A simple recipe for an effective, non-toxic sunscreen that’s safe for the whole family!
I’ve long had a recipe for homemade body butter that contains zinc oxide, which I was using as a thickening agent. But that fabulous mineral is also a natural sunscreen. Almost all sunscreens on the market today contain chemical sunblockers (like oxybenzone) that are absorbed into the skin, which is why they suggest you wait 20 minutes before getting out in the sun so your skin has time to absorb it. Zinc oxide is not absorbed, so this sunscreen is ready when you are!
What Should and Should Not Be in a Safe Sunscreen?
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) has a great sunscreen guide they publish each year. I use them all the time to look up ingredients in cleaning and cosmetic products to see if what I’m using it safe. Here are the basics of what they published this year:
- No spray sunscreens - The FDA has already expressed concern that although these are the most convenient to use, they are not as effective and are dangerous to inhale.
- No super high SPF’s – The high SPF doesn’t apply to UVA rays, which are the dangerous cancer-causing ones. The FDA is considering putting a cap on the number companies can use to 50 SPF, as is already done in many other countries.
- No oxybenzone – This is the chemical used to create the sunblock. Prelimary studies show it is absorbed into the body and mimics estrogen, which is very dangerous – it caused endometriosis in some women and low birth weights in daughters of pregnant women who used it.
- No loose powder sunscreens – Dangerous if inhaled.
- No retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A) - Government studies have shown Vitamin A in sunscreens speeds up the growth of lesions and tumors in sun-exposed skin.
- No combined sunscreens/bug repellents - Studies show that combining the two increases the absorption of the bug repellent chemicals into the skin and body – dangerous ones like DEET.
- No tanning oils – Encourages risky behavior and high risk of skin cancer and sunburn.
Here’s another great article from the EWG – 9 Surprising Facts About Sunscreen. Some of the facts I find interesting are that skin cancer, in particular, melanoma, is on the rise even though more people use sunscreen and are educated about the dangers of too much sun damage. Funny enough, many people like myself, have low levels of Vitamin D and are having health problems due to it. So, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place – too much sun causes skin cancer and damage, too little results in low Vitamin D. I think the answer is in the middle – it’s a bad idea to lay out in the sun and get prolonged exposure, but getting our 15 minutes a day is healthy. So, while outside, I like to wear a hat and sunglasses and allow my limbs to get about 15 minutes of sun before applying a healthy, non-toxic sunscreen. Then, I stay in the shade when possible.
So, What’s Special About Using Zinc Oxide?
Zinc oxide is not a chemical (well, by scientific terms it is because it is a compound, but so is water and oxygen) – it is derived from the mineral zinc. Chemical sun blockers are absorbed into the skin and body, non-nanoparticle zinc oxide is not. Zinc oxide offers full range protection (UVA and UVB) and, according to the EWG, many of the chemical sunscreens do not because it is not strictly regulated by the FDA to back up the broad-spectrum claims. Physical blockers are also better for sensitive and young children’s skin, are non-comedogenic, non-irritating, and the FDA actually lists it to be the one of the most effective active ingredients for sun protection. However, it absorbs the sun’s rays and zinc oxide scatters it, making it safer and more stable than titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide is antimicrobial and wound healing! I use the non-nanoparticle version as it is not absorbed into the skin (read more about the importance of using non-nanoparticles here).
How to Use It Safely
- Use it liberally and reapply every one to two hours.
- The beeswax in this recipe helps to make it more waterproof, but not completely so. If in the water, I would reapply every hour instead of two, at least on the most exposed parts, and especially after drying off.
(for a more detailed tutorial, check out my Homemade Lotion Recipe)
- 1 cup unrefined, raw shea butter (where to buy) or cocoa butter (where to buy) if you have a nut allergy
- ½ cup raw organic coconut oil (where to buy)
- ½ cup sweet almond oil (where to buy), olive, sunflower or other similar carrier oil
- 2 tablespoons beeswax (where to buy) (for waterproofing, I like the tiny pastilles)
- 4 tablespoons non-nano zinc oxide (where to buy) (more if you want a higher SPF than 20)
- Optional - 2 tablespoons water (this makes it more thin and like real lotion. Otherwise, it'll be thicker and like a salve.
- Optional - essential oils for fragrance like lavender, patchouli, cedarwood - but NOT citrus oils as they attract the sun (where to buy high quality essential oils)
- In a double boiler (or a smaller pot inside of a larger pot that has water in it), melt together the shea butter, beeswax, coconut oil and almond oil together.
- Once it all turns to liquid, let the oils cool in the fridge (I put the pot in the fridge once it returns to room temperature so I don't have to clean more dishes)
- Once it has returned to being hard (an hour or more), whip it with a hand mixer or a standing mixer for a few minutes.
- Then, add the water, zinc oxide and optional essential oils.
- Whip for about five minutes to emulsify the ingredients.
- Scoop into a jar and you're done!
My blogging buddy, Amanda, from Natural Living Mamma, has an excellent Safe Sun Tips and Sunscreen Guide that is very helpful, too!
Other sources for this post come from: