Monday, May 14, 2012

The Dangers of Sunscreen

Sun Exposure, Vitamin D, and Sunscreen

Sunscreen is one of the most commonly used and trusted cosmetics used by parents.  But did you know the sunscreen you put on your and your precious children’s skin can actually cause more harm than good?  While they may prevent the redness and pain associated with sun burn, they may in fact increase your risk for skin cancer and may also disrupt the delicate hormonal balance in your body. 

Most conventional sunscreen products today contain harmful chemical ingredients that are dangerous and unsafe.  In 2007 the EWG (Environmental Working Group) published a
list of the ingredients found in many conventional sunscreen products and their harmful effects on humans.  It is a shocking list!  If you look on the ingredient list of most sunscreens available out there, most contain many of these ingredients. ( This entry from Wikipedia has a lot of great information about sunscreen and is very well cited and sourced.  Please take some time to read it.)

This upset me last summer.   I was researching ways to protect my new baby during a summer of days at the beach, lake, and on my in-laws’ boat out on the ocean.  I wanted to protect his delicate skin from sun damage but I wasn’t willing to use harmful chemical sunscreens to do it.  Before he was six months old I used loose-fitting long sleeves and long pants along with a wide-brimmed hat and kept him under an umbrella.  As he got older and wanted to crawl in the sand I wanted to be able to use sunscreen on him.  I did some research on the EWG website and found that California Baby Sunscreen, which is available at Target, was a safe and effective sunscreen.  Though expensive, I was willing to pay the high sticker price for this product (close to $20 in some stores) in order to keep my baby’s skin safe. 

This summer I have tried something new.  I have made my own sunscreen!  I wanted to save money but had no desire to sacrifice safety and efficacy.  I first heard about making my own cosmetics from some friends in a mothers’ group on Facebook.  After hearing the recommendations of other moms, I decided to try my hand at making my own sunscreen and other personal care products.  It has been a 100% successful endeavor!  Not only does it WORK, I know exactly what ingredients are in the sunscreen and I am perfectly confident that they are not only safe but beneficial to my family’s skin.  


Homemade Sunscreen Tutorial

You need to purchase a few ingredients before beginning with your sunscreen recipe.  There are a lot of recipes available out there on the web.  Some are so complex they have my head spinning, others are more simple like mine.  I wanted to keep things simple and easy when I made mine, so I started off with a very simple, easy recipe.  

Gather together your desired ingredients from all or a combination of the following: 
  • 100% pure zinc oxide powder (the only absolutely necessary ingredient) 
  • Carrier oil(s) such as but not limited to coconut oil, shea butter, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil,    etc. 
  • Beeswax 
  • Non-citrus essential oils

What this recipe basically consists of is a sunblock mixed with a carrier oil applied directly on the skin.  Zinc oxide is a total block when used undiluted on the skin meaning it completely blocks all sun rays by reflecting them away from the skin.  By mixing it with other ingredients you can control the SPF.  It protects from both UVA and UVB rays. For this reason you may want to consider allowing some sun exposure without sunscreen before sun burn occurs and before applying sunscreen.  More on that later.

Start by choosing your carrier oils.  I like any of the ones I listed above for different reasons.  Jojoba oil is incredibly luscious and very hydrating.  It makes your skin oh-so-soft and silky but it is also very expensive.  Shea butter is affordable and also very rich and moisturizing.  Coconut oil has many beneficial properties including antibacterial and antifungal properties.  It is very healthy and can help heal skin (not to mention it’s edible!).  Be sure to use only virgin, unrefined, organic coconut oil (and buy organic whenever possible of your other oils).   Sweet almond oil is commonly used by massage therapists and is inexpensive and effective.  I personally like to use a combination of shea butter and coconut oil.  I eventually plan to make a very small batch of sunscreen using jojoba oil for extra dry patches of skin.
In a double boiler, melt your carrier oils until homogenous.  Remove the bowl from the pot and whisk them together.  Add a few drops of your desired essential oils for scent (or omit for unscented lotion).  Add your desired amount of zinc oxide using this formula:  18.9% zinc oxide is SPF 32.  For my first batch I did one part shea butter, two parts coconut oil, and two parts zinc oxide.  This gave me 40% zinc oxide powder in my solution.  I calculated it out to be SPF 68 (40÷18.9=2.12, then 2.12x32=67.84).  This is what I used on my son for our first long day at the beach this spring.  We stayed out for 6 hours and he did not get even the slightest amount of sunburn.  I, on the other hand, waited two hours before applying my sunscreen and did get a little burned.  Oops.

I made a second batch of sunscreen a few weeks ago because I wanted to try a different recipe.  I had some beeswax on hand to use in making some different lotions and body butters and I had read that it can work by making the sunscreen water resistant.  So I wanted to try a slightly different recipe using beeswax and experimenting with a different combination of oils.

This time I used one part shea butter, one part coconut oil, one part almond oil, one part zinc oxide, and about 2 teaspoons of grated beeswax.  I melted the oils in the double boiler and then added the grated beeswax and stirred until it dissolved.  Then I whisked them all together and then whisked in the ZO powder.  Voila!  I opted not to add any essential oils because the beeswax made it smell delicious!  

Make sure to allow your concoctions to sit for at least 10 hours before using them They won’t settle into their more solid/semi-solid state for at least that long even if they are completely cooled.  The beeswax also helps the mixture to be more stable if you are using more liquidy oils such as jojoba or almond.  If 10 hours have passed and you find your recipe to be either too solid or too liquid, simply re-melt in the double boiler and adjust the ingredients to accommodate it.  I suppose you could even use olive oil though I have never tried it myself.

And now, as an end to my post about sunscreen and sun protection, please take a few minutes to read this article about Vitamin D and healthy sun exposure.  Healthy and safe sun exposure is important in allowing your body to make the necessary Vitamin D that it needs. 

Thanks for reading!  If you have any questions about my method or where I buy my ingredients, feel free to ask in the comments.  

Happy summer everyone!

(Me and L after a long day at the beach--notice his still-lily-white skin!)


  1. Do you have the exact proportions you used? I am trying to get an idea of how much zinc oxide to order. I wonder how long it will last. Thank you so much!

  2. My first batch I used 1/2 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup Shea butter, 1/2 cup zinc oxide. Second batch was 1/4 cup sweet almond oil, 1/4 cup coconut oil, 1/4 cup Shea butter, 1 tbsp beeswax, 1/4 cup zinc oxide.

  3. How long did that batch last you?

    1. It lasted a long time. All summer! I still have it. But, we only use sunscreen when we are out in the sun ALL day. Hope this helps and thanks for stopping by the blog!

  4. This is such a great find!! I'm really freaked out by sunscreen, but nobody seems to really understand my fears. I'm going to make some of this for the whole family! Thanks!!

  5. It was a really interesting read, this is very difficult to find good or quality sunscreen product but your "Homemade Sunscreen Tutorial" section is really informative thanks for share - Certified Natural Sunburn Relief