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The danger of homemade sunscreens

The danger of homemade sunscreens
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There are so many reasons making your own products at home is a great idea, but when it comes to sunscreen, the jury is out: don’t do it!

There are concerns with some ingredients in commercial sunscreens; some of the cheaper sunscreens contain controversial components. Not all sunscreens are created equal, some ingredients are worse than others, but homemade sunscreen is worse than them all. Why? Because research shows that these DIY sunscreens simply aren’t up to a  sunscreens main job: UV protection. 

Who is offering you the recipe for natural sunscreen?

DIY sunscreen recipes from beauty or wellness bloggers on Instagram or Pinterest do not take into account the molecular complexity of sun protection factors in commercial sunscreens, which require stringent testing before going to market – by law. These laws exist because so many sunscreens historically came up short, simply not offering adequate sun protection and indeed not the protection claimed on the labels. 

Your favourite influencer on Insta might have a lovely colour palette and good lighting, but that does not a sunscreen expert make. 

It is true that this level of expertise doesn’t matter anywhere near as much when you’re making natural soap and moisturisers, but remember, humans have been perfecting soap and moisturiser recipes since the dawn of time. We know how to make those safely out of natural ingredients. 

Sunscreen, however, has a less soft and silky history, with the original sun protection being mud, a hat, or a good old fashioned shady tree. Sunscreen is a very recent invention and, compared with moisturiser or soap, pretty complex. Additionally, the ozone layer is as thin as it’s ever been; in the past, we just didn’t get as sunburnt, and certainly not as quickly as we do now. Therefore, we need high-quality lab-tested sunscreen products more than ever. The danger of homemade sunscreens

Ingredients for homemade sunscreen

The ingredients used in DIY sunscreen vary but typically include essential oils (like lavender and raspberry), coconut oil, shea butter and sometimes – but not nearly enough – zinc oxide. Zinc oxide is used in sunscreens and is a known and trusted UV blocker, but only found it in about a third of natural sunscreen recipes in an analysis. Add to the fact that pure oils on your skin can effectively burn your skin, not moisturise. 

There are important differences between safe ingredients we put on the skin and ingredients that protect you from UV rays. In sunscreen, a product we slather all over our bodies, we want both. 

Understanding SPF in DIY sunscreen

Sun Protection Factors (SPF) is the rating system for sunscreens, with some ratings on essential oil SPF charts based on some rickety assumptions often not based in science. For example, some claim the SPF ratings of raspberry-seed oil is 50 when in reality, it is more like SPF 1-3 (almost useless against the sun). Another common oil touted as having an SPF of 40 is carrot-seed oil, which again, in reality, has negligible SPF. 

The science into plant oil SPF is clear. Plant oils used in homemade sunscreens make ineffective sunscreen (but otherwise lovely moisturiser recipes). The danger of homemade sunscreens

How homemade sunscreen stacks up in a direct comparison

Researchers analysed 15 sunscreen recipes found online to assess their photoprotective effectiveness. Researchers made the products in the lab following the instructions posted online, as per each recipe. 

Specific indicators determined the efficacy of each of the preparations: the SPF, the Protection Factor in the UVA domain (PF-UVA) and the critical wavelength. 

Results of the homemade sunscreen study

  • Three of the 15 recipes do not contain any sunscreening abilities at all
  • The other 12 sunscreens cannot be considered as sun protection because they all had a real-life SPF under 6 – the European threshold for sunscreens

Sunscreen formulation expert, Saul Pyle, did experiments using a DIY zinc oxide-based sunscreen recipe. The final product was measured with a spectrophotometer (a special sunscreen testing device) to establish how much UV the sunscreen absorbed at different wavelengths. The natural sunscreen was then compared to commercially available SPF50+ sunscreen with identical amounts of zinc oxide (typically about 26 per cent). 

The homemade sunscreen had about half the UV absorbance of the commercial sunscreen. While this might not seem like a huge deal, the SPF factor and amount of zinc oxide don’t necessarily correlate in an orderly fashion, as you might expect: equal zinc levels do not mean similar protection factors. In this case, the DIY sunscreen had a very low SPF of about 5, even though the zinc levels were the same in both products. 

Amanda Foxon-Hill, a cosmetic chemist, working to develop effective natural sunscreen for many years, scientifically tests for SPF. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts and the high-tech gear, her sunscreens were not rating as she would have expected based on their ingredients. Foxon-Hill eventually found success in her formulations, but every time a component is changed (for example, she adds a new fragrance or preservative), the SPF is negatively affected, and a reformulation is required. 

Sensitive skin, allergies and taking care of our environment

Many of us are concerned about the impact of the products we consume, whether that’s due to sensitive skin, allergies in kids, or reducing plastic waste. Our reasons are all valid and important. 

Due to consumer demand, high SPF, lab-tested natural sunscreen products are appearing on our shelves, albeit a little slowly. Keep an eye on your favourite sunscreen brands.

Unfortunately, DIY sunscreen is currently not a safe avenue for skin and increases the risk of skin cancers and premature ageing. 

Remember, a good sunscreen is the best anti-ageing treatment you can have. 

If you’re not sure what products are safe for skin, talk to us at ENRICH Clinic in Melbourne, and we’ll point you in the right direction. If you’re concerned about skin cancers or sun damage, come in and see us for a skin cancer check and skin assessment. We can help. 

We love skin and are sun damage and skin cancer experts – make a booking today

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