8 Natural Alternatives to Sunscreen

FTC Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This post (paid) links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that was recommended. See full Disclosure and Disclaimer here.

There is an ever-growing movement towards natural skincare and nature-based products, including utilizing natural alternatives to sunscreen. Most people are aware of sun damage when it comes to skin, as well as the potential risks for skin cancer due to excessive sun exposure. Therefore, sunscreen is a common application to the skin as a preventive measure against these dangers. Yet most commercial sunscreen is chemical-based, leading many to search for natural alternatives.

So, what are some natural alternatives to sunscreen? Eight natural alternatives to sunscreen include:

  1. Clothing
  2. Hats
  3. Defined limits to sun exposure
  4. Eating healthy foods
  5. Shea butter
  6. Aloe vera
  7. Seed oils
  8. Organic, natural, chemical-free commercial sunscreens

Nearly all experts agree that continuous or excessive exposure to the sun’s rays is harmful to the skin and can result in significant, long term health problems. However, there is growing concern that the chemicals found in most commercial sunscreens are potentially harmful as well. As a result, it’s valuable to be aware of some natural alternatives to sunscreen in order to make informed and sensible choices.

Why Natural Alternatives to Sunscreen Are Expanding

Consumers are becoming more aware than ever of ingredients and chemicals introduced to the body through both diet and skincare. Therefore, the search for and interest in natural alternatives to sunscreen is expanding. Most people prefer to consume or use products that have the least amount of synthetic chemicals in order to reduce potential health hazards or detrimental effects on the body.

Finding and using natural alternatives to sunscreen is a growth industry in skincare production as well. Businesses are learning that customers are more interested in organic substances and more likely to purchase chemical-free products, especially when it comes to skin applications. This is particularly true for parents who are worried about the long-term effects of sunscreen chemicals on their children.

As of now, there is no empirical medical evidence to suggest that sunscreen or its chemicals cause cancer or any other serious health problems. Nevertheless, if there are natural alternatives to commercial sunscreen and they are effective in protection from sun exposure, then these options may be a more reasonable and health-conscious choice.

Here are 8 natural alternatives to sunscreen:

1.     Clothing

Clothing provides the best barrier for the skin to the sun’s rays. The material of clothing absorbs or reflects sunlight, and therefore provides protection for the covered surface area of skin. Unfortunately, most people who either choose to be in the sun or must do so because of their situation would feel potentially uncomfortable adding more clothes to their bodies.

Though adding clothing protects skin from exposure, it can also trap and raise the body’s heat—especially in high temperatures. This can lead to harmful effects such as dehydration. Therefore, when the temperature is high, it’s best to wear light, loose-fitting clothing to not only protect the skin but allow it to breathe. This lets the body remain somewhat cooler in the hot outdoors.

Clothing is the most effective natural alternative to sunscreen since it provides a barrier between the skin and the sun. However, those who decide to use clothing as a means of sun protection should be aware of the potential dangers when the body overheats. It’s best to wear light colors such as white and avoid any tight-fitting or heavy garments.

2.     Hats

Like clothing, properly designed hats provide an effective barrier to the sun’s rays when it comes to the head, neck, ears, and face. The most protective style of hats when it comes to sun exposure are those with a wide brim that extends around the full crown of the head.

The face is the most likely skin area on the body to experience and show the effects of severe sun damage. Over-exposure to the sun’s rays across time can cause the following effects when it comes to the face:

  • Age spots
  • Atypical moles
  • Rosacea
  • Wrinkles
  • Sun-aging condition

These signs of sun damage can be naturally mitigated by wearing a hat with a brim that shades the face.

Not only is the face one of the most likely areas to experience severe sun damage, but so are the eyes, lips, ears, and the entire neck. Wearing a hat with a wide and extensive brim can protect and shade these sensitive areas without the use of commercial sunscreen. Wearing effective sunglasses in addition to a proper hat will allow added protection to the skin around the eyes.

Some people assume that those with hair on their heads, especially thick and/or dark hair, are protected from sun damage. Unlike skin, hair cannot be burned by the sun. However, like skin, the sun’s rays can greatly damage hair—no matter how thick it is. In addition, the sun can burn and damage the skin on the scalp even for those with hair on their heads.

The best way to prevent this damage, as well as damage to the face, ears, and neck, is to wear a wide-brimmed hat when in the sun.

