Words like "natural" and "homemade" sound nice, but they might not be enough to safely shield your skin from the sun. Here's why the experts want you to think twice before trying one of those popular DIY sunscreen recipes.

By Dan Nosowitz
May 23, 2019
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Homemade, DIY sunscreen recipes are all over the internet, especially on Pinterest. And it sounds great: who knows what’s in store-bought sunscreen, anyway? Why not make it yourself, cheaply and with ingredients you recognize? Well, a new study found some pretty compelling reasons to stick with the store-bought stuff.

The study, led by Lara McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, searched for homemade sunscreen recipes on Pinterest. They used every fifth search result, for randomness’s sake, ending up with 189 different recipes. By far the most popular ingredient in those recipes was coconut oil; other common ingredients included essential oils (like lavender and raspberry), shea butter, beeswax, zinc, and avocado oil.

Image courtesy of Getty.

“While natural ingredients such as coconut oil, olive, carrot juices, and citrus oils have some natural UVB blocking properties, used alone they provide insufficient overall UV protection,” wrote McKenzie in an email. A study from 2016 found that these products were “at least two orders of magnitude” less effective at blocking the sun’s rays than commercial products. That study concluded, “The UV blocking from most natural oils is insufficient to obtain a significant UV protection.” (One possible exception, found by that 2016 study? Purple carrot juice. On the other hand, purple carrots can sometimes stain skin, like beets.)

McKenzie noted that the UVB-blocking SPF value of these natural products can be very low; coconut only comes in at 4, shea butter at 6—far from the SPF 30 recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.

There’s another problem, too: sunscreen undergoes FDA testing to ensure it actually does what it says it’ll do, that the SPF values are accurate and that it’s safe to use. Homemade stuff doesn’t have any of that, so you’ll have no idea what the SPF is, whether it protects adequately against UVA and UVB rays, or whether it’ll wash off easily in water or sweat. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dangerous, but there’s no accountability for DIY recipes.

“Just because you make it yourself or something is labeled as natural, organic, non-toxic, or has fewer ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safer (or less expensive),” writes McKenzie. And there are plenty of great store-bought sunscreen options to choose from—the Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50, $12.95 on Amazon, just received a perfect safety score, for example—or might we suggest one of these?


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