Coconut Oil as Sunscreen and Other Vicious Lies

May 2, 2016
Sharon Marston


In the quest to avoid potentially harmful chemicals in commercial sunscreens; bloggers, parents, and marketers have been rekindling the notion of “natural sunscreens.”

Coconut oil seems the natural option du jour. “Health” bloggers are touting coconut oil as a great way to get a “healthy tan” without the burn, and a great way to “safely” get a boost of vitamin D.

Now, before you run to the kitchen cupboard to grab this edible elixir, you should recognize a HUGE credibility error in these claims.

No tan is a healthy tan. Any “expert” claiming the contrary is simply wrong.

coconut-200x200Coconut oil has no significant SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and is NOT a reliable choice for protection from UV sun damage.

Those claiming coconut oil’s ability to protect against the sun’s rays are often reviving narratives from the oil’s deep folk medicine roots. The oil’s long history in folk medicine includes treatment from everything from seizures, pancreatitis, and diabetes; to infertility, osteoporosis, and cancer. It has also been used for centuries as protection from sunburn for people native to tropical climates, including India and equatorial islands.

The oil’s anecdotal ability to protect against sunburn has been fueled by a recent study claiming that the oil is able to block 20% of the sun’s UV rays.

Even if this is true, the sun protection provided by coconut oil is still well below the AAD-recommendation of protecting our skin with a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB), SPF 30 (blocking 97% of UV rays) product.

Interestingly, chicken oil (created by boiling a chicken carcass and skimming off the fat) had significantly better UV protection in the study. It seems the pale yellow color and chicken smell, however, has dampened its potential for commercial popularity. 

The good news there are some better options for broad-spectrum UV protection for parents looking for a natural sunscreen alternative. 

  • Wear UPF-rated clothing and swim attire. I LOVE UPF-rating clothing on kids. The clothing covers large areas of skin; is very breathable, comfortable, and easy-care; and eliminates potential concerns of chemical exposure. Numerous companies have sun-blocking garments for the whole family. Some favorites are CoolibarREI , and LL Bean. Just don’t forget to apply mineral sunscreen to the few areas still exposed to the sun.
  • Use SPF-rated mineral sunscreens. Look for sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These are natural minerals that form a physical barrier between the sun’s UVA/UVB rays and your skin. The minerals “float” on the top of the skin, not being absorbed. Be sure to look for “water resistant” and SPF 30 on the label, as well.
  • Shield from the sun. Shade, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses are always in vogue.  This video demonstrates things to look for when choosing sunglasses for your children.

We know that about 80% sun damage occurs before the age of 18. Make the choice to aggressively protect your child from the sun’s harmful rays. Then, get outside and have fun!