I am confident I do not need to go into all the reasons why you MUST protect yourself from the sun while enjoying the great outdoors. I always keep a small tube of sunscreen in my pack to make sure I don’t forget to bring it on the next hike. But what if you wind up far from civilization and you’ve forgotten or run out of sunscreen?
You might just decide to turn back and redo the hike later when you are better prepared. But if you are already out in the wild and you and your hiking companions run out of sunblock, there is one thing you can do.
Mud, yes mud.
You can smear mud over exposed skin to help prevent sunburn. Mud acts as a physical-barrier type of sunscreen because it can prevent the sun’s UV rays from penetrating the skin. Mud will stick to your skin. As it dries, it will crack and fall off, leaving behind a dirty residue that can also block UV rays. If you find yourself without proper clothing or any other source of sunscreen, covering yourself with mud or any other kind of opaque substance will help reflect the sun’s rays from your skin.
Another reason to use mud as sunscreen during survival situations in the wild is that mud can help control your body temperature, especially while it is still wet. This specific function is one reason why animals like elephants (and pigs) love to wallow in the mud. And once the mud dries, it can also work as a bug repellent.
Using mud as sunscreen is easy. All you have to do is spread it over your exposed skin. Then allow it to dry completely so it can act as a natural barrier. While it’s easy to use, mud does have its downsides. One disadvantage is that it can have an odor. Another is that having it on your skin is not a pretty sight to behold. Still, it is a great natural alternative to getting burned by the sun.
If you are in an area where there are Aspen trees, the white powder on the outside of their trunks can also be used to provide some physical sunscreen protection. It provides an approximate SPF of 5, which admittedly isn’t very much. It is simple to use in a pinch, and you might be able to layer it on for better SPF. Just rub the palms of your hands along an aspen tree’s trunk and spread the powder over exposed skin. You can even scrape some extra powder from the aspen tree’s trunk and save it in a baggie for a later re-application. You’ll want to reapply often for best efficacy.
Aspen powder – rubbed from the tree onto my hand and face.
The Aspen tree white powder is a mystery, even to scientists who have studied it. See: Mystery of Aspen Powder. It appears to be the unique way aspens shed bark as opposed to other trees that form a solid mass of protective bark.
Some Notes on Sunburn
If you develop sunburn, get out of the sun and into some shade or indoors. Let the affected skin cool down. You can do this by soaking the affected area in a stream, pond, lake, or tub, or by using a wet cold compress. This works for sunburns that are not severe. By applying a cool wet dressing, compress, or water onto the area, you may attain some immediate relief.
For more serious sunburns causing open wounds, you can lessen the possibility of getting infected by using sterile dressings and drinking water. Hopefully you didn’t forget your first aid kit!
Aloe Vera Gel is also good for treating sunburns. If you are prone to sunburn, it’s a good idea to keep some gel in your first-aid kit.
If your sunburn is severe, seek medical attention. Do not pop blisters, and stay hydrated during your healing and recovery period.
You might think wearing any long-sleeved shirt and long pants is all the protection you need, but that is not necessarily the case. Ultraviolet light can pass through many natural materials. Clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is specifically designed to protect your skin from the UV light that can penetrate normal fabrics. It uses denser weaves, thicker fabrics, and/or special dyes that block these rays, and is rated on a scale of 1 to 50. Clouds and overcast skies also do not protect you – the UV rays still come through.