A lot of sunscreens have been found to contain toxic endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals; like homosalate, avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and octinoxate.
This safe, all natural sunscreen recipe I’ll be sharing with you is super easy to make, can help protect your skin against UV rays without the harmful chemicals, AND is safe for marine life!
There isn’t enough research to deem any sunscreen reef safe or not.
While this may be true, I still err on the side of caution and use all-natural sunscreens labelled “reef-safe“, as this ensures none of the ingredients used will cause harm to our precious ocean life.
While on the subject of chemical sunscreens, wearing too much sunscreen has its own affects. Now, I’m definitely not advising you to stop wearing sunscreen when out in the sun, or ignore your doctor’s advice. I’m merely encouraging you to do your research, look at the studies around sunscreen, and use common sense when it comes to sun exposure.
While sunscreen usage has risen over the past decades, so have skin cancer rates… and there may be a connection.
Don’t get me wrong, sunburn is harmful, but sunscreen isn’t the only way to avoid it and protect yourself against the sun.
Why Make Your Own Sunscreen?
Like I mentioned, A LOT of sunscreens have been found to contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that’ve been shown to actually raise skin cancer risk. This may be partly due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a known hormone disruptor, and has been banned in many places around the world (like Hawaii).
Sunscreen can protect skin from sun damage in two ways: with a mineral barrier or a chemical barrier.
The homemade sunscreen recipe I’ll be sharing with you acts as a physical mineral barrier that remains on the surface of the skin, unlike chemical sunscreens which penetrate through.
There are way many more natural mineral sunscreens available now with much safer ingredients than when I first started looking. (I’ve listed some of my favourites below.) However, you still need to be careful when selecting “natural” sunscreens as they can still contain problematic ingredients (so always read the labels).
What’s more, research has found that many of the compounds in sunscreen can harm ocean life, particularly coral. It’s estimated that over 5,000 tonnes of sunscreen are washed into the ocean every year, polluting our seas and impacting coral life, which has a flow-on effect on other marine species as well.
According to Wellness Mama:
These compounds may awaken dormant viruses in symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae, which provide food and colour to the coral.
The viruses in Zooxanthellae duplicate until the algae host dies, resulting in the death of the coral, too. The algae plays an important role in photosynthesising sunlight and feeding some of the resulting nutrients to the corals. In exchange, the corals provide shelter and nutrients through their waste, which the algae consumes as food.
When looking for a reef-safe sunscreen, watch out for nanoparticles; they’re small enough to be ingested or absorbed and are therefore harmful to marine life. Therefore, non-nano zinc oxide is often used in “reef-safe” sunscreens as it’s quite an effective physical blocker and has been identified as the least damaging UV protector for marine life.
Mineral Sunscreens Vs. Chemical Sunscreens
Mineral sunscreens typically use ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the sun-protective factor. These ingredients are less harmful to corals and are not linked to coral bleaching. They work by creating a physical barrier over skin (spreading across the skin to reflect the UV rays like a mirror) to protect it from the sun. Now, mineral sunscreens may not be as strong as chemical ones, so I still use protective clothing and wear a hat to avoid excess exposure while out in the sun.
Chemical-based sunscreens use one (or more) chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. These chemicals raise concerns because most are able to cross into skin and other tissue in the body (so you essentially absorb these toxic chemicals).
The Effect of Sunscreen on Vitamin D
What’s ironic, especially in Australia, is that a lot of us are vitamin D deficient. Being such a sunny country, you would think that we’d be getting adequate sun (even then some), but this is not the case. This issue isn’t only affecting Australians though, many people around the globe are suffering with vitamin D deficiency.
Sunlight is needed by the body to formulate vitamin D, an important nutrient for regulating hormone function, controlling calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, the creation and function of immune “t-cells”, reducing cancer risk, and lowering inflammation.
As a society, we’ve shut out the sun, which also means we’ve shut out the vitamin D we’d receive from said sun.
Is Homemade Sunscreen Safe?
There are claims that homemade sunscreens are harmful and that we should never consider making our own, as you can’t verify the SPF with homemade sunscreens> This means our chance of burning is higher.
I, too, agree that homemade sunscreens don’t have the lab testing that commercial ones do, but they’re also free-from endocrine disruptors and coral-killing chemicals. Also, sunscreen should be a last resort, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), with shade and covering up being better options.
Note: We shouldn’t use homemade sunscreens in the same way we use chemical ones.
Majority of the time, my approach to sun exposure is to receive an adequate daily exposure, without getting to the point of burning. As I live in Australia, the ozone layer here is quite weak, meaning it’s easier for us to get burnt, especially in the middle of the day in Summer! This is why I tend to get my vitamin D hits during mid morning or afternoon, when the strength of the sun has reduced.
Natural Sunscreen Ingredients
A lot of the ingredients used in this recipe have a natural SPF (Sun Protection Factor).
Note: This recipe has not been tested by a regulatory organisation for its exact SPF. For this reason, I don’t make any claims as to the combined SPF.
