Natural skincare is getting more and more popular. The countless numbers of DIY blogs and recipes you can find online are a blessing for those of us looking for natural and organic alternatives to store-bought and mass-produced products. However, the internet is not always the most reliable source and many of these recipes for natural skincare should come with a warning or at least with a more scientific explanation.
Our team had a sit-down with Lorraine Dallmeier, director at Formula Botanica, to discuss the pros and cons of natural suncare.
RGHB : First of all, thank you Lorraine for sharing your knowledge. Let’s start with the basics of suncare. We all know that the SPF is the most important thing in sunscreen, but most of us lack the knowledge of the scientific explanation behind this scale. Could you tell us how it works exactly?
Lorraine Dallmeier: It’s quite simple really. The SPF scale is measured by a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. For example, if it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, then using a SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer – about five hours.
But it is important to remember that plenty of damage can be done without the red flag of sunburn being raised and no sunscreen can block all UV rays. SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent of all incoming UVB rays. For SPF 30 it is 97 percent and for SPF 15 it is 93 percent. For most people that would seem enough. However, as can be read on the Skin Cancer Foundation website, if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference
RGHB: We all love browsing the internet for new ways to make your own beauty products, but apparently when it comes to substitutes for sunscreen we have to be more careful. Why is that? And what would you say is the main fault in these DIY recipes?
LD: Well, unfortunately you can’t provide a good evenly distributed verifiable Sun Protection Factor (SPF) with a DIY recipe. In fact, making your own sunscreen is complicated, challenging and expensive. In some parts of the world, products which contain a SPF are viewed as pharmaceuticals (which is why we don’t teach our students how to make sunscreen at Formula Botanica). And even in those parts of the world where they are viewed as cosmetics, they still require rigorous and expensive testing.
Natural botanical oils have not gone through the lab and human testing required to establish their SPF. For those interested, The Cosmetic, Toiletry & Perfumery Association (CTPA) has published a great infographic to show you exactly how a sunscreen product is tested and brought to market.
RGHB: Any other reasons why we should not use natural oils as sunscreen?
LD: Aside from not being properly tested and verified for sunscreen use, natural oils also do not absorb UV sufficiently or at the right wavelengths. Researchers (Gause & Chauhan, 2016) found that natural oils are not suitable UV-blocking ingredients. They measured the UV absorptivity of aloe vera, canola oil, citronella oil, coconut oil, olive oil and soya bean oil and found that all of them did virtually nothing when it came to blocking UV. They concluded that their SPF would be very close to 1. The same study concluded that Vitamin E was the only substance which showed appreciable UV absorbance, but this only occurred below a wavelength of 310nm which still allowed most of the UV spectrum to pass through unblocked. Sunlight’s UVB-UVA range is 290-400nm.
RGHB: Myth of legend: Raspberry seed oil? We found a study ( Oomah et al., 2000) in the Journal of Food Chemistry which claims that raspberry seed oil has a high SPF. The study makes quite a bold claim: “The optical transmission of raspberry seed oil, especially in the UV range (290±400 nm) was comparable to that of titanium dioxide preparations with sun protection factor for UVB(SPF) and protection factor for UV–A (PFA) values between 28-50 and 6.75-7.5, respectively (Kobo Products Inc.,South Plainfield, NJ)”.
LD: Well, the study does not provide any reference to any studies to underpin this research. You might also notice that there is an enormous range between a SPF of 28 and 50 which suggests that no formal SPF testing has been undertaken on this oil. And yet this study has gone round the world multiple times, being quoted on blogs, on DIY skincare courses, on Pinterest and even on skincare ingredient retailers’ websites. We would hazard a guess that the authors of the Oomah study would not have published this throw-away statement if they would have understood the implications of this one sentence.
RGHB: And what about Carrot Seed Oil and Coconut Oil?
LD: Similar to raspberry seed oil, some members of the DIY community have claimed that carrot seed oil can have a SPF of 38-40. Our graduate Aleksandra from MASLA Skincare did some digging on Carrot Seed Oil last year on her blog and quoted a strong rebuttal from well-known essential oil expert Robert Tisserand who also verified that carrot seed oil would not have such a high SPF. We found that these figures for carrot seed oil most likely come from a 2009 Indian study where the researchers tested the photostability of a sunscreen product which contained carrot – they did not test carrot by itself. We don’t know in what form the product contained carrot and we also don’t know what the other ingredients were – so it is unlikely that carrot seed oil by itself has a SPF of 38-40.
