Many people say that homemade sunscreen is a safer, less expensive way to go than store-bought chemical sunscreens. Not having made homemade sunscreen before, I really have no clue if this is true or not, so I decided to check this option out.
About titanium dioxide and zinc oxide
The basic theory behind homemade sunblock is that you can add plain old titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to lotion or cream in order to save money and protect your skin. You can also make more complex homemade sunblocks that go beyond lotion.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are considered “physical sunscreens” or “sunblocks” not sunscreen. Where sunscreens use chemical means to sink into your skin and protect you, sunblocks sit atop your skin and protect you because they physically block ultraviolet radiation (UVR).
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide both, according to real research, do provide broad protection against both UVB and UVA light. These are also generally considered very safe, non-chemical sunscreen ingredients, even on picky safe sunscreen lists.
Alone, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not cosmetically acceptable to many, because they are messy, white and visible and don’t easily wash off. Research also says that while the amount of sun protection these sunblocks provide may be potentially high, as of yet, its safety cannot be quantified in the same manner as sunscreen SPFs.
Homemade sunblock confusion abounds:
When you start looking at homemade sunblock recipes on the web or in books, what you’ll find is pretty confusing. Various recipes and advice differ a lot regarding amounts of sun-blocking agents you need to use. When folks do give a clear amount, they fail to list where they got their info from.
I tried very hard to find some scientific info on zinc oxide, but failed. Some folks offer totally vague info like, “The ratio of zinc oxide for products is 5% to 25%” HUH? While others say 5 tablespoons is perfect. Still others say you should only use 1 tablespoon in any sunblock.
Where’s the science that says 5 tsp zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is better than 7 or 3? I have no idea so this info would be nice to have.
After looking forever for more in-depth resources, I couldn’t find any that were entirely encouraging. Most resembled the link below:
Homemade sunblock recipes…
Natural Homemade Sunscreen: Contains 1/4 cup oil (coconut, olive, almond or grapeseed), 5 tsp pure zinc oxide, 1 TBSP Beeswax, 3 TBSP natural aloe vera gel (alcohol and propylene glycol-free), 1/2 cup distilled water or brewed green tea (strained), 2-3 capsules of Vitamin E oil, 10 drops grapefruit seed extract and essential oils or coconut extract for scent (optional).
This recipe appears to make about 6 oz of sunscreen. Below is what you’ll need to make it, without the optional essential oil (I was trying to cut costs).
- Oil Organic Sweet Almond
- Zinc Oxide Powder
- Organic Beeswax Block
- Pure aloe vera gel
- Vitamin E Softgels
- Grapefruit Seed Extract
Up front, you’d be spending about $55.84, but remember, this is enough stuff to make many batches of sunscreen, although you’ll need to replenish your almond oil and zinc more frequently. It was tough to figure out how much this would cost per batch, but I did my best and came up with $7.05 per batch or $1.17 per oz. The price per oz increases somewhat as you make more, due to having to buy more zinc and almond oil as time goes on, but overall I feel like this is a cost effective sunblock option.
The downside is that the formula isn’t backed up by science. Who knows if 5 tsp of zinc oxide is protective or not.
The prices of the other recipes I found (below) are similar in price per oz, with different start-up costs. Also, in some cases, recipes list oz sizes so you’d need a small kitchen scale, but it won’t set you back too much.
Other homemade sunblock recipes:
Water-resistant Sunscreen Recipe: Contains 1.8 oz water, 1 oz aloe vera, 0.5 oz zinc oxide, 1.6 oz olive oil, 0.5 oz beeswax, 0.04 oz borax and 0.06 soy lecithin.
Homemade sunscreen: Contains 8oz carrier oil (olive, sunflower, jojoba, soybean), 1oz. emulsifying wax, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and essential oils of your choice for scent.
Million ingredient homemade sunscreen: Contains…
- 3 tablespoons of unrefined sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon of unrefined avocado oil
- 1 tablespoon of unrefined jojoba oil
- 1 tablespoon of almond or walnut oil
- 1 tablespoon of shea butter
- 2 tablespoons of cocoa butter
- 1 teaspoon of beeswax
- 1 teaspoon of soy-lecithin liquid
- 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel
- 2 tablespoons of rose or lavender water
- ½ teaspoon of borax powder
- 20 drops carrot seed essential oil
- 3-5 drops of coconut fragrance oil – for scent
Yet another homemade sunscreen: Contains 6 T. avocado oil, 3 T. shea butter, 1 T. beeswax, 1 tsp. soy lecithin, 1 capsule vitamin E, 1 T. aloe vera gel, 2 T. zinc oxide and 3-5 drops essential oil.
The add sunblock to lotion option:
If you simply add titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to plain, chemical-free lotion, that option may cost you more then the above recipes. For example, if you buy a chemical-free lotion, like Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lotion, then add an ounce or two of Zinc Oxide Powder, it equals a total cost of $1.38 per oz or more.
The actual cost of adding titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to lotion would really depend on what sort of deal you can find on organic lotion and how much titanium dioxide and zinc oxide is actually required to create a safe effective sunblock, which again, no one seems to know.
Are homemade sunblocks a realistic option?
When it comes to price, clearly homemade sunblock is a winner. There’s low overhead and it’s a low cost per oz too – most homemade sunblock recipes are well under $2 per oz. Homemade sunblock is also very safe from a chemical standpoint.
Still, I can’t personally recommend homemade sunblock, due to the following reasons:
It’s seemingly impossible to know how much zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to use in homemade sunblock since different websites and books offer way different info on this issue. Although I looked and looked there was no general consensus or information backed up by science that tells you how much powder you should really add to lotion or a recipe to make a safe and effective sunscreen.
Also, while sunscreen manufacturers have means to make titanium dioxide and zinc oxide less white and less messy, I’m no chemist. I have no idea how to combat whiteness. Overall, white coverage for every day wear is something I’m pretty sure neither my son or I are down with. I’m guessing most other families don’t want to wear white lotion day in and day out either.
Cost-wise homemade sunblock would be a good option, IF and only if you had some standard information available about how much zinc oxide or titanium dioxide equals safe, effective sun protection. Because I couldn’t find evidence to back up 5 tsp vs. 3 tablespoons vs. 25%, it’s hard for me to think that homemade is the safest sunblock method.
Lead image by Flickr User earthlydelights