Have you ever considered making your own sunscreen? It’s easier to make than you think. Find out why you should avoid traditional sunscreens from the store (hint: there are full of harsh chemicals), and learn how to make your own DIY Sunscreen.
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Did you know that many store-bought sunscreens are loaded with chemicals? These chemicals are not only harmful, but downright toxic to the body.
Most traditional sunscreens – especially those marketed for children – are some of the worst out there in terms of chemicals and additives. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Consumer Reports warns not to use aerosol spray sunscreens on babies and children because the particles from the spray that can be inhaled or swallowed can be harmful to kids.1
But that’s not all, traditional sunscreens have other ingredients that can be harmful to children. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of worst scoring sunscreens for kids – which includes a list of very popular sunscreens marketed for children and families.
6 Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreens
Most people don’t think twice about lathering on sunscreen to prevent skin cancer and sunburns, yet store-bought sunscreens carry a health risk too. Store-bought sunscreens are loaded with chemicals that are not only harmful, but downright toxic to the body. Yet the ingredients are often marketed as being healthy.
But it can be confusing to decipher those sunscreen bottles to know what’s truly harmful. Here are 6 ingredients to avoid in sunscreens.
1. Oxybenzone and Other Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Used in 80% of conventional sunscreens, the chemical ingredient oxybenzone provides UV coverage (including UVB and UVA rays). Oxybenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, octinoxate and avobenzone are used in combination as a chemical sunscreen. These chemicals are considered to be endocrine or hormone disruptors – with oxybenzone scoring the highest on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) health hazard score.2 Oxybenzone can trigger allergic reactions. Oxybenzone is used to chemically block. It also acts like estrogen in the body (endocrine disruptor) and has been been linked to endometriosis in older women.3
2. Retinol or Retinyl Palmitate
This form of vitamin A is often added to sunscreens to slow aging, yet it may actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin.2 So watch out for “retinol” or “retinyl palmitate” – or pretty much any sunscreen that touts itself as being “anti-aging” or “fights wrinkles”.
3. Nanoparticles in Spray, Aerosol or Powder Sunscreens
While it may seem easier to spray on sunscreen for hard-to-reach areas or squirmy kids, these aerosol sprays and powders pose a dangerous inhalation health risk. Even Consumer Reports suggests avoiding aerosol or spray sunscreens, especially on kids, until the FDA has completed an assessment of the health risks of spray sunscreens.4
Spray and powder sunscreens usually contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (also known as mineral sunscreens). While generally these ingredients are relatively safe , they do contain nanoparticles. Nanoparticles at 100 mm or smaller could get carried into the lungs and cause damage to the internal organs.1 Nanoparticles in lotion sunscreens are generally regarded as safe. Just avoid the spray or aerosol sunscreens.
EWG discourages the use of sunscreen powders or sprays with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (4 on the EWG hazard score) due to serious inhalation risks, but lotions are ok.3
4. High SPF Sunscreens
It’s easy to think that sunscreens with SPF 70 or 100 would provide better coverage. But higher SPF is really just clever marketing. In a Procter & Gamble study in 2011, the company found marginal differences between SPF 37 and SPF 75.4 Plus, a higher SPF may actually give you a false sense of protection (and you may stay out longer in the sun or forget to re-apply sunscreen after getting out from the water), thus you may actually burn more.
Sure, the coconut scent in your favorite sunscreen may smell like you’re on a tropical beach in paradise, but the reality is that the scent is likely an artificial fragrance. These fragrances are typically not disclosed on sunscreen labels (other than “fragrance”) and contain toxic chemicals such as diethyl phthalate. Fragrances have been linked with allergies, dermatitis and respiratory issues.5
6. Bug Repellant Sunscreens
While it seems like a good idea to combine a bug repellant and a sunscreen in one product, there are some health risks to consider. For one, the main bug repellent ingredient is DEET – an insecticide that can cause eye irritation, skin rashes, and even neurological damage when exposed in high concentrations.6
Plus, DEET may reduce the efficacy of sunscreens by 30% or more in SPF, and sunscreens increase the absorption of DEET into the skin, which can increase toxicity – especially for children.7
A better alternative is to use a DIY natural bug repellent in addition to a homemade sunscreen.
Why Make Your Own Sunscreen
You know exactly what’s going on your skin and can be sure to use ingredients that are high-qualify and without the toxic chemicals.
