There are animals such as pigs and elephants that wallow in mud which possibly serves as protection from sunburn. There are also some plants such as Aloe vera (Aloe vera) and Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) which are believed to help soothe burns which may help after a sunburn has already occurred. Are there any natural materials that one could find and use in the wild to naturally protect against sunburn?

  • 5
    Technically hippopotamus sweat - not sure if the hippo working up a sweat while attacking you is a good way to collect it though... – Rycochet Aug 20 at 8:00
  • 7
    Does melanin count? – Phil Frost Aug 20 at 16:35
  • 20
    Does a tree count? – stannius Aug 20 at 19:16
  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because its generating many worthless answers – ldgorman Aug 21 at 12:09
  • 2
    I am a relatively new user but closing a question with this many upvotes seems odd. Downvoting the poor quality answers could be a service. Leaving it alone would also be fine. Deleting content of clear value to a number of people seems net harmful. – mmcc Aug 22 at 16:05

As you said yourself: mud. Or cotton as Gabriel answered, or wood, or leaves, or bark, or anything that stops light from reaching your skin. Is there any natural material that without any processing can be applied as a cream, is nearly invisible in the visible spectrum yet stops much of the UV-rays? Not to my knowledge. Which is why we have to make it. But most natural materials will block most of the UV-rays. This is also one of the main reasons why there is no natural sunblock. A tree is protected from UV light by its bark, it doesn't need to produce a near invisible cream that blocks UV-rays. And since most natural materials block much of the UV light they will protect you from sunburn and skin cancer. Often better than commercial sun cream, as you probably already know from wearing clothes. They just don't do it while letting most of the visible light hit your skin and while letting you look like you're not covered by anything.

  • 1
    I don't know if it's an old wive's tale but I've been told that the powdery residue left on your hands after you rub the trunk of a poplar tree can be used as sunscreen – Brad Aug 20 at 19:59
  • 8
    @Brad Sure, you can use pretty much any opaque substance. – Sneftel Aug 20 at 21:59
  • Basically, if you can see it, it's opaque, and can act as a screen for light. Anything that's not completely transparent will act as a sunscreen. – Nelson Aug 22 at 5:35
  • 5
    @Nelson: theoretically, a substance can be opaque to visible light but transparent to UV. I don't know if anything like that exists in nature, though. – Michael Borgwardt Aug 22 at 9:44

The mucous from the marine animal mushroom coral, is a natural sunscreen, which is designed to keep the coral itself from burning in the sun. The mushroom coral is only found in coral reefs in certain parts of the world, so it might be hard to find in the wild. According to a historian, Bear Grylls is said to have used it to rub some mucous on himself and then put the coral back in the water.

There might be some validity to this, as outlined here: http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/microsites/biodiscovery/05human-impact/sunscreen-for-corals.html. It also describes the coral's ability to produce a substance to try to protect itself from the sun, although it doesn't specifically mention a way for people to use it.

  • 1
    this answer deserves more attention. As its a pretty neat one and many people dont know about – undefined Aug 21 at 6:33
  • 1
    Some fish also secrete sunscreen. So... rub yourself with fish slime? – TKK Aug 22 at 19:18
  • Welcome Damien! Thanks for your answer! I want to explain why I edited it, since our system is different from others, and can be confusing. Our help center has posting guidelines. It's important to write some text from your sources. Links go down, and then people wouldn't be able to learn. How to Answer explains that. Also, we avoid linking to membership sites, so I replaced your Facebook page link with one that said the same thing. This page explains editing. You own your post and can reject or change any edit! Leave a note if we can help you! – Sue Aug 23 at 0:57

Wood ash As @Monster said:

anything that stops light from reaching your skin.

The OP her/himself suggested mud. All you need to get wood ash is a campfire, which you probably want anyway, in the OP's scenario.

Survivopedia in 9 Survival Uses of Wood Ash says:

Natural Camouflage This is kind of a no-brainer but there may come a time when you just don’t want to be seen. You may be hunting or you may be waiting for human predators to invade your space. Whatever the reason, wood ash is a quick, natural camouflage.

