DIY Sunscreen may seem like a good idea because (in theory) it reduces exposure to toxic chemicals and is fairly economical.
Despite good intentions, DIY sunblock and sunscreens are volatile, unreliable and can actually increase your risk of sunburn!
Since more and more people are going to their kitchens (rather than stores) for their skincare needs, this trend has sparked an endless array of DIY skincare recipes online.
Some are good, but some are bad and downright dangerous—and homemade, DIY sunscreens definitely fall into the latter category.
4 Reasons People Think DIY Sunscreen is Good Idea
#1 Avoiding Horrible chemicals
Chemical sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and octyl methoxycinnamate are very controversial. The FDA doesn’t yet admit that they’re toxic or harmful in any way; though websites like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Natural News, and the EWG have seemingly never-ending citations expressing otherwise.
Read: Is your Sunblock Preventing or Causing Cancer
#2 Natural DIY Sunscreen Ingredients Are Easy To Buy
Both Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are powerful, mineral sunblocks that are readily available in some health food stores and from cosmetic ingredient suppliers online.
#3 Plants and Vitamins Are So Good for Skin
Certain plant emollients like raspberry seed oil and coconut oil have naturally occurring levels of SPF.
Many sunscreen formulas also contain antioxidants like Vitamin E and green tea, which help neutralize the free radical damage that occurs from prolonged sun exposure.
#4 It’s fun and easy to mix stuff together
It seems like a no-brainer to take some coconut oil, add a bit raspberry seed oil, toss in a touch of zinc oxide and Vitamin E oil, and then shake it all up to make an effective, non-toxic, natural sunscreen, right?
In theory, yes.
In reality, not so much.
4 Real Reasons to NOT make your own sunscreen. Ever.
Real Reason #1
There’s no way to know what the actual level of SPF is.
Plant-based emollients are known to have inherent levels of Sun Protection Factor (SPF), such as:
- Coconut oil argan oil
- Red raspberry seed oil
- Carrot seed oil
- Almond oil
- Shea butter
However, none of those emollients have SPF that’s consistently measurable or quantifiable, especially when added to other ingredients in a formulation.
The actual SPF in these ingredients varies depending on their:
- Other factors that occur behind the scenes.
Did you know your very own skin also has a natural amount of SPF based on its levels of melanin pigment? This too factors into the equation of overall sun protection.
Real Reason #2
You’ll get burned because your at-home blender won’t get the job done.
Whether you’re making an oil, butter, or lotion, the solubility of the ingredients plays an important part in the overall texture and consistency of the product, as well as the efficacy of the product and at home blenders and hand mixers just don’t get that job done.
Insoluble particles (that don’t dissolve), such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, typically wind up sinking to the bottom of the tube or jar, leading to uneven distribution and uneven coverage.
That is, unless they’re formulated using professional equipment to assure an even suspension.
You might end up with high coverage one day, and then get burned the next day due to uneven sunscreen distribution.
Real Reason #3
Formulation of sunblock is complicated and regulated.
Since zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both regulated by the FDA in the U.S. as drugs, their true SPF rating has to be verified through the FDA’s testing and approval process.
Making sunblock with a certain SPF isn’t as simple as:
x amount of zinc oxide = an SPF of y
Other ingredients in the formulation, plus the formulation technique affect may also affect that number.
Real Reason #4
Certain natural oils will increase your risk of sunburn!
One of the frequent questions I get as a teacher of DIY skincare, is about adding Vitamin C into recipes for sun damage protection, which makes sense because it’s an antioxidant known to help counteract sun damage.
What they don’t realize is that Vitamin C is phototoxic—meaning it increases the skin’s vulnerability to the sun’s damaging rays and risk of sunburn.
The exact opposite thing that should be in a sunscreen!
Many DIY skincare makers love to put their unique spins on recipes they find online – changing up the carrier oils, or adding essential oils.
However, Vitamin C-rich rosehip seed oil and most essential oils from the citrus or mint families are also phototoxic.
What to use instead
Do yourself a favor and use a natural sunscreen product that’s already gone through the FDA’s testing process and is known to provide effective, even, and reliable coverage when applied as directed.
There are so many great choices now, and the Environmental Working Group does such a fantastic job with ranking them in their annual safe sunscreen guides.[Also read: Non-Toxic, Water Resistant Sun Protection That Works]
If you want to use plant emollients with naturally occurring SPF (such as the serum shown in Best Natural Sunscreens for Face and Body) underneath your sunscreen or as part of your post-sun skincare regimen, it can only help—but please don’t rely on DIY sunscreen as your first line of defense in the sun.
Have you ever gotten burned by a DIY sunscreen? Or have you only had great results from making your own? Let us know what happened in the comments below!
