Most commercial sunscreens have been found to contain toxic endocrine-disrupting chemicals like homosalate, avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and octinoxate. By making your own homemade natural sunscreen, you can drastically reduce your exposure to these chemicals whilst still enjoying time in the sun.
This homemade sunscreen recipe is a natural alternative to the chemical-filled commercial sunscreens available on the market.
Sunscreen can protect skin from sun damage in two ways; either with a mineral or a chemical barrier.
This homemade sunscreen recipe acts as a physical mineral barrier that remains on the surface of skin, unlike chemical sunscreens which penetrate the skin and are absorbed into the bloodstream.
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 the skin; reflecting back the UV rays like a mirror, helping to protect skin from the sun.
Yet, it’s important to note that mineral sunscreens aren’t as strong as the chemical ones. I recommend wearing protective clothing along with sunscreen while out in the sun, and try and stick to the shade as much as possible to avoid burning.
When selecting “natural” sunscreens, you need to be careful about which ones you choose, as they can contain problematic ingredients, too (so always read the labels).
Chemical-based sunscreens use one (or more) chemicals to create a protective barrier over the skin; chemicals like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. These ingredients raise concerns because most are able to cross over into the skin and other tissues, making their way around the body.
Is “Reef-Safe” Really Better for Marine Life?
Research has found that many of the compounds in chemical sunscreens 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 Katie Wells, founder of the health and wellness website, 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, killing the coral, too. The algae plays an important role in photosynthesising sunlight, which feeds the resulting nutrients to corals. In exchange, the coral provides shelter and nutrients through its 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 by marine creatures.
Non-nano zinc oxide is usually used in “reef-safe” sunscreens as it’s an effective physical blocker and has been identified as the least damaging UV protector for marine life.
This is true, as even “natural” ingredients like zinc oxide have been found to impact marine environments.
While zinc oxide isn’t ideal, it’s one of the only substitutes available to use in place of chemicals like oxybenzone.
Is Homemade Sunscreen Safe?
There are claims that homemade sunscreens can be harmful, too, as you can’t verify the SPF. This means the chance of burning is higher.
This is definitely true. Homemade sunscreens don’t have the lab testing that commercial sunscreens goes through, but they’re also free-from endocrine disruptors and coral-killing chemicals.
But note that the strength of homemade sunscreen is much lower, so it should really only be used as a last resort, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), with other sun exposure preventatives, such as staying in the shade and covering up.
Homemade sunscreens should definitely not be used in the same way as chemical sunscreens.
The Problem With Wearing Too Much Sunscreen
While sunscreen usage has risen over the past few decades, so has 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 prevent it and protect yourself against too much sun exposure.
Here’s an all-natural After-Sun Spray to help with healing and soothing sunburnt skin.
I’m definitely not advising you to stop wearing sunscreen when out in the sun, or to 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.
Many sunscreens have been found to contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been shown to increase risk of skin cancer. This may be due, in part, to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone.
Oxybenzone is a known hormone disruptor and has been banned in many places around the world (like Hawaii).
The Effects of Sunscreen on Vitamin D
What’s ironic, especially in Australia, is that the majority of the population is vitamin D deficient.
Being such a sunny country, you’d think that Australians would be getting more than enough sun to meet their needs, but this isn’t the case.
However, this isn’t only limited to Australians.
Many people around the globe are suffering with a vitamin D deficiency.
When we apply sunscreen to our skin, it blocks the body’s natural ability to convert sunlight to vitamin D.
Vitamin D is needed by the body to help regulate hormone function, control calcium and phosphate levels in the blood, for the proper function of immune “t-cells”, and to lower inflammation.
Recent studies have found that the direction of the sun hitting the skin determines how much sunlight will be converted into vitamin D by the body.
The best time for vitamin D conversion has been recorded at midday, when the sun shines directly down onto the skin (not at an angle). Ten to fifteen minutes of midday sun (in summer) was all that was needed by the body to receive enough vitamin D for the day.
So, if you’re out in the sun during the middle of the day, ensure you don’t stay out for too long, as the chance of burning is also higher.
Ingredients Used in Natural Sunscreen
The ingredients used in this recipe have been specifically chosen for their natural SPF (Sun Protection Factor) levels.
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 a medical professional or dermatologist before using this or any new products mentioned in my blog posts.
Homemade Natural Sunscreen
This homemade sunscreen isn’t waterproof, so after swimming or sweating you’ll need to reapply. For a natural homemade waterproof sunscreen, see here.
If you remove the zinc oxide from this recipe, this makes an excellent homemade body moisturiser.
- 1/2 cup olive oil (natural SPF of around 5)
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (natural SPF 4)
- 1/4 cup beeswax
- 2-3 tbsp zinc oxide (this is a non-nano, uncoated variety. Do NOT inhale the powder)
- 1-2 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)
Essential oils (avoid using citrus oils as they can increase sun sensitivity)
- 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 food items. Place the jar in a saucepan filled with two inches of water, and place the pan over medium heat.
- As the water heats up, the ingredients will begin to melt. Stir the mixture every so often until all the ingredients have completely melted and are well combined.
- Add in the zinc oxide and stir to combine. Make sure not to inhale the zinc oxide. Use a mask if needed.
- Pour the mixture into whatever jar you’ll be using to store the sunscreen.
- Do not pour the sunscreen into a pump bottle as it won’t pump well. I used a small tin container and glass jars to store my sunscreen in.
- As the sunscreen mixture cools, stir it a few times to ensure the zinc oxide doesn’t separate and settle at the bottom (you want it mixed right through the sunscreen as it play’s and essential role in sun protection).
- Store the homemade sunscreen in a cool, dry place at room temperature.
Pre-made Natural Sunscreen Options
My personal favourites when it comes to pre-made natural sunscreens are:
- SunButter. A “reef-safe”, all-natural, plastic-free sunscreen made with non-nano zinc oxide. This is my go-to sunscreen when I’m out in the sun. I’ve found it works really well in protecting my skin from too much sun exposure, and lasts about two hours before needing to be to reapplied. It’s waterproof, but I always make sure to apply it 20 minutes before swimming to ensure it’s soaked into my skin (and won’t wash off).
- Soleo Organics. An Australian made, all-natural, cruelty-free sunscreen made with organically-sourced ingredients.
Natural sunscreen recipe tutorial
As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.
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/