The following ingredients are considered low SPF and are generally quoted at these levels:
- Shea butter – SPF 4-6
- Coconut Oil – SPF 4-6
- Almond Oil – SPF around 5
- Red Raspberry Seed Oil – SPF 25-50
- Carrot Seed Oil – SPF 35-40
- Zinc Oxide – SPF 2-20 depending on how much is used
The sun protective ability of the final product will vary depending on how much of each ingredient is used. Always check with your doctor or dermatologist before using any new products.
Homemade Sunscreen Recipe
- 1/2 cup almond or olive oil (natural SPF of around 5)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (natural SPF 4)
- 1/4 cup beeswax
- 2 tbsp zinc oxide (this is a non-nano, uncoated variety. Do NOT inhale the powder)
- 1 tsp red raspberry seed oil (natural SPF 25-50)
- 1 tsp carrot seed oil (natural SPF 35-40)
- 2 tbsp shea butter (natural SPF 4-5)
- Vanilla extract
- Essential oils (Note: Citrus essential oils can increase sun sensitivity. Avoid using them).
- In a glass jar or bowl, combine all the ingredients except the zinc oxide. A great eco-friendly option is to reuse jars from olives, pickles or other foods. Place in saucepan filled with 2 inches of water over medium heat.
- As the water heats up, the ingredients will begin to melt. Stir the mixture every so often until all the ingredients are completely melted and mixed through.
- Add in the zinc oxide and stir well to combine. Ensure you don’t inhale the zinc oxide. Use a mask if need be. Next, pour mixture into whatever jar you’ll be using to store the sunscreen.
- Do not pour into a lotion pump, it won’t pump well. I used a small tin container and glass jars to store my sunscreen.
- As it cools, stir the mixture a few times to ensure the zinc oxide doesn’t separate and settle at the bottom (you want it mixed through as it plays an important part in protection against the sun).
- Store sunscreen in a cool, dry place at room temperature.
Recipe adapted found from Wellness Mama.
- This sunscreen isn’t waterproof, so after swimming or sweating you’ll need to reapply.
- If you remove the zinc oxide from this recipe, this makes an excellent body moisturiser/lotion.
Natural sunscreen recipe tutorial
Pre-made Natural Sunscreen Options
My favourite pre-made natural sunscreens to opt for include:
- SunButter – A “reef-safe“, all-natural, plastic-free sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide.
- Soleo Organics – An all-natural, cruelty-free, Australian made sunscreen made with organically-sourced ingredients.
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. It’s important to check with a doctor before taking this or any new product, especially if taking any other medicine or supplement or if pregnant or nursing. Be sure to check ingredients to make sure there is no risk of an allergic reaction to it.
What’s your stance on sunscreen? Have you made your own before? Share in the comments below.
Lots of love,
Wells, Katie. (Updated: January 3, 2020). Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/2558/homemade-sunscreen/
Zooxanthellae … what’s that?. National Ocean Service. Retrieved from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/education/tutorial_corals/coral02_zooxanthellae.html
Wells, Katie. (Updated: May 22, 2020). Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/699/vitamin-d/
Jockers, Dr. David DC, MS, CSCS. (July 20, 2016). Can Sunscreen Ingredients Increase Your Risk of Cancer?. The Truth About Cancer. Retrieved from https://thetruthaboutcancer.com/sunscreen-ingredients-cancer-risk/
The Harmful Effects of Sunscreen on our Oceans. (October 7, 2017). Hawaii Ocean Project. Retrieved from https://hawaiioceanproject.com/the-harmful-effects-of-sunscreen-on-our-oceans/
Downs, Craig Ph.D. (March 18, 2016). Sunscreen Pollution. Marine Safe. Retrieved from http://www.marinesafe.org/blog/2016/03/18/sunscreen-pollution/
Wells, Katie. (Updated: May 22, 2020). Sunscreen Safety: SPF, UVA, UVB, Oxybenzone & Vitamin D. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/55366/sunscreen-is-harmful/
Ortenzi, T.J. (Updated: November 17, 2011). Sunscreens With Vitamin A May Accelerate Skin Cancer: FDA Knows Danger, Doesn’t Report. Huff Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sunscreens-with-vitamin-a_n_586895
Segalla, Goldberg LLP. (January 21, 2021). Hawaii’s Ban on Oxybenzone and Octinoxate-Containing Sunscreen Takes Effect. Lexology. Retrieved from https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=dc777751-66bf-4b68-abe4-3176bb93a589
Reef-Safe Sunscreen: What You Need To Know. Chasing Coral. Retrieved from https://www.chasingcoral.com/2018/05/23/reef-safe-sunscreen-need-know/
How is Sunbutter Safe for Reefs?. (November 13, 2019). SunButter. Retrieved from https://sunbutteroceans.com.au/blogs/sunbutter-news/sunbutter-safe-for-reefs
Johnsen, Emilie C. (April 27, 2018). Toxicological Effects of Commercial Sunscreens on Coral Reef Ecosystems: New Protocols for Coral Restoration. NSU. Retrieved from https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1335&context=cnso_stucap
Hall, Kate. (June 21, 2021). This week I learnt…. Instagram. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/CQWt-y6MLTW/