As for coconut oil, it is one of the most often quoted sunscreen oils in the DIY community. You may see mentions of coconut oil having a SPF of 7, which may give the impression that it’s still possible to use neat coconut oil sunscreen for a short period and be safe in the sun. But this 2016 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science refutes that and shows that coconut oil has a SPF of 1. Other studies may show slightly higher results and we all know that one study is not necessarily conclusive on its own, but that doesn’t mean you should take any risks with your skin when it comes to the sun. Coconut oil should not be used as a stand-alone sunscreen.
RGHB: Any final thoughts on using natural oils as sunscreen?
LD: Here at Formula Botanica, we are huge fans of natural ingredients and we can only wish that it was true that a botanical oil on its own can provide the same level of protection as a formally tested suncare product. It would be great if you really could simply whip up a batch of coconut oil sunscreen and protect your skin adequately. But there are no shortcuts when it comes to formulating suncare products and we strongly encourage you to stay safe in the sun.
RGHB: Lets finish with something that should be equally as important as sunscreen: after-sun care.
LD: Yes! I’m glad you brought this up! It’s so surprising that after-sun care is often overlooked because it’s important to look after your skin when it’s been exposed to the sun. The skin uses the sun to help manufacture Vitamin D which is important for our overall health. However, overexposure to sunlight can be very damaging. Burning the skin can reduce its elasticity over time and cause your skin to age prematurely. Spending even a limited amount of time in the sun can lead to mild sunburn and skin dehydration.
RGHB: So do you have any tips for DIY recipes or what we should look for when buying products based on natural ingredients?
LD: There are many ingredients that can be included in natural cosmetic formulations to help soothe, cool and hydrate the skin. But these four are my favourite:Aloe vera, cucumber, shea butter and very surprisingly, oats. Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) contains anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Its leaves provide a gel that can calm down the skin after you’ve been in the sun. Its gel also offers hydration, which is perfect for cooling and soothing your skin. Cucumber (Cucumis sativus) is also very well-known for its cooling and hydrating properties when incorporated in after-sun products.This is because cucumber contains a very high percentage of water (over 95%!). If you are looking for something to heal and regenerate your skin after you’ve been exposed to the sun, shea butter (Butyrospermum parkii) can be one of your skin’s best friends. It helps to retain moisture and reduces the loss of water by forming a barrier on your skin’s surface. And if you want to use the ultimate soothing herb on your skin after you’ve been in the sun, then oats are a great choice. Oatmeal (Avena sativa) has been used as a soothing herb for thousands of years in order to relieve irritation, making it a great ingredient for after-sun products. Oats contain compounds called avenanthramides which are potent anti-inflammatory agents and also exhibit antioxidant activity.
Other natural ingredients you can use are are Calendula (Calendula officinalis), Allantoin, Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) or Jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis). Trust me, your skin will thank you for it!
About Formula Botanica
Formula Botanica, the ODLQC accredited Online Organic Cosmetic Science School founded in 2012 with over 2000 students and graduates in XX countries.
Director of Formula Botanica Lorraine Dallmeier BSc (HONS) MSc MIEMA MRSB CEnv, a Biologist by training, developed a love of plants for cosmetic application after working in the field of environmental management for over a decade. Lorraine is a Chartered Environmentalist, as well as a full Member of the Royal Society of Biology, the Society of Cosmetic Scientists and the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment.
Formula Botanica’s virtual HQ is located in the UK but they are an international Organic Cosmetic Science School with an international team of experts. There are 10 digital courses at present, 100% online, which students can study at their own pace in their own time. The courses teach everything you need to know in order to go from complete beginner to organic cosmetic formulator and teacher. Many graduates have used their courses to successfully launch or grow their own cosmetics business. They fly the flag for organic and natural skincare all over the world and are ambassadors for a healthier, safer way of life.
Lorraine Dallmeier of Formula Botanica is available for expert comment on beauty formulas, ingredients, both synthetic and natural, beauty and business advice.
Business case studies and success stories are available for placement.
For all enquiries contact Rebecca Goodyear Health & Beauty:
+44 (0) 20 3 651 7360