It’s starting to get to sunburn season! Wearing hats and staying in the shade isn’t really cutting it the way it does the rest of the year, especially if you spend a day at the beach or out in the hot sun. With that said, there are some pretty scary ingredients in even “natural” sunscreens.
One alternative is to make your own sunscreen. Not only is this generally much cheaper in the long run, but you know exactly what’s in the product and can control everything.
Luckily, making your own sunscreen is surprisingly simple!
For a super simple recipe, simply mix zinc oxide with shea butter in a ratio of 1:10 (one part zinc oxide to ten parts shea butter). This is the approximate ratio of most commercial sunscreens.
To have a higher SPF factor, increase the ratio (note that zinc oxide is rather opaque and thick, so it may be harder to apply). You can also try this with coconut oil and other oils (note the ones listed later that also offer sun protection).
There are also many more sophisticated recipes online. Here’s a round-up of some of the best.
Little House in the Suburbs has a sunscreen recipe that uses avocado oil, shea butter, beeswax, soy lecithin, vitamin E capsules, aloe vera gel and zinc oxide.
Instructables offers a very knowledgeable post that will also help educate you about UVA rays, UVB rays, why zinc oxide is better than titanium dioxide, why to avoid nano particles and more. While this mama’s sunblock recipe is a little more complicated, she has a reason for the ingredients (some are optional) and her recipe is also a bug repellent.
Instructables also offers a much simpler sunscreen recipe (with a thicker result), which uses only a carrier oil, emulsifying wax and either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Essential oils are listed as optional, but note that some EO’s in the citrus family are photosensitizers — meaning they can cause bad skin reactions or burns when exposed to the sun. Research your EO before adding it in.
Homemade sunscreen should be kept in the refrigerator and will last several weeks to several months, depending on whether you add ingredients like vitamin E as preservatives.
What do the ingredients do?
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide offer broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sun protection.
Coconut oil, shea butter and other oils offer the oily or creamy base. Some are also believed to offer a small amount of sun protection. Sesame oil is said to resist 30% of sun’s rays, while coconut, peanut, olive and cottonseed oil are believed to resist about 20% of the sun’s rays.
Vitamin E serves as a natural preservative, and it is also good for the skin.
Emulsifying wax and soy lecithin work as emulsifiers, keeping the ingredients blended and suspended in the lotion. Xanthan gum works as both an emulsifier and a thickener (in the bug repellent/sunscreen recipe, which involves thinner ingredients like witch hazel).
Beeswax serves as a thickener and stabilizer.
Essential oils are generally added for scent. Some also repel bugs.
Where to find ingredients: Many of these can be found locally at area pharmacies (ask the pharmacist for powdered zinc oxide, for instance) and the health food section of stores or coops. They can also be ordered online.
Remember that a moderate amount of sun exposure is healthy for kids and adults alike, and helps support a healthy immune system. A sunburn isn’t good for anybody though.
Enjoy the summer!
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