brands according to The Environmental Working Group. Follow the link to find a more specific list and see how your favorite sunscreen stacks up to others. You can sort by best to worst too!
- Banana Boat
- Up & Up
- Sea & Ski
- Panama Jack
- Store Brands like Ozark Trail, CVS, ect.
- Some luxury brands like Murad and Peter Thomas Roth! Just because it is designer and costs more doesn’t mean it is any safer or better!
Best Widely Available Sunscreen On A Budget
The Environmental Working Group also knows that sunscreen can be expensive. If you are on a budget and at a regular store, these are the sunscreens that are best in terms of quality and safety of ingredients as well as effectiveness.
AVEENO Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Lotion Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50
Babyganics Pure Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50
Bare Republic SPF30 Clearscreen Gel
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen – Baby Sunscreen SPF 30+
Treating A Sunburn
Sunburns happen a lot, unfortunately. If you forget to apply sunscreen or if you get caught out without it, you can get a burn fast! While most sunburns are fairly mild and go away fast, they can be very serious and painful. If you fall asleep in the sun without protection, the results are not pretty.
When it comes to treating a sunburn I use aloe vera. Aloe is so easy to grow and soothing for any skin irritation. If you buy aloe vera gel, try to get the pure gel that does not have dyes and other unnecessary things added. Some preservatives are necessary for gels that are kept outside of the fridge. Keeping a sunburn moisturized with aloe promotes healing and prevents some or all of the feeling that you might expect otherwise.
Remember to treat a sunburn or overexposure immediately! Just like a burn you get while cooking, the sooner you get it cooled off and treated, the less damage and pain you will have to deal with later!
USDA Organic Aloe Vera Gel by Seven Minerals
This is your best alternative to growing your own. It has to be refrigerated if you want it to keep well. This is really 100% aloe vera with nothing added.
FUN FACT: Aloe vera also helps protect skin from the sun by blocking up to 20% of rays. While I would not use it as my only sunscreen when out working, it is good to know that it can help out.
Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel
Fruit of the Earth is the brand I used often before we started growing our own aloe. It does have some preservatives but I have never had any reactions to them. You don’t have to keep this in the fridge but it is more soothing if you do. If you are on a budget this is a hard one to pass up. I like that you can get it in smaller 6 oz sizes but also really large pump dispensers if you want to use aloe a lot or have a big family.
Cool Compresses Soothe Pain and Irritation
Using an ice pack or a cold wet towel can help soothe your skin after exposure to the sun. Just make sure to use clean towels and ice packs. A sunburn is a raw and tender place that can be susceptible to bacteria. Towels are notorious for harboring bacteria, especially when used more than once.
Rehydrate Your Body
If you are burned by the sun, this draws liquid from your body. Drinking water and drinks with electrolytes in them can help you recover. Of course, that also means you should make sure to drink plenty of water while out in the sun too! Drier skin is easier to get a burn on.