Nope, PLANTS ARE NOT A SUNSCREEN.
However, plants have the ability to help support and protect your skin in multiple ways against varying types of UV induced damage. Every year I speak to this. And every year my posts get a little bit more vague and my voice gets a little quieter as our following grows. The state of the beauty and wellness industry is currently mirroring the polarizing state of the political world. There is talk and evidence of fear mongering and privilege, as well as corruption and greed. I often find myself on the outskirts watching the divisiveness unfold like an episode of reality tv. But here it is: my thoughts on plants and sun care, which will undoubtedly upset some. I share this with unapologetic gratitude for the voice that I have, confidence in the research I’ve done, and joy from all the individuals who have shared their sun/skin journeys with me.
What is Sunscreen?
A sunscreen must be made with an FDA approved sunscreen drug, like Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide, Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, etc. The only one I use on my own skin at this time is Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, because the others all have more varying degrees of controversy around them. The state of Hawaii banned the chemical sunscreen Oxybenzone, entirely because of the indisputable harm it is doing to sea life and coral reefs. Zinc Oxide is a physical mineral sunscreen that sits on the surface of the skin preventing the legally required amount of both UVB and UVA rays from penetrating through its Zinc barrier.
How Plants Protect Against Harmful UV Rays
Now let’s talk about plants. Plants do not physically block UV rays like Zinc does, at least not in the same foolproof manner. They work by improving the health and defense mechanisms of the skin. They address how our cells respond to UV rays. In excess, the sun can cause oxidative damage and inflammation. Fresh, unrefined plant material has the ability to prevent some lipid oxidation, prevent some inflammation, and the plants’ own phytochemicals can absorb some excessive UV rays themselves.
Plants have a strong relationship with the sun. They have to. They aren’t able to seek shade, wear a hat, or lather on physical barriers. They must develop their own phytochemical defenses to protect their own cells from UV induced damage. And it’s the same phytochemicals that plants use to protect themselves that you will find in our whole plant products, such as carotenoids, flavonoids, polyphenols, vitamin C, vitamin E, a specific range of fatty acids, lipids, and more.
Can We Use Plants as a Sunscreen?
While plants can assist in preventing UV damage, there are many other factors to consider before relying on them. What is your diet like? Is it rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats? What is your overall health like, do you have an autoimmune or could you be fighting high levels of inflammation already? What is your stress level like? Are you in your daily routine, or are you on vacation in an area closer to the sun or doing an atypical outdoor activity? Are you consuming alcohol? How long do you plan to be in the sun? If you are the type of person who considers all these sorts of factors, then you might enjoy relying on plants for support during your time in the sun. If you don’t want to consider any of that and just want to enjoy your tropical vacation, then you are probably someone who needs to apply a daily zinc-based sunscreen. Plants are helpers. They will support your health and minimize damage to the best of their ability, but they are not a foolproof barrier for the sun’s rays. If you are already overburdened with inflammation and free radical activity, then they are not a good option for you because their resources will be spent addressing that overburden.
What Laurel Products Aid in Protection From UV-induced Oxidation
The Sun Body Oil and Sun Serum are formulated with each plant carefully chosen for its proven research in preventing and/or repairing UV damage. However, all of our products contain helpful carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins, and antioxidants; specifically, our Elixirs in combination with the raw unrefined oils that we use in our Serums and Balms. Plants that have the best defense have a well of both oil and water loving nutrients to draw from, and we need that too. By using our products every day, you are filling up that well, so that it has more to draw from when it’s in more vulnerable situations. Using these products doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want in the sun and not get sun damage or sunburn. Using these products does mean your skin will be healthier, stronger, and less susceptible to damage or sunburn.
My Own Personal Choices
I’ll end with: I wear sunscreen (when I am called to by my own internal compass). Often people are under the impression that I don’t ever wear sunscreen, because I speak so openly about how I enjoy relying on plants, and I believe in their capabilities to prevent UV-induced oxidative stress and inflammation within reason. That said, I can’t imagine myself ever wearing a barrier of vaporized metal on my skin everyday…that feels inherently wrong for my own personal self at this time. I wear sunscreen most often when I am on vacation or in an atypical outdoor environment where I am unable to seek or unwilling to seek shade – these activities are separate from my normal daily routine. I also might choose to wear sunscreen if I’m not feeling my best, haven’t been eating well lately, or plan to drink alcohol while in the sun. I like Badger Sunscreen the best, because it has the fewest ingredients and is the closest to being a whole plant product, like the other products I use on my skin. However, if you don’t want to wear a thick barrier of white paste, both Honua and Blissoma make more elegant, beautiful reef-safe/ocean-safe sunscreens that let your beautiful skin tone shine through with a more sheer Zinc barrier.
I’m not sure when this conversation became a divisive one. It is fascinating how much research is out there on benefits from daily moderate sun exposure, yet speaking about that is becoming more restricted and more polarizing. Significant research points to small increments of sun exposure resulting in increased vitamin D levels, a reduction in the risk of multiple cancers, a more resilient immune system, and so on. Referencing research on plant ingredients that are considered anti-cancer is becoming taboo as well – even in the green beauty industry – while fear mongering about the sun causing cancer is widely acceptable. This is something to notice and be mindful of as a trend.
For now, keep radiating joy and gratitude from every cell; gratitude for plants, for hard truths, for self expression, for the sun, and for life itself. And follow your inner compass!