Sun Protection 101 + Homemade Moisturizing Sunblock Recipe

Sun Protection 101

I’ll admit it – I’m a sun-worshiper! I LOVE basking in the sunlight and having a golden tan.

I also know now that I’ve probably done some damage from “extreme” sun-tanning as a teen, and tanning beds during University years.

As I get older (and slightly wiser), I’m realizing that I don’t want to look like a leather-face in 20 years. I need to start being more conscious of my exposure to the sun and protect my skin, my freckly husband’s skin, and my fair and delicate-skinned daughter—so that’s my mommy mission.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been actively experimenting with, and researching sunscreens.  From all the research I’ve done, I’ve found that there is a lot to learn about the sun, and sunscreen.

Some articles state that certain sunscreens are bad for you (and by bad I mean cancer-causing), while other say they’re completely safe and necessary for preventing skin-cancer. The whole thing makes my head spin a bit, and it seems everyone has an opinion.

I wanted to feel informed on the subject before choosing the sunscreen brand that was right for me, and the ingredients that I wanted to put into my own, so I’ve looked at various sides of this “sunscreen-story,” and have come to a conclusion that I feel comfortable with.

As usual, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned. Below are some questions of my own that I wanted answered on my search to finding the perfect sunscreen.

Sun Protection 101

Sunscreen vs Sunblock

Sunscreen uses organic and inorganic chemical filters to prevent the sun’s rays from penetrating the deeper layers of the skin. Common, sun-filtering ingredients in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

Sunblock uses mineral filters, usually zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which reflect or scatter the rays to prevent them from reaching the skin.

What is SPF and how does it work?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and refers to the ability of a sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are responsible for burning the surface of the skin. However, SPF does not block ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which penetrate deep into the layers of the skin, causing skin damage, aging, and skin cancer, specifically, squamous cell carcinoma.

When thinking about SPF, most people would probably assume SPF 30 is twice as effective as SPF 15, but that’s actually not the case.

  • SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UBV rays,
  • SPF 30 blocks 97%,
  • SPF 50 block 98%, and
  • SPF 100+ blocks about 99.1%.

So you can see that anything higher than SPF 50 can get fairly unnecessary—it’s usually just more expensive (but potentially more toxic, which I’ll talk more about in a minute.)

Theoretically, the SPF number can also help you determine how long you can stay in the sun. If you can normally stay in the sun for 10 minutes before burning, then applying a sunscreen with an SPF 10 will allow you to stay in the sun 10x longer without burning (100 min).

Do we need sunscreen?

There are a couple ways to look at this question: while sunscreen can protect us from cancer-causing UV rays, it may  also be changing our behaviour and therefore increasing our exposure to the sun.

First, it’s no secret that melanoma is on the rise, and according to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of melanoma cases have tripled in the past 35 years. Although there is speculation as to whether or not the sun is the primary cause of this increase, melanoma can  be caused from the overexposure of UVB and, more specifically, UVA rays.

The problem with the majority of sunscreens is that they don’t provide adequate UVA protection, and even those that do, are just not enough because avobenzone, the main UVA filter added to almost all chemical sunscreen, breaks down in the presence of sunlight. So yes, we need sunscreen to protect us from the potentially damaging effects of the sun, but sunscreen alone is not sufficient.

On the other hand,“problems lie in the behavior of individuals who use sunscreens to stay out longer in the sun than they otherwise would.” Staying in the sun for longer periods of time is increasing our exposure to harmful UVA rays.

Is sunscreen toxic?

The BIG question! While many dermatologists are still saying no , and continue to recommend sunscreen “whole heatedly,” the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a different opinion.

Sunscreen’s active ingredient comes in the form of chemical and mineral filters. It’s the chemical sunscreens that are causing need for concern.

According to the EWG,

[chemical sunscreens] include a combination of three to six of these active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. The most problematic of the sunscreen chemicals used in the U.S. is oxybenzone, found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens. EWG recommends that consumers avoid oxybenzone because it can penetrate the skin, cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones.