3.     Defined Limits to Sun Exposure

Most people enjoy spending time in the sun, whether it’s vacationing at the beach, exercising outside, swimming at the pool, or working on a skin tan. In fact, the sunnier the days and seasons, the more time people participate in outdoor activities.

Being outside in the sun can be fun and healthy. However, it can also pose health risks for those who don’t set defined limits to continuous, prolonged, or excessive sun exposure. These risks may seem manageable in the short term. For example, sunburns are uncomfortable and often painful, yet they fade after a short while and don’t appear to leave any lasting damage.

Unfortunately, experts agree that even single sunburns potentially increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. When the skin absorbs the sun’s rays, the ultraviolet radiation can damage the genetic material in skin cells. This radiation can build within these cells across time, particularly if a person experiences aggregate sun exposure. The mutation of the skin cells can progress unseen until the possibility of skin cancer becomes more a probability.

In most western cultures, tanned skin is considered a sign of beauty and health. Children, young adults, and even older individuals, especially when on vacation, may resist setting defined limits for being in direct sunlight whether they intend to get a tan or not. However, defining limits to sun exposure is in the best interest of short and long-term skin health at any age.

Limiting exposure to the sun’s rays is a natural, reasonable, and healthy alternative to applying commercial sunscreen. There is no better prevention when it comes to sun damage and skin cancer than limiting exposure to continuous, prolonged, or excessive sunlight.

1.     Eating Healthy Foods

Many experts believe that one way of protecting the skin and body on the outside is to increase the level of health on the inside. This includes a diet of healthy foods, including plentiful fruits and vegetables. Many studies have shown that eating foods that are rich in healthy fats and antioxidants can help protect skin from damage, including ultraviolet radiation from the sun’s rays.

Many dark and colorful fruits and vegetables contain carotenoids and other strong antioxidants. Carotenoids are pigments, generally red, yellow, and orange, that help plants absorb light energy to enhance photosynthesis and plant health. When people eat foods containing carotenoids, they absorb these protective health benefits as well.

Foods that are rich in carotenoids include:

  • Apricots
  • Beets
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Mangoes
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes

Antioxidants are derived from several of these foods as well as important vitamins such as A and C. Antioxidants travel through the bloodstream and remove waste products from cells (often referred to as “free radicals”) to prevent the waste from causing harm. Eating foods rich in antioxidants is another natural way to fight cell damage and enhance dietary health.

Eating nuts, seeds, and avocados are a healthy way to consume omega fatty acids and other healthy fats that make for part of a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods and maintaining a nutritious diet benefits and protects the entire body, including the skin.

Though diet alone cannot prevent damage from prolonged or intense sun exposure, food choices can influence the health and protection of skin cells. Therefore, eating healthy foods in addition to other protective measures can be an effective, natural alternative to sunscreen.

2.     Shea Butter

Shea butter provides a moderate amount of protection from sun damage when applied to the skin. Most people associate the use of shea butter with skincare in that it is very hydrating and can reduce the signs of premature aging. It is also known to balance skin tone and elasticity. In addition to these skincare properties, shea butter is also a natural form of sun protection—with some limitations.

Shea butter is made from the pit (or nut) of fruit from a West African fruit tree. It remains solid in warm temperatures and provides many medicinal properties. For example, it is known to help alleviate skin conditions such as dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. Shea butter is also used for soothing sunburns, insect bites, and even muscle soreness.

The restorative and soothing power of shea butter is also why it adds a layer of protection to sun exposure when applied to the skin. Shea butter contains vitamins A and E. These vitamins are antioxidants that can protect skin from free radical damage due to sun exposure.

On its own, shea butter is not a completely effective means of sunscreen. However, shea butter does provide added sun protection when combined with other effective, natural alternatives to chemical-based sunscreen. Therefore, if shea butter is part of a daily skincare routine, then it provides an additional benefit of a moderate, natural sunscreen alternative.

You can find a great selection of organic and unrefined shea butters at Amazon.

3.     Aloe Vera

Many people associate the use of aloe vera with treating and alleviating the pain and discomfort of sunburn, as well as part of a natural skincare routine. However, aloe vera also contains properties that can block a percentage of sunlight when applied to the skin. Several aloe vera products are available to consumers in the form of gels, supplements, oil, and powder.

Aloe vera is a species of succulent plant and a perennial that grows in tropical climates. It is known for both agricultural and medicinal uses. Aloe is medicinal in that it improves blood circulation through wounded areas of the skin and helps to prevent cell death. Aloe vera is an especially effective topical treatment for burns.

