Can You Use Shea Butter as Sunscreen? And Other Burning Summer Beauty Questions
Updated: Oct 15, 2022
Is that sun we're seeing? Barely...but as every Toronto dweller knows, it can turn from chilly and grim to beautiful and warm on a dime! In a country dominated by winter, it always feels like forever before beach weather arrives again, but even in Spring patios are open and daycares ask for sunscreen to be packed in school bags once again. Erratic weather extremes keep us scrambling every season to make the switch from skincare products that help us cope with dry, hot radiator air inside and biting cold outside, to taking care of our skin in the sunny and humid season.
Protecting Your Skin When You're a Sun Goddess
I love the sun and am often known to say that 'sunscreen is the new tanning' - meaning that one day, it might be proven that the benefits of sunscreen (reduced exposure to cancer-causing, wrinkle-inducing UV rays) are actually outweighed by the negatives (reduced Vitamin D which can contribute to a host of diseases, increased exposure to toxic chemicals in the sunblock itself). I'm so anti-sunscreen - well, actually, pro-tanning, because I love how slim, radiant and even-toned a tan makes me feel - that on a recent trip to Cuba, I actually didn't wear any sunscreen at all. Not a smart move, Nicole. By the time I pulled out the lame SPF 15, it was far too little, far too late.
Yes, that is my back - the equatorial sun don't play. You don't want to see my legs. The only consolation? I was far from alone. Our resort was chock full of people, many of them very fair-skinned people of Russian descent, who were absolutely lobster-red and peeling aggressively.
Now, of course I went nuts on the after-sun lotion - which I will absolutely need to develop a more natural version of, that isn't full of alcohol and cheap fragrance - but what helped heal me more than anything was the hand and body butter I had in my purse. It's a thick, rich hand and body softening treatment made of mango and shea butter.
Which brings me to the burning question - no pun intended - can shea butter be used as a natural sunscreen?
Shea butter as sunscreen
Shea butter (karite) originates from the shea tree in Africa - another place where the sun don't play. It has been used since ancient times as a sunscreen, and has a natural SPF of about 7! If that doesn't seem like a lot by today's standards, you're right. We're used to slathering ourselves and our children with copious amounts of SPF 50. But a little sunshine is healthy for you, especially in a country that boasts, relatively speaking, so little of it.
The verdict? If you have fair skin, you should not use shea butter as your sole sunscreen; you would need to reapply it too frequently. However, you can mix shea butter with your current sunscreen, or a natural sunscreen that's heavy in zinc, to thin it out and make it less white. You'll be reducing the sun protection factor, so covering up with a wide-brimmed straw hat and light linen clothing is advisable.
Now, what about if you neglect your sun care end up burned to a crisp like me?
Best natural after-sun remedies
Honey, yogurt, colloidal oatmeal, aloe and witch hazel are traditional sunburn remedies that each soothe and quiet the pain and help save your skin, in their own ways and in their own right. You will find oatmeal in our soothing bath tea that's awesome for bug bites and rashes; witch hazel in the cooling facial mist; and real honey in our oatmeal soap! Of all the natural after sun care products, though, my favourite is aloe. The aloe plant was growing literally everywhere in Cuba except on our resort!
If you have ever broken a stalk of fresh aloe and observed the sticky, vaguely slimy and somewhat sweaty-smelling juice come seeping out, you might not want to put it on your body, let alone your face; fortunately, aloe also comes in a gel form, processed into something much more palatable. However, if you simply go to the drugstore and buy a tube of 'aloe vera after sun gel' you may be getting very little aloe and a whole lot of alcohol, colour and fragrance. There's a reason why it looks and feels hand sanitizer!
Instead, visit a health food store such as Healthy Planet or look for pure, organic aloe vera gel online. Or, of course, we have our own brand of pure aloe vera gel which soothes and cools with peppermint and lavender essential oils and moisturizes with coconut oil. This blog post names names in terms of what brands to look for and what additives the different after-sun gels contain, so you can make informed choices.
Take care of you...and your skin!