It’s starting to get to sunburn season here in Southern Minnesota. Wearing hats and staying in the shade isn’t really cutting it the way it does around here the rest of the year. With that said, there’s some pretty scary ingredients in even “natural” sunscreens.
One alternative is to make your own. Not only is this generally much cheaper in the long run, but you know exactly what’s in the product and can control everything.
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.
Marilyn Farms has a sunblock recipe that uses shea butter, sunflower oil, vitamin E oil, eucalyptus essential oil, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The site also offers a sunscreen recipe that uses avocado oil, sesame oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax. This second recipe would offer limited SPF protection, however, since they don’t use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and the oils offer minimal sun protection. Also note that they list borax as a potential add-in and borax should never be applied to skin.
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 recipe is a little more complicated, she has a reason for the ingredients (some are optional) and her recipe is also a bug repellant.
Instructables also offers a much simpler 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 sunscreens should be kept in the refrigerator and will last several weeks to several months.
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. Xanthum gum works as both an emulsifier and a thickener (in the bug repellant/sunscreen recipe, which involves thinner ingredients like witch hazel).
Beeswax serves as a thickener and stabilizer.
Essential oils are generally added for scent.
Where to find ingredients: Many of these can be found locally at Mankato area pharmacies (ask the pharmacist for powdered zinc oxide, for instance) and the health food section of stores like HyVee or coops like the St. Peter Food Coop. They can also be ordered online from sources like Soapgoods.
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!