According to interesting info I receive from coconutresearchcenter.org, they claim that coconut oil is the original suntan/sunscreen lotion. It amazes me how many uses there are for health in regards to coconut oil, but with regard to sunscreen, generally sunscreens we use have chemicals like oxybenzone, that disrupt the hormone system and certainly are not good for children (unless listed as organic). This may be a great alternative to try the next time you are in the sun.
They explain that people living on islands have been using it for this purpose for generations. When sunscreen lotions were first sold commercially the main ingredient was coconut oil. Over time, however, coconut oil was replaced with chemical sun blocking agents.
Sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor or SPF, which is a measure of how much UV radiation is blocked. SPF numbers usually range from 15 to 100. The higher the SPF number, the greater the effect. You might think that an SPF of 30 to be twice as good as an SPF of 15 and that an SPF of 60 is twice as good as SPF 30, and so on. But that is not how it works. An SPF of 15 blocks about 94 percent of the UV radiation, an SPF or 30 blocks 97 percent, and an SPF of 45 blocks about 98 percent. SPF values above this are really meaningless.
Coconut oil is a proven sunscreen that is still used by millions of people in the tropics as their sole source of protection from sunburn and skin cancer.
How does it compare to commercial lotions? In India the oil is a popular lotion used for this and other purposes. A group of Indian researchers set out to find the answer to this question. They measured and compared the ability of various edible oils in absorbing or blocking the transmission of UV radiation. The oils they tested included coconut, peanut, castor, sunflower, sesame, olive, cod liver, and neem seed oils. The oils that blocked the most UV radiation (40 percent or more) were neem seed, sunflower, sesame, and cod liver oils. Cod liver oil was the most effective, blocking up to 90 percent. In contrast, the other four oils blocked less than 40 percent. Next to castor oil, coconut oil allowed the greatest penetration, blocking only about 20 percent of the UV light.1
Judging from this study, the SPF of coconut oil would probably be rated very low. At least lower than most other oils and especially lower than sunscreen lotions. While at first glance this study seems to question the usefulness of coconut oil as an effective sunscreen lotion, but in reality it shows its superiority.
SPF essentially measures how much UV radiation is blocked. When you block these natural wavelengths you can cause more harm than good. Getting adequate natural sunlight is beneficial and healing. Sunlight helps balance hormones and is necessary for the production of vitamin D.
Vitamin D has been gaining a lot of attention in the scientific community in recent years and for good reason. Vitamin D is necessary for the formation of healthy, strong bones and for the prevention of osteoporosis, rickets, and osteomalacia. It is essential for proper immune function and is needed to help fight off infections, inhibit the development of autoimmune diseases (diabetes, lupus, MS, etc.), and block the formation of cancer. In addition, vitamin D helps regulate blood sugar levels, moderate blood pressure, ease chronic inflammation, helps prevent dementia, and can even ease risks associated with exposure to radiation.
Unlike other vitamins, vitamin D is produced by the action of UV rays from sunlight interacting with cholesterol in our skin. There are very few good dietary sources of vitamin D. The best sources are organ meats, particularly liver. If you don’t eat liver or fish liver oils then you must get your vitamin D from sunlight. Unless you regularly eat organ meats, it is impossible to get enough vitamin D from food alone. Dietary supplements are a poor substitute for natural sources of vitamin D, and usually do not provide an adequate amount to satisfy needs. Therefore, sunlight is your best option.
Consequently, most of us are vitamin D deficient. Many of the health problems people battle with nowadays are either caused by or at least intensified by a vitamin D deficiency. Simply getting more exposure to sunlight could make a very significant difference in many people’s health.
This problem has been compounded by an obsessive fear of skin cancer which has been drilled into us by the medical community and sunscreen marketers. We are continually warned to avoid getting too much sun and always put on protection when we do. It is wise to avoid getting sunburned, but not to avoid the sun altogether as many people seem to do. If you put on sunscreen, you block out the UV rays needed for vitamin D formation. With sunscreen covering your body, you can bask in the sunshine for hours and produce little vitamin D.
Coconut oil protects the body from sunburn and skin cancer without blocking the beneficial UV radiation. Coconut oil doesn’t rely on blocking out the sun’s rays, it works by preventing free-radical reactions which lead to all the consequences caused by overexposure to the sun. So the SPF number of coconut oil is meaningless.
If you live in a climate that is cool during the winter, you probably do not get much exposure to sunlight for a good part of the year. If you’ve been indoors for six months and immediately go out in your swimsuit on a sunny day, your skin will be very sensitive to the sun even if you put coconut oil on. You need to “season” your skin before spending too much time in the sun at the beginning of summer. The way you season your skin is to rub a thin layer of coconut oil over all your uncovered skin, go in to the sun for 15-30 minutes, just long enough for your skin to become faintly pink, but no longer. Repeat this process in the next day or two, staying out five or 10 minutes longer. Repeat again staying out a little longer each time. After about two weeks or so, your skin will be seasoned enough to stay outdoors for hours with a single coating of coconut oil.
Reference Sobhana, T., et al. Ultraviolet transmission through a few edible oils in the context of changing solar insolation. J Ind Geophys Union 2004;8:267-271.