Mixing photo from flikr.
Join the discussion 14 Comments
There are many incorrect statements in this article. For instance, Vitamin C is not phototoxic. I will refer to the following published study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1390169
Topical application of Vitamin C created a stronger protection against the sun’s UVB rays and their damage on the skin. Topical application of Vitamin C increased the skin’s overall concentration of Vitamin C. Vitamin C is also the main component that collagen needs to build its cells. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and the first cells of your body to come in contact with the outside world.
“However, Vitamin C-rich rosehip seed oil…” I’m now confused. my search on USDA says otherwise. Also this mythbusting site https://www.apoterra.com/blogs/getinspired/ingredient-highlight-rosehips
This article is bogus. As an independent woman, I can say that with a little knowledge, it is a great idea to make your own. I’m a total red head with practically translucent skin. I don’t burn and with proper knowledge, you won’t either. ZINC RULES! Non nano only. Peace!
It’s incongruent to start a comment out with a hostile remark and then end it with “peace”. The article clearly states that if you aren’t an experienced formulator, believing that natural oils are enough SPF is the path to burning, among other totally valid points. You’re welcome to do what you want, and as you said it’s only with “proper knowledge” – so you’re saying the same cautionary this author is too.
I agree that DIY sunscreen is a bad idea.
A couple things I wanted to point out:
Rosehip is not phototoxic as it does not contain furanocoumarins, the plant-based compounds that are known to cause this effect.
Rosehip Oil doesn’t contain vitamin C because it is water-soluble and does not make it into the oil. It is contained in the pulp of the hips.
There are citrus essential oils that are phototoxic due to their levels of furanocoumarins but I’ve never heard of any mint.
It seems your knowledge disagrees with the author’s on a few points, so I personally am not able to comment about the nuances, but I do appreciate your insightful comment, Jessica. Thank you!
I agree with the commenter at the top: “your article could benefit from a bit of science.” This is the first time I have ever heard anyone call vitamin C photo toxic. On the contrary, many ingredients in even natural sunscreens have been shown to be photo toxic including possibly titanium oxide. And also contrary to your statement, I’ve read research indicating that topical use of vitamin C serum or vitamin C rich oils naturally protects your skin against free radicals produced by ultraviolet rays. Professional aestheticians who have their own lines actually recommend adding their vitamin C serums along with their daily SPF to increase protection.
Instead of making such blanket statements, how about providing a link to some SCIENTIFIC evidence of this or even a claim from a reputable source? This honestly sounds more like a “keep buying sunscreen” blog via the sunscreen industry which is a very rich industry, including natural sunscreens.
Here is some real science: “When vitamin C or a combination of vitamin C and E is formulated with a commercial UVA sunscreen (oxybenzone), an apparently greater than additive protection is noted against the phototoxic damage.” and here is the source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8869680
Great way of scaring people out of being natural and independent though… and under the “green beauty team” no less… now that’s just brilliant.
Your article could benefit from a bit of science.
Zinc is the best sunscreen there is- period. It alters the high energy radiation, and absorbs it- turning it into heat. If you were to look at someone who had zinc on them with a ultraviolet camera- the would look black.
Zinc is also highly transparent. It is not transparent by how we measure transparency (think glass or water), but in actuality- it is.
Therefore- if you apply zinc- and see your skin get whitish- you actually have an astonishing amount of zinc on you for the purposes of protecting yourself from the sun.
This has been known for a very long time- and early skin protectors had much higher levels of zinc, but fell out of fashion when being “tan” became hip-nobody wanted the white tinge from the sunscreen.
But- if you make it yourself (or, you can use Desitin, but has bit of smell due to cod oil)- and your skin is whitish- you won’t get burned.
Ask any open water swimmer. If you go to a distance event- you will see the distance swimmers covered in it- It is the only way to prevent sunburn after 8 hours of swimming in salt water.
Just the facts.
Great article! The DIY movement is awesome but sunscreen is definitely one thing that shouldn’t be DIYed for the reasons mentioned. We actually make a mineral (zinc) sunscreen as well as a few non-SPF products. Totally encourage people to DIY products like our organic cleanser and night cream but definitely not the sunscreen. The only way to make sure it’s effective is to have it formulated and tested properly.
Just ordered red raspberry seed oil from Berry World. Was planning on adding a drop or two to my Suntegrity or the Josh Rosebrook sunscreen. (I tend to alternate or my face breaks out…… But thought it might be a good additive of protection for my every day routine to my face oil! Your thoughts?
Hi Gwen, I’d recommend applying the red raspberry seed oil first, letting it absorb, and then applying your sunscreen at full strength as directed on top. I don’t recommend diluting sunscreen. Great question!
Thank you!! Will give that a try!!