As the recent news regarding the safety of commercial sunscreen hit the global news outlets yesterday, I did some research into it and as a skin care formulator and product safety advocate I found that there are numerous risks in making your own DIY sunscreens. I experimented with it last summer. It seems simple enough to do, but there are other risks involved in the process. I spoke with my peers at the School of Natural Skincare and The Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetics Guild and they all unilaterally stated do not make DIY sunscreens. There are tons of recipes on the web, but here is what you need to know about the risks of DIY sunscreens and how to buy commercial mineral-based sunscreens.
The study in question Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients A Randomized Clinical Trial shows that many chemicals contained in sunscreens penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream very quickly. You might wonder how the FDA could approve such chemicals. Initially, sunscreens were developed to be used for short periods of time on vacation or at the beach and not meant for daily use. The problem is that many of the chemicals even when used short term enter the blood stream and can be hormonal disrupters and can cause other health issues
These are the ingredients to avoid in commercial sunscreens:
Oxybenzone: Studies have shown that oxybenzone mimics estrogen which can lead to issues with sperm production and endometriosis. Furthermore, as it is absorbed into the bloodstream it can be found in breastmilk, which can cause harm to a developing fetus or to a nursing infant. Oxybenzone has also been tied low birth weights and other skin allergies.
Avobenzone: is a hormononal disrupter and it becomes even more toxic when exposed to chlorine and degrades when it is exposed to the sun. Because of its short life cycle of 30 minutes, is always linked with other chemical stabilizing ingredients: Octocrylene, Homosalate, or Octisalate. Avobenzone causes free radicals to be released into the body and they can accelerate the aging process and increase the risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Octisalate/Ethylhexyl Salicylate: is not as troublesome as some of the other ingredients, but it is used to stabilize them. It also poses ecological risks as well.
Octocrylene: can penetrate the skin to its deepest layers causing interactions with other chemicals thereby producing oxygen radicals that can cause cellular damage and mutations.
Homosalate: is another hormone-disrupting chemical that disrupts estrogen, androgen and progesterone.
Nano Zinc Oxide: is a form of zinc oxide has been made into tiny particles which could be inhaled leading them to enter the bloodstream and pose risk to the internal organs.
Octinoxate: Studies have shown that Octinoxate also mimics hormones thereby altering behavior and thyroid function.
It is not all bad news though, there are plenty of commercial mineral-based sunscreens that are safe for your whole family. I reviewed the ingredients for the sunscreens listed below and they do not contain the aforementioned dangerous chemicals. They can be bought on Amazon, Whole Foods or any type of organic market.
But What About DIY Sunscreen?
Now you may be tempted to make your own DIY sunscreen. There are some natural ingredients that have are purported to have a natural SPF. DIY sunscreens might help to prevent sunburn, but they do not have the ingredients that block UV rays and reduce skin cancer risks and they are not waterproof.
Sunscreens have physical and chemical UV filters, unfortunately, many of those chemical UV filters are on the list above. Those can be avoided by using sunscreen with natural mineral UV filters like Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. To simplify, chemical UV filters penetrate the skin to protect it from UV rays, while mineral UV filters sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays away from it.
While Zinc Oxide is commercially available, it is hard to work with and clumps together making its coverage uneven so UV rays can still penetrate the skin leading to skin cancer risks. To properly blend, a sunscreen formulation with zinc oxide you would need professional cosmetic equipment like a homogenizer, which can cost upwards of $1,000 or more because a normal stick blender won't suffice. That said, the information that is passed around about the SPF of carrier oils is not conclusive enough to warrant them to be effective sunscreens.
Read DIY sunscreen: why you should NOT make your own sunscreen by the School of Natural Skincare for a more in depth analysis on how sunscreens work and why they do not recommend making your own DIY sunscreen.
All sunscreens have to be rigorously lab tested due to FDA regulations in order to determine SPF. This is quite cost prohibitive costing upwards of $5,000 or more.
My advice is to avoid products with the list of dangerous chemicals above and to use natural mineral based sunscreen instead of attempting to make you own DIY sunscreen.