In one study, based on a sample of more than 2500 adults and children, 96% of them were detected to have oxybenzone in their systems.

Like I mentioned early, higher SPF doesn’t necessarily mean better protection from the sun, and the EWG advises to avoid sunscreens with high-SPF because they require higher concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals than low-SPF sunscreens. 

This study from Harvard states, “The sun protection factor (SPF) you see on the label of sunscreens is misleading. It’s not a measure of total sun protection but of protection against sunburn from UVB light.” They advise consumers to look at the ingredients instead of the SPF, and suggest that “the lotions containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide may be the best bet.”

There is also speculation as to whether or not the sun is causing this spike in skin cancer, or the over-use of sunscreen itself. This question points to a certain sunscreen ingredient, vitamin A, and the EWG advises to avoid sunscreens that contain Vitamin A (labeled retinyl palminate).

The sunscreen industry adds a form of vitamin A to nearly one-quarter of all sunscreens. Retinyl palmitate is an anti-oxidant that slows skin aging. But federal studies indicate that it may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when applied to skin in the presence of sunlight.

Although no sunscreen seems to be without its risks, sunblocks that use these mineral filters are considered safe, “non-toxic” options. 

Mineral sunblocks use zinc-oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect or scatter UV rays. They do not permeate the skin, and are stable in the presence of sunlight.  Zinc-oxide is the optimal ingredient in sunblock because it provides strong sun protection with few health concerns; it doesn’t break down in the sunlight, and offers good protection against UVA rays!

Nano-zinc vs Non-nano zinc. Are they safe?

A nanometer is about one hundred thousand times smaller than a human hair. There is concern that zinc nano-particles can be absorbed into the skin and then into the blood stream. Turns out, there are no studies out there proving that nano-particles of zinc oxide can penetrate the human skin. Instead, there’s a lot of research proving quite the opposite (1) (2).

Cosmetically, nano-zinc is a better option because when applied, it doesn’t leave behind white film (you know, that life-guard look?) Personally, and based on my own research, I feel comfortable using nano-zinc and have used it in the sunscreen that I’ve made for our trip. If you don’t feel comfortable using nano-zinc, use non-nano zinc which has larger particles.

Keep in mind, zinc-oxide doesn’t go without its dangers either. When inhaled, it can damage the lungs and enter the blood stream (so don’t be a silly-billy and wear a mask when making your own).

Personal Conclusion

My personal conclusion around sunscreen is probably pretty obvious by now. After some research, and reading what the EWG had to say about chemical sunscreens, I’ve decided to play it safe opt for sunscreens/sunblocks that:

  • Have zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide as the main, sun-filtering ingredient.
  • Don’t contain oxybenzone.
  • Don’t contain Vitamin A (labeled retinyl palminate).
  • Have an SPF less than 50.

But more importantly than what type of sunscreen to use, be cautious about the time spent in the sun, and do not solely rely on sunscreen for UV protection — wear a hat, cover up, and spend time in the shade.

Check out What Not To Bring On Vacation,” and this list, put out by the EWG, to see if your sunscreen passed the test!

Sun Protection 101 plus homemade Sunblock Recipe!

How do I make sunscreen?

Easy! And Affordable!

First you need about 1 Cup of lotion or body butter—I’ve made my own base-lotion, using oils that are naturally high in SPF (recipe below). Then, add zinc oxide to the lotion/butter using the chart below to determine your preferred SPF level.

How much zinc-oxide do I use?

For a higher level of protection, you’ll want add 20% of the lotions weight in zinc oxide. For a low to moderate level of protection, you’ll want to add 5-15% of the lotions weight in zinc oxide.

For example, the lotion I use as the base for this sunblock is about 8-10 oz (let’s say 9 for this example). If I want a sunscreen that’s about SPF 15, then I’ll add about 1.08oz of zinc oxide.

*** Please note, I have NOT scientifically tested these SPF levels in a lab***

Zinc to Lotion Ratio

If you don’t have a kitchen scale Use this Ounces to Tablespoon Converter to help you determine how many tablespoons of zinc add.

