Natural Sun Protection

If you don't want to smear strange chemicals all over yourself, here are some approaches to natural sun protection and natural sunburn remedies.
By Nancy Norton Matilla
July/August 1980
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With the right natural sun protection, a day at the beach under a brutal, blazing sun needn't be a cause for worry.
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Most of us are aware that overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays is potentially dangerous, and that a gradual tanning routine — as the summer season progresses — is the only commonsense approach to sunbathing.

It's less well known, however, that you can augment your body's natural sun protection systems if you increase your consumption of C and B vitamins, all of which are depleted when your body is regularly exposed to solar rays. Summer's delicious harvests of fresh cantaloupe, strawberries, tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli and collard greens provide — as do citrus fruits and juices — excellent sources of vitamin C. Foods rich in vitamin B include eggs, liver, poultry, wheat germ, unrefined cereals, milk, bananas, tuna, salmon, spinach, peas and dried brewer's yeast.

Inexpensive Sun Protection

Other natural protective aids are readily (and economically) available from your kitchen, bathroom cupboard, pharmacy, or health food store. (Note: As with all sun-care products, it's best to avoid the eye area when applying any of the following preparations.)

Sesame is the polyunsaturated nut oil "which most fully absorbs the ultraviolet rays of the sun," according to herbalist and natural beauty expert, Dian Dancin Buchman. In The Complete Herbal Guide to Natural Beauty, Dian suggests applying sesame seed oil alone as a tanning aid, or — if you have access only to whole seeds — grinding a handful of them in your blender or nut grinder and adding a few drops of water to make a milky fluid. One quarter teaspoon of witch hazel or ethyl alcohol can be used as a preservative, or you can just label the bottle and keep it refrigerated. (When swimming, you'll have to reapply the lotion each time you come out of the water, as it will wash off and leave you unprotected.)

Ms. Buchman also mentions that a combination of sesame oil, anhydrous lanolin, and water can be used as an effective tanning cream. Simply melt 1/4 cup of the lanolin in the top of a double boiler, then immediately blend in 1/4 cup of sesame oil and 3/4 cup of water. This mixture can also be stored in the refrigerator in a clean, labeled container.

Another natural sun remedy consists of peeling and mashing one large cucumber — straining the liquid through cheesecloth — then adding 1 teaspoon each of low-cost rose water and glycerin, both of which you can probably buy at your local pharmacy.

Virginia Castleton, in her Calendar Book of Natural Beauty, describes a minty suntan cream which I've found soothing and helpful while soaking up Sol's energy. First, drop a handful of fresh mint leaves in a blender containing a couple of tablespoons of water, add 1/2 cup of sesame or coconut oil, 1 egg yolk, and 1 tablespoon each of wheat germ oil and lemon juice. You might want to put in a drop of peppermint oil for extra fragrance before blending the ingredients. Once again, keep this suntan lotion refrigerated.

Natural Sunburn Remedies

When all precautions fail and you get a whale of a sunburn, there are many effective home remedies that can bring you relief. Some folks find that if they break open vitamin E capsules and apply the oil to the skin, the burn will often disappear overnight (the vitamin packaged in ointment form offers similar results). Or you might try applying sunflower, safflower or cottonseed oil, all of which are rich in the healing nutrient.

Herbalists and natural beauty experts also recommend compresses made with either black tea, comfrey leaf, or root tea — or the juice of a grated raw potato — for the treatment of painful sunburns. You can dilute apple cider vinegar with water and pat it on the burned area or use it in a compress, too. A cloth or bandage that's kept saturated with witch hazel, or with equal parts of vinegar and olive oil, can also be beneficial.

Some additional homemade sunburn remedies include sesame, peanut, corn or some other vegetable or nut oil mixed with vinegar; a solution of equal parts of witch hazel, olive oil and glycerin; aloe vera leaves (just break them open and apply the gel directly) ... a paste made of baking soda or laundry starch and water (spread it on gently) ... a tub bath in water to which 1 cup of baking soda has been added ... lemon juice and yogurt combined to a spreadable consistency ... witch hazel mixed with a beaten egg white and honey ... plain cucumber slices (lay them directly on the burn) ... or mashed cucumber pulp or juice (strain it through cheesecloth), used either alone or with witch hazel for a compress.

Finally, old-fashioned barley paste is recommended to soothe sunburn discomfort. To make such a paste, grind or blend 3 ounces of barley and mix the powdered substance with 1 ounce of raw honey. Blend the ingredients into a smooth paste and add 1 unbeaten egg white, then rub the concoction gently into the reddened skin and leave it on for several hours—preferably overnight—for slow but sure relief.


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