Aloe vera may be a helpful, natural alternative to sunscreen due to the fact that it contains various, strong antioxidant compounds. Yet it’s essential to know, for those who plan to utilize aloe vera as a means of sun protection, that it is not a completely effective method of blocking the sun’s rays on its own. In fact, it’s estimated that aloe is only about 20% effective as an alternative to sunscreen.

If combined with other natural methods, such as clothing and limiting sun exposure, aloe vera is an excellent choice in helping to maintain healthy and protected skin.

One of the brands of aloe vera that seems to be very popular is NaturSense Organic Aloe Vera Gel. It’s great for your face, hair and also provides sunburn relief. You can find this brand online.

4.     Seed and Nut Oils

Certain seed and nut oils allow natural vitamin D production in the body from the sun while also providing some protection from harmful ultraviolet rays. These seed and nut oils are not entirely effective natural sunscreens on their own, but they are able to protect the skin for short amounts of time.

These oils include:

  • Peanut oil
  • Alfalfa oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Macadamia oil

Coconut oil is about 20% effective in blocking the sun’s rays when applied to the skin. Coconut oil has historically been considered a skin tan enhancer, which is true to some degree. This oil also hydrates skin, evens blemishes, and can lessen inflammation as well as have some limiting effect of solar damage.

The red raspberry seed oil has an even stronger potential than coconut oil for preventing sun damage, hydrating skin, and providing protection from sun exposure. Unfortunately, the red raspberry seed oil is not readily available at most retail stores. Those who choose to use this seed oil may need to purchase it online.

As with shea butter and aloe vera, these seed and nut oils are not complete alternatives for commercial sunscreen in that they do not provide the same level of protection against continuous, prolonged, or extreme sun exposure. However, they can be applied to the skin as a means of short-term protection or in combination with other effective and natural sunscreen alternatives.

5.     Organic, Natural, Chemical-Free Commercial Sunscreens

The words “natural” and “organic” are used often when it comes to skincare products, and most of the time the meaning of these terms is vague. Essentially, these words convey a product that is made with ingredients found in nature, such as plants or minerals, that have been “minimally” modified for use or consumption.

When it comes to commercial sunscreens, natural and organic labels usually refer to products that use minerals to block ultraviolet rays from the sun. Most health agencies recognize that the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe and effective as a means of sun protection when found in sunscreen ingredients.

In addition, these sunscreens most likely do not include oxybenzone. Oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen, is an ingredient found in standard commercial sunscreens that have been found in some cases to cause hormonal and allergy changes in humans, as well as harmful marine effects such as coral bleaching and death.

Many companies are developing and producing sunscreens that are labeled one or all of the following: organic, natural, chemical-free. However, since there are no concrete standards by which to measure these claims, consumers should be careful when selecting and purchasing these products.

Advertisers and marketers often use “buzz” words to attract buyers, even when their products don’t necessarily meet the criteria for such claims. The best approach when it comes to available sunscreens that promise to be a natural alternative is to research the company, product, and especially the stated list of ingredients. This will lead to an informed choice.

You can find a great selection of chemical-free natural sunscreens online at Amazon.

Benefits of Moderate Sun Exposure

It’s important to remember that getting a moderate amount of sun exposure is actually beneficial for the body. Sunlight is the most natural way for humans to receive and produce vitamin D, so careful and monitored time in the sun is healthy. Experts recommend 10-30 minutes of daytime sunlight a few times a week, depending on the sensitivity and nature of your skin.

In addition, moderate exposure to sunlight can also improve mood and focus due to increasing serotonin levels in the body. Sun exposure can also decrease depression and other symptoms in those who are at risk of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Though there are benefits to moderate sun exposure, there are serious risks involved for those who spend too much time in the sun–including skin damage and skin cancer. There can be a delicate balance between healthy and detrimental amounts of sunlight, and individuals should carefully consider what is best for their skin and overall well-being. There is no such thing as too much protection from the sun.