What oils naturally contain SPF?

Many oils are already naturally high in SPF! So even before adding the zinc oxide to your lotion/butter, it will already have an SPF of at least 2. In my sunblock, I usually use avocado oil because it has an SPF as high as 15!

Oil with SPF

 

 

 

 

 

I hope I’ve provided you with enough information to make your own homemade, moisturizing sunblock with zinc oxide!

You’ll be lookin’ as cool as I do showing up to the beach…with a mason jar full of homemade sunblock 😉

Homemade Moisturizing Sunblock with Zinc Oxide

Homemade Sunblock with Zinc Oxide
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup Coconut Oil
  • ¼ cup Shea Butter
  • ½ Cup of one of the oils listed in the "Oils with SPF" chart above, I used avocado oil because that's what I had
  • 2-3 Tbsp Beeswax
  • 10-15 Drops Essential Oils (optional)
  • Zinc Oxide, amount determined in the "Zinc Oxide to Lotion Ratio" chart above. I used a little over 2 Tbsp, to give it an SPF of around 15.
Instructions
  1. Melt coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax in a double boiler. To do this, I put the ingredients in a jar, and then put the jar in a simmering pan of water. Remove from heat as soon as they have melted.
  2. Stir in the ½ cup of oil (eg. Avocado oil)
  3. Wearing a mask, stir in the zinc oxide. To prevent it from clumping up in the lotion, try sifting it first.
  4. Thoroughly incorporate the zinc, stirring every few minutes until it cools.
  5. Once it reaches room temperature, stir in the essential oils if using.
  6. Store in an airtight container in a cool place or the fridge.
  7. Use within 6 months.

*Notes:

  • The SPF levels are not exact, as I haven’t tested them in a lab.
  • Remember to re-apply after swimming!
  • For babies and young children, the main form of UV protection should be to keep them covered up and in the shade.

Don’t Want to Make it???

I highly recommend Beautycounter’s Protect All Over Sunscreen SPF 30 – Created with the entire family in mind, this lightweight, water-resistant sunscreen is formulated with non-nano zinc oxide to blend seamlessly into skin without leaving white streaks, protecting you against both UVA and UVB rays. Aloe helps hydrate skin, while antioxidant-rich green tea and blood orange extracts fight free radicals.

Protect All Over Sunscreen SPF 30 - Modern Hippie Health & Wellness

For easy application (especially on the little ones) try Protect Stick Sunscreen for Face – Compact and easy to use, our kid-friendly Protect Stick Sunscreen provides water-resistant sun protection for the entire family. Organic ingredients, including coconut oil and acai fruit oil, help to hydrate and protect your skin. Formulated with non-nano zinc oxide, our Stick Sunscreen provides sheer protection from UVA/UVB rays and glides on smoothly without leaving white residue.

Protect Stick Sunscreen for Face - Modern Hippie Health & Wellness

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. However, I only promote products that uphold to Modern Hippie Health and Wellness’s values.

41 comments on “Sun Protection 101 + Homemade Moisturizing Sunblock Recipe

    1. Yes, definitely. Omitting the essential oils would make it fragrance-free. I didn’t add any to my most recent batch, and it’s essentially odorless.

    2. I used the base lotion of Cetephil, frangrance free & dermatologist rec. It also is then oil free, which I prefer for my face 😉

    1. Hi Brenna, absolutely, I think quality, unrefined mango butter would be a nice substitution. Let me know how it turns out!
      Carly

    1. Hi Abbey,

      This IS the sunblock.

      You can either add zinc directly to your store-bought lotion, or, make the recipe above which is the sunblock.

      Hope that answers your question.

      Carly

    1. I have a link to where you can buy it in this post. Click on “zinc oxide” in the recipe. It should lead you to Amazon 🙂

    1. Yes, but I’m not sure what the ratios would be since it’s already mixed with a base cream, so I imagine you’d had to use more.

