Is there really SPF in coconut oil? (+ olive oil’s big secret)

August 21, 2012

No doubt you’ve heard your parents stories about oils and sun tans: “Back in my day, Joanny, people would slather themselves in baby oil to brown up our body’s like  a Sunday roast.” Hey, I ain’t judgin.’ I remember buying a bottle of drugstore ‘coconut oil’ (SPF 4 it promised) to crisp up my 20-something body with maximum sheen. I broke out in a rash instead of a glistening tan. Now coconut oil is back, marketed as an all natural solar protector. Are they for real? Well, I managed to dig up one independent study out of India published in Pharmacognosy Research looking at the SPF value of “herbal” oils. And what did they find? Drum roll please….coconut oil has an SPF of…7. Not quite up to snuff by today’s dermatological standards but not bad for the average bear averse to storebought sunscreens.  I used to buy  SPF 8 sunscreens to enable a good tan without getting burned but they’re way less common now that everyone’s getting SPF 30-80 (those high sunscreens, above SPF 50, are a sham of their own).

What about other oils? Turns out olive oil slightly beats coconut oil, with an SPF of 7.5. Castor oil (way too sticky for these purposes) sits at around 6; almond oil, around 5; and sesame oil, around 2. The researchers concluded that coconut and olive oil would thus be the best base oils to use in a sunscreen and perfume formulas. But, hey, if you’re one of those naturalistas that abhores sunscreen then wearing a little coconut or olive oil would at least help your cause on a sunny day. Personally, I like using coconut oil as moisturizer and the SPF 7 is an added bonus. Did I mention it also has anecdotal properties has a bug repellant?  And while this has nothing to do with SPF or anything bodycare related, I highly recommend you try smearing some food grade coconut oil on your toast. I’m just saying, it’s f’n delicious.

Pharmacognosy Res. 2010 Jan-Feb; 2(1): 22–25.
doi: 10.4103/0974-8490.60586
PMCID: PMC3140123
In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics, Chanchal Deep Kaur and Swarnlata Saraf