Whether hiking, playing at the beach, or standing in an unexpectedly long line outside, people are often caught out in the sun without access to commercial sunscreen. With some research suggesting that some sunscreens can actually harm skin, there are multiple good reasons to learn some natural sunscreen alternatives. Hats, lightweight light-colored clothing, sunscreens containing zinc or titanium dioxide and even mud all provide protection from UV radiation without the potential harmful effects of oxybenzone-containing sunscreens.
Clothes--The Original Sunscreen
Aside from never venturing outside, the easiest way to protect yourself from UV rays is to wear clothing. Hats, long sleeves, pants, sunglasses and shoes all protect their wearer from the sun's rays. Do the traditional residents of the world's sunniest places, deserts, walk around in swimsuits? No, they wear lightweight white robes that cover most of their bodies. Maybe they've learned something over the millennia that we should replicate if we want to decrease our odds of skin damage and cancer. Several years ago, while hiking the High Divide in Olympic National Park, I found myself starting to feel overly sunned without access to any sunscreen. The photo above shows how I made use of zip-off pants legs and a hat to protect myself from the sun and prevent a vicious sunburn while leading a goat to question my fashion sense.
Anything that prevents UV rays from penetrating your skin cells is technically a sunscreen. If you find yourself out in the middle of a very sunny nowhere without sunscreen or adequate clothing coverage, you should try to find something to cover your skin. One way to do this involves getting really dirty. By covering yourself with mud, dirt or other light-blocking, opaque substances, you will be shielding your skin from much of the sun's rays. It is thought that one reason animals such as pigs, elephants and hippos roll in the mud is to protect their non-furry skin from sunburn.
Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide Sunscreens
Sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are growing in popularity and are often marketed as "natural." They are more effective at blocking both UVA and UVB radiation than their chemical counterparts and are considered by many to be safer. Some researchers have expressed concerns about these particles, so I encourage you to do your own research on them before coming to any conclusions.
Article Written By Johnnie Chamberlin
Johnnie Chamberlin lives and works in Bloomington, Ind. He holds a Master of Science in civil and environmental engineering from Duke University and a Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley. Over the last five years, he has written numerous articles for several magazines, trails.com, and other websites. He is the author of "Trails of Little Rock."