      1. Lets say that all of the ingredients including zinc oxide mixed together contain around 20 SPF. When the mixture is separated into different containers, does the SPF lose its value?
        ( Doin a chem project )

        1. Hi Maurice, no, I wouldn’t see why it would lose it’s SPF value…just from a logical stand point. As long as you mixed the mixture really well before transferring it into different containers, it will all be the same.

  1. Hi Carly,
    I’m planning on trying your sunblock recipe (thank you so much for sharing all this great information!!), but I can’t seem to find any nano-zinc to purchase. All of the zinc oxide powders on Amazon seem to be non-nano. Do you have a source for good quality nano-zinc oxide?
    Thanks.

    1. Hi Lesley, I order my zinc from Voyaguer Soap and Candle, which is based our of Vancouver, B.C. The non-nano is a good option too, though! I was mostly just wanting to point out that “nano” is not harmful like some people have made it seem to be.

  2. Do you have any recommendations on what to use instead of coconut oil? My daughter’s skin is very sensitive and every time I’ve used coconut oil, she gets a rash. Thank you!

    1. Hi Heather,

      I would suggest just adding a little more of both shea butter and carrier oil of choice, in place of the coconut oil – about a couple tbsp. more of each. You should yield a similar result 🙂

  3. Hi,
    Thanks so much for the recipe! I’m going to have a go at making this over the next few weeks as i’m flying to Florida at the end of next month and want to try it for that 🙂
    Can I ask how runny this is? (ie Is this as runny as store bought lotion? I have an empty shampoo bottle that I thought I could put this mixture in, to transport in my luggage and daybag – would this be OK or is it too thick/not runny and I’d be better off with a jar and apply by scooping with my hand? Is a plastic container OK to keep this in?)
    Thanks 🙂

    1. Hello,

      The sunblock viscosity varies depending on temperature. So I imagine that in Florida it will be fairly runny…but probably not runny enough to put in a squeeze bottle. I would definitely store it in a jar with a screw top lid. Try a small mason jar! I always prefer to store it in glass 🙂

  4. Hello Carly, Great sharing you have here. Just a quick one, I am not into thick version. I prefer my sunblock to be lotion type or mositurising. What should I increase & decrease please? ☺️ Thanks!

    1. Hello! You could add more grape seed oil (or whatever carrier oil you choose), but keep in mind, the zinc oxide will not stay suspended in a liquid lotion. Whipping it will give you the best coverage.

  5. Thanks for this article! So if we made it using exactly what you used what is the spf? That’s where I’m a bit lost 🙂

  6. Thank you so much for this post! Can I use wheat germ oil? I read that it has an SPF of 20. What are your thoughts? Thanks again!!

  7. Hello there,

    Thank you for the recipe, I love it! I keep seeing recipes with different essential oils adding natural SPF and I love that idea. How much of the essential oils does it take to get that amount of SPF?

    Thank You,
    Christine

    1. Hi Christine. Not all essential oils add SPF! The only ones I know of off the top of my head are raspberry seed oil and carrot seed oil. I would add a few drops of either, or both, to the recipe that I provided 🙂

  8. Hi,
    I’m making 1 kg (1000 grams) of lotion, how much Titanium Dioxide should I add to make it SPF 15?
    I’ve been making lotions for months now but never tried Titanium Dioxide before, this will be my first.

    Thanks!

    1. I have made it in the past, and all you need to do is add cocoa powder and cinnamon to this recipe. Scratch Mommy also as a great recipe for something similar on their site under the name “homemade foundation,” I believe.

  9. Hi Carly, What type of coconut oil? Virgin? Unrefined, store bought? Just want to be sure. Also do you have a recipe for a tinted lotion sunscreen for the face using mineral pigments? There are so many recipes on the Internet and I don’t know which is best. Thank you.

  10. Where can I find zinc oxide? I want nano not non-nano so it stays clear. I’m having trouble finding it. Thanks!

    1. Amazon is a good bet, but yes, nano is difficult to find. Regardless though, mineral sunblocks that use zince oxide as the main sun-filtering ingredient shouldn’t go on completely clear or else they won’t be able to effectively scatter the sun’s UV rays and thus prevent burns.

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