We love coconut oil and use it in a lot of our natural baby product recipes. If you're reading this post, you are probably already aware of the many benefits that coconut oil provides! However, can it be used as an effective sunscreen for families trying to replace common chemical-laden sunscreens that are available on the market?
I decided not only to research this for our customers' sake but also for my own interest, as I have children of my own and I do not buy most commercial sunscreens. It's important to keep in mind that your child's skin is their largest organ, and it will absorb lotions and creams that you apply. The chemicals in these products may be considered "harmless" by the FDA is small amounts, but can you really know what that chemical concentration is in your own child? Have they really thoroughly studied the effects of this chemical buildup over the long term?
[Side note] The FDA has launched an investigation into the dangers of spray sunscreen: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2011/07/don-t-spray-sunscreens-on-kids-at-least-for-now/index.htm
In researching this coconut oil sunscreen idea, I found a few interesting things. First of all, it does provide a sun protection factor. The SPF it provides is 8 when used as in ingredient in sunscreen formulations. SPF 8 is not anywhere near the suggestion for children, and used alone (not as a sunscreen ingredient) the SPF may be even lower. However, it all depends on your situation, location, how long they will be in the sun, if they will be mostly shaded or covered by appropriate clothing, etc.
I personally decided that coconut oil is not a sufficient sunscreen for children when used by itself for extended exposure.
The source I obtained the SPF study information from is a Pharmacognosy Research publication: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140123/#!po=62.5000 (note that it does mention at the end of the study that the SPF quotes may not be accurate when taken out of the context of the experiment.)How you decide to use coconut oil in your sunscreen regimen is ultimately your decision. You may choose to use it in addition to shade/clothing, all on its own, or in a recipe. I personally use coconut oil on our skin anyhow, it makes a great natural lotion that doesn't get greasy and oily, so when the kids will be outside for an extended period of time I choose to use sunscreens that are mostly zinc oxide based to avoid many of the chemicals in other brands.