Which is why I’ve choose to make my own DIY sunscreen. I actually came up with this recipe on accident. I was making another batch of my Homemade Body Butter and thought – hmmm, what if I just added some zinc oxide as a sun block and beeswax to firm up the consistency. And BAM! That’s how this recipe was born. DIY is so much fun!
Ingredients to Make Homemade Sunscreen
- Coconut oil is the carrier oil in this recipe and has a natural 4-6 SPF.
- Shea butter also serves as a carrier oil and helps to moisturize the skin.
- Beeswax helps to keep the sunscreen in a more solid consistency – perfect for a sunscreen stick or those hot, summer days – and locks the sunscreen and moisture to the skin.
- Lavender essential oil is soothing to the skin and has a calming aroma – making it a perfect addition to any beauty or body care product.
- Zinc oxide (non nano) powder is a non-toxic sunblock that is the main ingredient in most sunscreens.
How to Choose a Zinc Oxide Powder
Zinc oxide is the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) first choice for sun protection. It’s stable in sunlight and provides protection for both UVA and UVB rays (the two types of ultraviolet radiation from the sun).
Choose non-nano zinc oxide powder as the particles are larger and won’t penetrate into the skin – that’s what makes zinc oxide give that white, chalky color that lifeguards used to wear. Conversely, nano or micronized zinc oxide have tiny particles and can enter the body through the skin – which may lead to health issues, thus it should be avoided.
So how much non-nano zinc oxide should you use? Use 10% zinc oxide to get about a SPF 10. Use 20% zinc oxide to get about a SPF 20.
So you can add a bit more to get a higher SPF, but really more than about SPF 25-30 isn’t really necessary as it’ll give you a false sense of sun protection. Rather than use a super high SPF, re-apply more often. I usually re-apply every hour, especially on my fair-skinned son.
The zinc does help this Homemade DIY Sunscreen to be waterproof too – but like anything – e.g. friction, sweat, etc. can all play a role. Don’t let the fact that zinc oxide is naturally waterproof give you a false sense of security that your kids can be out all day in the water without re-applying.
I suggest re-applying this Homemade Sunscreen at least hourly, and if you’re playing sports or in the water a lot, keep checking to make sure you have enough coverage. Yes, I know commercial sunscreens may stay on the skin for hours at a time, but WHY. What is in those sunscreens that it actually stays on the skin for hours on end. I’d rather choose to re-apply often and use my Homemade Sunscreen than expose my family to toxic chemicals.
How to Make Your Own Sunscreen
- In a double boiler, add 1 cup coconut oil, 1/2 cup shea butter, 1/4 cup beeswax and 1/3 cup zinc oxide (non nano).
- Stir until beeswax is melted in mixture.
- Remove from heat, and add 10 drops Lavender essential oil.
- Fill these 2 oz. roll-up containers or 2 oz. jars to make about 6 sunscreen containers to take on the go. You can use bigger containers too – it’s totally your preference. You’ll have about 12 oz of sunscreen with this recipe.
- Let the sunscreen cool for at least two hours before use, and store in a cool, dry place.
How to Use This Sunscreen
Once it’s cooled down, it’ll have a thick consistency. Just put a dollop in your hands and rub together and then spread on the skin. Repeat until skin is evenly coated. Be sure to reapply at least every 45-60 minutes, especially if you’re doing outdoor activities or swimming in the pool or ocean.
Keep it out of direct sunlight. It has the beeswax to keep it from completely melting but direct sunlight and a hot environment may make it lose its solid-like consistency.
How to Get Started with Essential Oils
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DIY Sunscreen That’s Easy to Make
- Double boiler
- 2 oz. roll-up containers
- Stir until beeswax is melted in mixture.Remove from heat, and add Lavender essential oil.
- Fill these 2 oz. roll-up containers or 2 oz. jars to make about 6 sunscreen containers to take on the go. You can use bigger containers too – it's totally your preference. You'll have about 12 oz of sunscreen with this recipe.
- Let the sunscreen cool for at least two hours before use, and store in a cool, dry place.
2. What Not to Bring on Vacation, Environmental Working Group.
3. Oxybenzone, Environmental Working Group.
4. Fragrances, Environmental Working Group.
5. Don’t Spray Sunscreens on Kids, At Least for Now, Consumer Reports.
6. Guide to Bug Repellents: Repellent Chemicals, Environmental Working Group.
7. Would it be better to use a product that combines insect repellent and sunscreen, or use two separate products? Skin Cancer Foundation.
Photo credit: Bigstockphotos.com / photoguns, Gorlovkv