On a similar note, sunburn can be lethal and if you don’t have any sunscreen, rub wood ash on your skin to block the sun’s rays. (emphasis added)

Of course, this isn't a silky cream, but wood ash is portable. You can easily carry several days worth, or more, unless you are hiking in short shorts and a sleeveless shirt. Obviously wood ash will be harder to obtain above timberline or in a desert, exactly the places where you need sunscreen the most. But even above timberline there are often scattered trees and scattered downed wood, and deserts may have some woody scrub. Wood ash is stickier than mud, particularly if it is deposited over a layer of campfire grime from a smoky campfire.

Caveats: (1) Make sure the wood ash is cold before applying it to your skin. (2) An anonymous editor made the point (which I have in turn edited) that fresh wood ash mixed with water is caustic, and should not be applied near your eyes, and may irritate your skin. Old wood ash will weather to a carbonate.

It depends on what level of processing makes you feel something is no longer natural.

Typical Sunscreens use Zinc Oxide as a UV blocking agent, as it is photo-stable and creates a nearly invisible layer (when using the highly-processed nanostructure form of the mineral). Zinc Oxide is naturally formed as both the mineral Wurtzite, and the mineral Zincblende. One or both of these 2 minerals could be powdered and rubbed onto the skin for a somewhat ineffective sunscreen. Alternatively, you could look up one of the hundreds of recipes for homemade lotion, and add the powdered mineral to it to make your own sunscreen. You won't get the same level of protection as commercial sunscreen, but you will avoid the under-researched effects of the aforementioned nanostructures.

To clarify, the reasons Zinc Oxide nanostructures are so common in commercial sunscreens are the FDA GRAS status (you can eat Zinc Oxide safely per FDA rating), and the lack of pigmentation that non-nanostructured Zinc Oxide would leave on the skin after rubbing in the sunscreen (goes on white, rubs in clear type of thing).

  • 3
    While we agree, and I think your answer is fine - "powdering something and rubbing it onto the skin" is equally as under-researched as nanostructures. I disagree with the implication that something is dangerous because it is under-researched and if it was the case, it should apply equally to all concepts, regardless of the novelty of the name... When manually "powdering" something you can be guaranteed to create nanostructures. – Stian Yttervik Aug 21 at 6:49
  • @StianYttervik I did not mean to imply that it's dangerous. I'm paraphrasing part of the Wikipedia article that I linked. Specifically citations 72-75, which present both sides of the 'nanostructures are bad' argument. – GOATNine Aug 21 at 11:30

Red Ochre

Red Ochre is a natural earth pigment found in clays that are rich in iron. It's been used for thousands of years by cultures around the world as a natural sunblock. It's also the same pigment used in ancient cave paintings. Native American Indians "war paint" was often worn as a sunblock, and was made out of ochres. Being a clay makes it easier to prepare it into an applicable paste, but it's essentially mud on your face.

  • Hi Shemseger! Do you have a reference about people using this as a sunblock? This question is crying out for reputable information, and if it's proven that it works, this might be the closest thing. If the person in the wild happens to be in an area with the right type of soil, and can harvest it, it should be the correct answer. Yes it a mud-on-your-face answer, but at least there's a potentially accessible source of the mud! – Sue Aug 23 at 0:05
  • @Sue I assumed it was rather common knowledge, there are plenty of cultures that still use it. There's no shortage of references, I would recommend people google red ochre sunblock and read some of the materials there. – ShemSeger Aug 23 at 2:14
  • Thanks for the link! I like that it's an excellent scientific study so I put the title in. I also found another academic article specifying the use of it in current culture, so I added it in. – Sue Aug 23 at 5:00

Most white substances are usually good. As a bush assumption you can assume that reflectance in visible range means reflectance in UV range. You can grind rock against rock and mix with spit or water. The active components of sunblock are usually pretty common minerals. Rutile, Zinc oxides etc. The organic ones have a tendency to be banned for toxicity after a few years after introduction...

A quick Google search reveals that carrot seed oil has an SPF of 40 and raspberry seed oil has an SPF of 30. The reliability of the site is not established.

Just FYI here's a formal study of herbal sunscreens. One of the products tested claimed to be carrot seed based but another person evaluated the ingredients and discovered zinc oxide which probably contributed largely to the SPF.

The white dust, technically "bloom", found on the trunks of aspen (Populus tremuloides) trees has been used as a sun block. Some trees have more than others. Rubbing a hand on the bark and transferring the dust to your skin does noticeably leave a whitened area so I'm inclined to believe it is some help. There are numerous species of Populus, so it might be possible to find other trees with similar benefit.

protected by Sue Aug 23 at 0:58

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.