Environmental Considerations

 Another benefit of utilizing effective, natural alternatives to chemical-based sunscreens is the potentially positive environmental impact. Organic, natural, chemical-free products and methods tend to be more eco-friendly and create less of an environmental footprint. Some of the reasons for this are:

  • Fewer plastic containers: Commercial sunscreen is packaged almost exclusively in plastic containers, and the chemicals in the sunscreen render these containers non-recyclable for the most part. This creates a large environmental impact through plastic waste.
  • Fewer chemicals entering water supplies: Many commercial sunscreen users end up swimming in lakes and oceans, exposing these bodies of water to the sunscreen chemicals. In addition, when sunscreen users bathe, the chemicals are washed from the skin and enter water supplies. This poses risks to the environment and water-life through chemical exposure.
  • Fewer chemicals entering the body: Through skin applications, sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the body. This can create human health risks due to chemical exposure and absorption.
  • Fewer instances of animal testing: One way in which companies ensure that a product is safe and effective for human use is to conduct animal testing. This is considered by many to be not only unethical but environmentally harmful as well when it comes to natural ecosystems.

It can often feel overwhelming when considering the extent of human impact on the environment. However, it’s comforting and rewarding to make as many small, incremental changes as possible in order to reduce the negative environmental effects of man-made materials and chemicals. One way of making such a change may be to incorporate natural alternatives to chemical-based sunscreens sold in plastic containers.

Cost Considerations

Monetary costs may be another consideration when it comes to utilizing natural alternatives to commercial sunscreen. The short-term costs, as far as purchasing commercial sunscreen or natural alternatives, are fairly even in most cases. Natural and/or organic products have a reputation of being more expensive alternatives, but across time these extra charges would be quite minimal.

When it comes to monetary costs in the long term, it’s important to consider the financial impact of either improperly using sunscreens, natural or commercial, or not using sunscreen at all. Skin cancer is still the most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting millions of Americans each year in a physical, emotional, and financial sense.

Healthcare costs can grow exponentially when it comes to treating skin cancer, and these costs can persist over years at a time. In addition, the testing that people undergo in order to diagnose skin cancer is extremely expensive. This doesn’t take into account the potential loss of income due to managing and coping with such a dangerous health condition.

Economists and other experts in the medical field estimate the aggregate cost of skin cancer treatment in the United States (both melanoma and non-melanoma) is over eight billion dollars each year. Unfortunately, the costs continue to rise as the levels of effective treatment remain relatively the same.

The good news is that though skin cancer is still the most common cancer in America, it is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Simply avoiding the sun during peak hours and/or limiting sun exposure by covering skin with clothing and wearing broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses significantly reduces the likelihood of developing skin cancer or other forms of sun damage in the future. Sunscreen, commercial or natural, is also an effective preventive measure.

It seems illogical to gamble not just the future financial burden of healthcare costs but the very future of the body’s health in order to look tanned or spend extended time in the sun without protection. When considering all these costs, and staying informed, perhaps the rate of prevention will increase and the rate of skin cancer will decrease.

Why Sunscreen, In Any Form, Is Essential

There are options when it comes to natural alternatives to commercial, chemical-based sunscreens. However, it’s important to understand that everyone’s skin has different sensitivity to the sun’s rays, and not all sunscreen alternatives will be effective for every skin type.

Therefore, it’s necessary to know and use the best type of sun protection you can find. In other words, commercial sunscreen may be a better choice under certain circumstances—particularly if there are no readily available alternatives.

It’s understandable and wise to be concerned regarding the potential harm of chemicals found in most sunscreens. However, it’s far more detrimental and risky to avoid using anything at all rather than taking a chance with commercial sun protection. Sunscreen, whether in natural or synthetic form, is essential for continued health and well-being.

Skin Care and Protection

The care and protection of our skin is essential in order to avoid significant, long-term dangers such as skin cancer. Not all forms of skin cancer are fatal, yet these cancerous cells can grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body within weeks when undetected. Thankfully, if caught early enough, some forms of skin cancer are curable. However, the best strategy is a strong method of prevention rather than having to learn ways for early detection.

Commercial sunscreen definitely provides protection against the sun’s rays and prevents many forms of sun damage such as sunburn. However, there are natural alternatives to these sunscreen products that may provide a comparable level of protection in an organic and chemical-free manner.

These natural sunscreen alternatives are potentially better not only for the skin and body but the overall environment as well. However, it’s essential that people gather as much information as possible as to their effectiveness and use them properly.

Human beings require sunlight to be physically and emotionally healthy. Though the sun’s rays cause the most prevalent form of cancer in the US, there are feasible and manageable ways to avoid extreme exposure. These preventive measures can allow people to both enjoy the benefits provided by the sun as well as make sensible choices as to the health, future, and care of their skin.