Plant Powered Sun Protection Inside & Out

Summertime Sun πŸ™‚ is not unhealthy! Many are well aware of the necessity of getting sun exposure for the important vitamin D. And now is the time to build your stores of Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin that stores well in our fat for the winter months.

With that being said, we want to safely sun bathe, 10-20 minutes per day exposing the skin on your arms and chest or upper body area is where we best absorb the sun’s nutrients. As a daily practice April through November 10-20 minutes of sun bathing or meditation in the sun is recommended!

But what if you want to go out and play in the sun? Yes you will need to protect yourself. Sunscreen? NOT ME, ever. Sunscreen blocks vitamin D absorption, and most sunscreens are loaded with toxic chemical burdens for humans and marine life, such as oxybenzone and nano particles that get in places in our body they are not meant to fit into. Time to stop the unnecessary slathering of toxic chemicals all over the faces of our babes and of our earth.

Good news, nature knows we need sun and we like to play in the sun, so she has provided plants that we can use inside and out that offer some sun protection.

Foods offer sun protection!

Disclaimer: TEST for SHORT periods of time in the sun on yourself before longer or more intense sun exposures. I combine foods that offer UV protection (both UVA & UVB rays), along with oils and essential oils that also offer sun protection applied topically, along with light clothing and hats I can take on or off as needed for additional protection.

To be most effective, these foods need to be consumed for 3 months consistently. There is a body serum level that needs to be reached before we have internal sun protection — it takes about 8-12 weeks of consistently getting the right foods to reach. Eating one meal with lots of sun protective polyphenols, and then going out into the sun expecting to be protected is not going to work. It is more of a lifestyle approach. Many of us are already eating these foods year round, starting early springtime is the time to pay attention to increase the specific foods that offer protection.

The side benefit of using plant nutrients to protect yourself from the sun is that these plant-protective nutrients also fortify our skin inside and out. The colorful pigments in plants — like beta-carotene are most responsible for the sun protection, but also vitamins C and E, polyphenols, and omega3 rich foods from reddish fish and other marine life also offer protection –all nutrients that are also good for high quality skin health.

Plant chemicals don’t just provide a protective barrier from the sun, they help our body resist the suns damage through reducing several reactive oxygen species (also known as free radicals), decrease oxidative stress and inflammation, and help to prevent damage to collagen and elastin in our skin and even in our DNA.

As we eat and digest and absorb pants the protective compounds from the plants make their way to our epidermis where they protect our skin from the inside. Remember hearing about someone who juiced way too many carrots for too long and their skin turned orange? That orange was actually photoprotecting their skin β€” though you don’t have to eat that much that you turn orange to get protection, I’m just using the scenario to help you understand how the pigments migrate to our skin.

Carotenoids β€” specifically beta-carotene and lycopene are the most studied for sun protective benefits as they are found in higher amounts in skin. And its not just the colorful carotenoids that offer protection, there are also colorless carotenoids that offer protection through the absorption of UV rays (phytoene and phytofluene for example). There are even several double blind, random, placebo controlled trials supporting this notion. And while many of the studies are done with supplements, there are also studies done with whole foods that showed protection. 

So what are the foods that provide sun protection?

  • Tomatoes are the most studied, 
  • but also chocolate πŸ™‚ There’s always a good reason to eat good dark organic chocolate β€” lots of polyphenols. 
  • Rosemary which seems to be an all around power plant for any ailment.
  • Coffee and Green tea have also been shown to offer protection due to their polyphenol content. 
  • Coconut oil topically and internally can also be of benefit.
  • Tidal pool fish and the fish that eat them

According to Deanna Minnich, PhD these are some of the best plant powered foods offering sun protection:

Avocados, carrots, cacao, cruciferous vegetables, goji berries, grapes, leafy greens, oranges, pomegranate, rosemary, sweet potato, green tea, tomatoes, and watermelon. Remember to be effective internal sun protectors these foods need to be eaten long term as part of your daily diet. And they should be, anyway!

I would like to add salmon, and some shellfish to the list as well.

Fish, while not plant foods do also offer sun protection. Especially fish high in astaxanthin, which include shell fish and tidal pool fish, these fish get exposed to the sun in tidal pools and need to protect themselves by making internal chemicals that protect them from the sun. Astaxanthin is a red pigment produced by marine algae when they are stressed, which are then eaten by crustaceans and other sea life giving them the reddish hue. Fish that have red pigment such as salmon or fish with a reddish hue to their shells such as lobster, have higher levels of astaxanthin β€” and pink flamingos are pink from eating tidal pool fish and the algae which are rich in astaxanthin. Larger fish that eat tidal pool fish will also get the astaxanthin just like us when we eat the fish.

β€œAstaxanthin is a strong antioxidant that also reduces inflammation, improves immune response, increases muscle strength and reduces heart damage following a myocardial infarction in animal studies. Astaxanthin is a component that activates a “longevity” gene, potentially increasing your life span.”

