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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in Child Health, Featured | 11 comments

Coconut Oil as Sunscreen, and Other Vicious Lies

Coconut Oil as Sunscreen, and Other Vicious Lies

coconutIn the quest to avoid potentially harmful chemicals in commercial sunscreens; bloggers, parents, and marketers have be 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 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

Need more help?

  • The Environmental Working Group, an American environmental health research organization, has published their favorite sunscreens for 2013. See if your favorite made the list.  
  • Local dermatologists Dr. Molly Menser of Sunflower Dermatology and Dr. Amy Jo Nopper of Children’s Mercy Hospital recently discussed sun protection on Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. I highly recommend this very informative and entertaining segment (5/22/13) for more credible sun protection information. 

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! 



  1. No tan, is a healthy tan?
    Are you suggesting that no one should get 5 to 10 minutes a day of sun exposure?

    Getting vitamin D from the sun is a vicious lie?
    “The widespread acceptance and adoption of this faulty doctrine has contributed to severe vitamin D deficiency on a grand scale, which in turn claims about one million lives a year from 16 different types of cancer and other common diseases” – Dr. Mercola

    For anyone interested in learning why vitamin D from the sun is beneficial:

    You did not mention the toxic ingredients in sunscreens.

    Also, how can you recommend looking for sunscreens with titanium dioxide without mentioning nanoparticles?
    “TiO2 nanoparticles induce single and double-strand DNA breaks and cause chromosomal damage, as well as inflammation, all of which increase the risk of cancer.”

    • Lori, Thanks for your comments and suggestions. You’re right! No tan IS a healthy tan. I recommend all my patients get LOTS of outdoor time. But, I don’t recommend them going outside for extended periods of time without skin protection. Your body protects itself from the sun by producing melanin when the skin cells are being damaged. It is the melanin color that gives the tan appearance to skin. So if you are tan, you are getting skin damage. I want to my protect my kids from this damage as long as I can.

      In this post, I recommend natural minerals zinc and titanium to avoid the “toxic” exposures, as I agree that chemical sunscreens may contain undesirable ingredients. The links you posted to Dr. Mercola and Natural News, however, are not credible places to find evidence-based medicine and are not my sources for this decision for my family.

      You raise a great point about Vitamin D. I agree Vitamin D is beneficial. In fact, the AAP recommends all children get adequate daily vitamin D. In my family, I choose to use vitamin D fortified food and healthy supplements to ensure my family gets adequate amounts.

      I’m sure Dr. Mercola would be happy to sell you a supplement from his website, however, I choose not to purchase products from someone whose extensive health and wellness products includes a $4000 tanning bed.

      I like to get science-based information from reputable websites such as the EWG, the AAD, and the CDC. You may want to take a peek.

    • Mike Adams (of Natural News) and Joe Mercola are both quacks. You’d do well to look for more reliable sources. Of course getting a little sun exposure daily for Vitamin D is important, but a person is not likely to get a significant tan from 10-15 minutes of sun a day. ‘Tanning’ in the conventional sense is unhealthy.

  2. Hi, Lori – thanks for the post! I was wondering about protective clothing. Does the sun protection wear out after a number of washes?

    • Great question. High quality UPF clothing is good for the life of the garment, regardless of wash and wear. The sun protection is in the thread and weave of the fabric itself, not a product embedded within the fabric.

  3. Thanks. Great blog. I came here via Science of Mom. I live in Australia and I am obsessed with sun protection. I regularly check the UV rating when I’m outside, even in winter! My sister jokes that she can tell what the UV rating is merely by whether or not my son is wearing a hat and his much we smell of sun cream!

    • I love it! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Great to hear from new Aussie friends. NB

    • Hello. As I love, breath and read blogs and comments and appreciate the computer quick, more vast, info, this sun/tanning info seems quite simple to me. Not all of us have the same skin or skin density. Not all of us consume, naturally, all of the vitamins within our diets. Most of us, in the US anyway, who do not prepare our meals for ourselves and loved ones are getting the good stuff to begin with at the grocery stores, thanks to Monsanto. So, we’re at a need for a revolution yet education has to be better, vaster and deeper than your average intelligence. If you are alive and wish to live longer then why should ‘money’ or larger income come first if you’re practicing early death by believing in any fast food or frozen food offered by the large conglomerates like Walmart (so cheap) or Harris Teeter (We have seven within a three-mile radius),….. And of course we’re not all equipped to grow our own food.
      I guess it all boils down to what your goal is. Do you want to live forever? Are you young and unhealthy based on your eating and sedentary habits? Have you know no Vitamin D3 in your blood system because you eat wrong while living in the wrong area of the world in order to soak in that Vitamin. And if you are living in that right area of the world and eat the right things and benefit from the D3 deficiency then why is this an issue for you, unless your doctor took your blood levels to see if you had enough in your system.
      It’s just about interest, knowledge, responsibility and responsibility again. To keep it simply :-))

  4. For those who are interested, here is a link to a study evaluating the SPF of various oil. Coconut is around SPF 7, in this study.

    With more current recent research coming out regarding Vitamin D’s various rolls in the body’s biochemistry, it is likely the our fear of the sun will diminish in the coming years. I expect standard of care will return to a healthy amount of sun, rather than the sun phobia we presently have.

    Every patient I have ever run a Vitamin D panel on has been deficient.

  5. I used coconut oil as my sole sun block for a recent trip to Mexico. It was my first time in the sun since winter. I did not burn once nor did I get any color or tan. I was in the sun for 6+ hours for a week.


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