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Would Coconut Oil Make a Good Sunscreen for me?

December 30, 2012

Google says it does

Generations of Islanders say it does

But is it a good choice for me?  Let’s look deeper……

I’m a 38 year old white girl with a diet of dubious merit in as much as I eat far too much sweet stuff and not enough veggies!  However, I do have a healthy, fit lifestyle otherwise. I live in a beautiful part of Australia a part that can heat up to 40C and cool back down to around 3, a part where the UV index reaches extreme on many a summer’s day.

I work indoors mainly, only getting outside for leisure, fun and the odd shopping trip (!)

I have eczema. Badly on my hands (due to my unfortunate choice of career – dermatologist told me NOT to become a chemist, ppppffffhh  what do they know)

I get a few yucky spots and have had issues with pigmentation marks since the birth of my lovely children (no, I don’t hold that against them :))

So that’s me.

But what’s with the detail?  Is all of that ‘need-to-know’ or did the over-share fairy just sprinkle magic dust over the keyboard?  Yes and No.

  • Our age matters.    Babies have VERY thin skin when compared to an average adult and on top of that they are growing fast with hyper active systems making it likely that any problem, irritation or disease encountered could become a big issue for them very quickly.   This changes slightly throughout childhood with skin getting slightly more tolerant on average (all other things being equal) until young adulthood is reached.  Again all things being equal a fit, healthy  adult (18-45 ish) should be able to tolerate the most sun of their life as their skin is mature, major bodily changes have been dealt with and our energy can go into maintenance rather than growth. Just remember we might only be talking about a small change here so don’t ditch the sun protection.  Past 45 ish our protective hormones may start to drop, our skin can become thinner and may lose elasticity and tone.  This all contributes to make us potentially more sun reactive.  
  • Diet matters immensely in all of this for obvious reasons and with that in mind a diet rich in antioxidant fruits and veggies, good oils and fats and plenty of moisture (for hydration) will give that body the best chance of maintaining a strong skin barrier.  However, throw a few goodness depleting habits in the pot (Heavy drinking, smoking, lack of sleep, chronic stress) and the good that your diet can do is sliced and diced into little pieces affecting your sun tolerance.
  • Following on from the above lifestyle also matters.  A healthy, fit (fit for that person not ‘pop culture fit) body will generally be better placed to cope with any excesses be they environmental, internal or otherwise. Regular, incidental sun exposure is all part of this equation for vitamin D reasons (see this previous post).
  • Skin colour is a big factor of course as is location, location, location!  I am living in a place that is totally wrong for my skin colour and that does matter.  I can’t expect my skin to be equip to deal with this. I wouldn’t expect my English rose garden to thrive in the outback just as waterlilies can’t live in my dry and rocky backyard.
  • Eczema is also a big factor for me.  Eczema, psoriasis, acne, rashes, cuts, scars, pigmentation issues ALL impact on our skins ability to manage sun exposure.  I have to be more careful than my husband who doesn’t suffer from skin issues not least because my skin barrier is compromised.  My skin is more porous.
  • And then there is sex.  Being a female means that my skin is (on average) slightly thinner than my husbands.

Does that mean I can use coconut oil as a sunscreen?

Eeerrr  I don’t think so for two main and many smaller reasons as highlighted above.

It is true that coconut oil has been used by pacific islanders as sun protection for thousands of years but I’m not a native pacific islander as you can see from the picture below:

me and samoan team

Further, I do not eat a typical Pacific Islander diet (even though it looks seriously yummy) – this article is very interesting and makes for fab research if Island food is your thing:













Traditional Pacific Island life involves more than just treating your skin with coconut oil sunscreen. It involves eating the stuff and studies have shown virgin coconut oil to be full of antioxidants and other skin friendly substances that quite possibly could improve ones sun tolerance over time.  I’m not convinced that a couple of coconuts come summertime is enough to fill that lifetime void for me.

So should I use coconut oil as a natural sunscreen?


Want to know more about Coconut Oil Chemistry?  I’ll talk about that in the next post and share with you some coconut oil SPF results fresh from the lab.

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