Astaxanthin is the Superman of anti-oxidants. Most anti-oxidants combat free radicals 1:1 β€” like 1:1 hand combat, while astaxanthin comes in and combats multiple free radicals at once.

Skin Microbiome

Our skin microbiome also play a role in protecting us from the sun. Our gut is not the only place beneficial bacteria resides, but also skin, mouth, and other places on the body. The bacteria on our skin do help to protect us from sun damage and UV rays. 

Be careful what you put on your skin you don’t want to strip your skin of microbes β€” soaps of all types and many body products disrupt the skin biome β€” BUT carrier oils feed the skin biome improving our skin health in many ways.

And there is a double benefit to plant powered oils for your skin β€” many of them offer SPF! Yes some quite high SPF, against both UVA & UVB rays, such as Raspberry seed oil and pomegranate seed oil.

Topical plant powered sun protection

Time to push back on the cosmetic industry and let them know by speaking with your pocketbook that you are no longer interested in toxic sunscreens for humans and marine life. How? With a little research you can experiment with mixing together some oils that have been tested to offer SPF β€” and I even include oils that, well have not been scientifically tested but have a history of use to protect your skin such as tamanu oil.

According to pubmed, most all non-volatile herbal oils (aka carrier oils) have some SPF as well as many volatile oils (essential oils). In general most carrier oils offer 2-8 SPF and most essential oils offer 1-7 SPF. While this is not high, do we really need that high of an SPF, I remember when I was a teenager, an SPF of about 8 was normally what we used and I was just fine with that. There are specific oils that test in vitro higher for SPF. Raspberry seed oil is the tops testing in consistently at 28-50 SPF, olive oil also shows to be higher in SPF but not anywhere close to Raspberry seed oil. And not all oils have been tested to date, only a handful of oils -so this list over time as we test more may become quite prolific.

After all plants don’t get cancer from the sun, nor do they get sun burned (as long as they have water), plants make plant chemicals to protect them from the suns UV rays. We have evolved with the plants, what the plants make our body’s use. Think about the environment trees such as Frankincense and Myrrh grow in, harsh desert environments in the Arabian Peninsula and Somalian deserts of Africa, these plants need to protect themself from sun and heat to survive, and they do that with their secondary metabolites they produce internally (essential oils!).

Here is a list of some of the oils tested — SPF will vary from harvest to harvest these are just averages, and very important to use fresh oils that are not more than 1 year old — real whole oils go rancid, rancid oil will not protect you from SPF (and note if your olive oil is adulterated with canola oil as it often is, it will not protect you):

Carrier oils SPF

Raspberry seed oil = 28-50 SPF
Pomegranate seed oil = 30 SPF
Wheatgerm oil + Vitamin E = 15 SPF
Avocado oil = SPF 15
Hazelnut = SPF 15
Olive Oil = 7.5 SPF
Shea Butter = 6-8 SPF
Macadamia Nut Oil = 6 SPF
Coconut = SPF 4-8
Sesame = 6 SPF
Jojoba = 6 SPF
Hemp seed oil = 6 SPF 
Macadamia nut oil = 6 SPF
Almond oil = 5 SPF
Sea Buckthorn = 2-4 SPF

Historically my favorite Tamanu oil β€” a rich luscious green oil was used by the Polynesians to protect the skin and hair from the sun.

Essential oils SPF

Carrot Seed – 38 SPF
Calendula – 8.36 SPF
Peppermint – 7 SPF
Tulsi – 7 SPF (can be quite caustic topically, highly dilute)
Geranium – 6.5 SPF
Lavender – 6 SPF
Sweet Orange – 4 SPF
Eucalyptus – 3 SPF
Tea Tree – 2 SPF

These are only the oils that have been tested — there are many more carrier and essential oils that offer sun protection, historically I have found helichrysum and myrrh to be used for protection from the sun, along with frankincense and myrrh.

Making your own sun protective oils is easy! Here is a link to my Learn & Thrive site on sun protection products β€” there are both easy recipes you can make yourself and products made by me you can purchase.

Also don’t shower just before going out in the sun, some of the our body’s natural oils also offer protection. And also don’t shower or bathe right after sun exposure, as our body absorbs Vitamin D from the sun it mixes with cholesterol on our skin before it is absorbed. If you shower right after sunning you will wash away your vitamin D. It is also best to build a “base tan” in the spring, tanned skin protects you from sun burning as well.

DISCLAIMER: Be sure to test yourself gradually over time. Start out with your normal sunscreen everywhere but one arm, use your new formulation on just one arm and compare. Gradually increase your time in the sun when wearing your own homemade oils to see how long they last for you. And remember to take hats and light clothing to offer some additional protection and don’t forget to eat your polyphenol rich vegetables giving you protection from the inside too. Its a polyvalent approach πŸ™‚

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