Summer is almost here! There’s no reason to ever leave the house without sunscreen, as even the most minimal ultraviolet rays can cause damage, but there doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all solution. You wouldn’t wear the same clothes to the beach as you do to run errands, so why would you use the same sunscreen? In addition to sunscreen, here are a few natural options that have got you SPF-covered for all occasions.
1. Green tea
For a light sunscreen, you can just dab an extra-strong brew on with a cotton ball like you would an astringent or make this cooling body spray. Since the tea contains caffeine, it has an added bonus of firming your skin and reducing puffiness around your eyes.
Because it’s so cleansing and non-greasy, dabbing green tea is awesome for a daily sunblock when you aren’t planning on direct sun exposure for more than a few minutes. Because it is high in antioxidants, particularly the free radical-neutralizing kind, green tea can actually reverse some of the effects of sun damage, like inflammation and loss of skin elasticity [source].
The caffeine actually works as a booster for the photoprotective activity of any sunscreen you use, as well [source]. Try adding a glass of iced green tea in the afternoon for a booster: green tea works from the inside out, too!
2. Coconut, almond, and olive oils
Using an oil to protect your skin seems counterintuitive at first, but some household plant-based oils actually contain elements that aid your skin’s sun protection [source]. Of the more common household oils, coconut, almond, and olive oil all share an SPF of between 2 and 7 and block out about 20% of UV rays [source].
I tend to get eczema breakouts on my arms during the summer, and avocado oil, with its natural SPF of 4–15, knocks it right off in a day or two. It also has antioxidant, anti-aging effects that combat sun-damage and, like all of the plant oils, helps skin to repair itself [source].
Since the SPF numbers are so low, however, these oils aren’t really appropriate to substitute for sunscreen—try them instead as a moisturizing shower oil for an added protective boost, particularly under light summer clothing.
To DIY your own natural sunscreen with these oils, mix equal parts of your chosen natural oil (organic if possible) with cocoa butter or shea butter and beeswax in a pan over low heat. Stir until it’s thoroughly blended, pour the mixture into a container and let it cool. Once it’s hardened at room temperature, you’re ready to go!
3. Raspberry oil
There seems to be an exception to the oil rule, however. According to a paper published in 2000, it appears that raspberry oil naturally has an SPF of about 28–50 for blocking UV-B waves (which are the wavelengths of ultraviolet light that cause more damage to skin cells), and a factor of between 6.75 and 7.5 sun protection for UV-A [source].
The article goes on to state that this oil could possibly “act as a broad-spectrum UV protectant.” This is because the vitamin A, vitamin E, and fatty acids in these natural oils are found at just the right balance to protect against harmful UV rays.
The main advantage of these plant-based compounds, however, is the protection by carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, and many other natural compounds that work as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to mitigate damage caused by the sun’s harmful rays [source]. In particular, red raspberry extract has been shown to prevent cell death caused by UV-B rays and protects against skin injury “manifested by wrinkling, scaling, tanning, and water loss as well as epidermal thickening [source].”
Since these oils in their different forms have not been tested to the degree that commercial sunscreens have, it is best to use them in situations with more indirect light and not when you are planning to be at the beach in direct sunlight all day (which we don’t recommend anyway).
4. Zinc oxide
So you remember in old family photos when everyone had white patches on their faces for beach day? That’s zinc oxide.
You can buy zinc oxide as a powder at Whole Foods. Try mixing in a tablespoon with a face lotion or homemade lip balm, and you’re ready for the rays. It’s a great hardcore sunblock and perfect for babies or fair skin.
When I’m surfing with a wetsuit and know I’m going to be out in the water for a long time, this is my go-to. I am just a little too vain to rock the mime look, though—I mix in loose foundation powder to make it less noticeable.
5. Internal sun protection foods
There are actually foods you can eat before you go in the sun to increase your own natural sun protection and add an extra little boost to your topical sunscreen.
Watermelon, papaya, and pink grapefruit contain carotenoids that act as the plant’s own sunblock, as do beets, carrots, tomatoes, and red bell peppers [source]. Pomegranates protect you from UV rays by strengthening your skin’s outer layers. Ready for fruit salad and gazpacho, anyone?
Finally, just staying hydrated helps produce natural moisture to protect your skin and restore your own cooling mechanisms.
What’s been your choice for natural sunscreen? Do you switch it up depending on where you’ll be?
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Gina Jansheski, a licensed, board-certified physician who has been practicing for more than 20 years. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical review board here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Photos by Ana Stanciu21