DIY Sunscreens: Are They Safe?

During my seven years of working in the body care department at The Big Carrot, there were two annual sources of headaches for me. The first was the search for an effective natural bug repellant, and the second was everything relating to sunscreen. Seriously. Everything. What I want to talk about here, though, is the DIY factor.

Do-it-yourself beauty routines have been around forever. I remember trying out a facial mask made of honey, after reading a section in seventeen magazine about “beauty in your kitchen” when I was in high school. While I worked at The Carrot, I honed that facial mask with loads of other raw materials like Moroccan clay, rose absolute, and almond meal. It was fun to experiment, and then give the final product away to friends.

With sunscreen, however, it’s different.

Toward the end of my time working there, more and more people were coming in to our department and asking whether we carried pure zinc oxide (we didn’t), or confirming the “natural SPF” of various oils. This is because, as we all know, sun protection that isn’t laden with chemicals is either greasy and white (and effective) or powdery and white. It’s a catch-22, isn’t it? And then a unicorn comes along that’s made with minerals and natural ingredients but looks great on the skin, and it quickly sells out and becomes impossible to get, and then new research comes out and we discover that there’s a lone ingredient that’s toxic.

So people start trying to make their own. There are plenty of recipes out there on blogs, if you do a quick search, and if you can make your own lip balms and deodorants, why not sunscreen?

After doing a deep dive into the research articles cited by many of these blogs, while I was still working at The Carrot, I discovered some interesting facts that have persuaded me to never try making my own sunscreen. First of all, the research into the sun protection factor of vegetable, fruit, and seed oils is extremely limited. And I mean extremely. Do a quick search on Google Scholar for “raspberry seed oil SPF,” since this is an oil rumoured to have an SPF of 25, and the only study in the first few pages of the search results is actually regarding using this and other plant oils as a delivery system for a chemical sunscreen.

Second, unless you are a chemist, how sure are you about the interactions between the ingredients you plan to use, when making your sunscreen? Are you planning on using an essential oil to scent it, without realizing it creates photosensitivity when applied topically? How much of each ingredient is required, in order to reach a certain SPF, and where are you confirming this information?

Here’s the thing: DIY sunscreen is not like DIY moisturizer or lip balm. When you mess up a moisturizer formulation, you may break out or feel like your skin is dry. When you mess up sunscreen, you’re potentially messing with sun damage without even realizing it. Your sunscreen may prevent you from getting a sunburn, but if it’s not full spectrum, you could still be exposing your skin to harmful UVA rays, which could lead to skin cancer. And as someone who knows 4 people between the ages of 40-55 who have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past year, that’s just not a risk I’m willing to take.