DIY Sunscreen: Myth Busted!

DIY Sunscreen: Myth Busted! What you need to know before trusting a homemade sunscreen recipe.

DIY sunscreen recipes are being shared all over Pinterest these days, but as a majorly pale Mama with four pale kiddos, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t taking any chances with our skin or our long term health. Which is really a tough subject, because ALL of the sunscreen options in our local stores use a chemical screening agent. (With the exception of the zinc nose sticks.)

[bctt tweet=”One thing that bothered me about DIY sunscreen recipes was a lack of evidence to show SPF factor.”] SO I did a little digging around and discovered that there are a LOT of DIY sunscreen recipes out there that need myth busting.

So before you slather on a homemade solution, read through these common myths that I uncovered in my research:

DIY Sunscreen Myth 1: Essential Oil SPF

There are several DIY sunscreen recipes out there calling for carrot seed essential oil.  They often point out things like, “according to a study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine in 2009, products containing carrot seed oil have a natural SPF of between 38 and 40.”

SO let me start off by just debunking this myth: Carrot Seed Oil *may* have a decent SPF value. I’ve still not been able to find a published study to confirm this, and you’ll see below why the 2009 study doesn’t even come near to making that claim. (If you DO have access to a carrot seed oil study, please link it in the comments!)

However, let’s just clarify that Carrot Seed Oil is not the same thing as Carrot Seed Essential Oil. According to Robert Tisserand, who literally wrote the book on essential oils:

The essential oil is useless as a sunscreen…The fatty oil has some effect, and both fatty oil and essential oil are called “carrot seed oil” – hence the confusion.

The essential oil is steam distilled- it’s a volatile oil, with completely different properties than the thick viscous fatty seed oil. This study done on the SPF of individual natural oils doesn’t specifically test carrot seed oil or essential oil, but it concludes that of the natural oils and essential (volatile) oils that it does test

It can be observed that the SPF values found for nonvolatile oils were in between 2 and 8; and for volatile oils, in between 1 and 7.

I know that many of the essential oil bloggers get VERY excited to share practical uses of their products, but it’s always a great idea to REALLY research and consult with experts when skin damage is on the line…especially my baby’s skin.

20150518_142505

DIY Sunscreen Myth 2: Coconut Oil!

I’ve been reading about the miraculous power of coconut oil as a sunscreen a LOT lately. I even polled my awesome Herbal Chick Chat group over on Facebook. Many Mamas have tested out coconut oil as a way of preventing sunburn. Some had great results, others didn’t. Turns out there is no easily to point to factor here: some of the successes used the cheap refined coconut oil and tested in areas of intense sun. Others had used a high quality oil and burned in weaker northern exposure summers.

The thing is with coconut oil, it’s only got an SPF of around 7. That’s just NOT enough protection for this pale gal and my family. And the only real results that the Mamas in my informal survey can pinpoint is whether or not they burned.

While burning *does* indicate skin damage, the non-burning UVB rays that can also cause serious long term damage to skin. So burning vs. tanning isn’t even the most reliable factor in keeping your skin healthy. (If you’re a child of the 80’s, you probably know some nicely tanned folks with skin that clearly has damage and premature aging.)

This video has inspired me to pay more attention to my own skin exposure beyond just preventing burns. So relying on coconut oil is out for my family.

DIY Sunscreen Myth 3: SPF is Cumulative

[bctt tweet=”Turns out that, just like with baking, there’s a lot of chemistry involved with producing sunscreen.”] Sometimes ingredients can enhance SPF protection, and sometimes they can counteract it. This is why, according to Badger Balm, the FDA requires that each finished formulation of sunscreen undergoes SPF testing in order to claim a UV rating. It’s not as simple as adding up all of the SPF of the ingredients to a total SPF factor. 20150518_142514

Sadly,  unlike my brownie recipe, you can’t just add up all of the SPF values like calories for a grand total, like many of the DIY sunscreen recipes you find online. It just doesn’t work that way.

Here’s a much more scientific way of stating it from another study of SPF values of natural oils:

To develop sunscreens with better safety and high SPF, the formulator must understand the physicochemical principle, not only the UV absorbance of the actives but also vehicle components, such as esters, emollients, emulsifiers and fragrances used in the formulation, since sunscreens can interact with other components of the vehicle, and these interactions can affect the efficacy of sunscreens.

THe big myth with the study that mentions carrot seed oil is that it is being used to erroneously attribute an SPF value to one individual ingredient.

DIY Sunscreen Myth 4: Studies Show…

So the whole phrase, “products containing carrot seed oil have an SPF of 38-40” sounded a little off to me. Maybe because it’s like saying, “recipes containing chocolate chips contain a calorie range of ….” Wouldn’t that depend a great deal on the other ingredients in the product? Turns out, YES. It does.

So I started doing some sleuthing.

Here is the actual study done on the natural sunscreens…one of which contains carrot seed oil. The study took place in India, and focused on a variety of natural sunscreen products that they don’t name. They disclose a few of the herbal/natural ingredients from each formulation. The formula that most of the bloggers are referencing is identified only as HS3 [table 1], and it contains Carrot Seed Oil (aka daucus carota), Symplocos, and Wheat Germ.  Remember those three…I’ll reference them again in just a minute.

So here’s my problem: the stated purpose of the study is NOT to prove the spf values of individual herbal ingredients, but to discern if there is an accurate way to gauge SPF  and effectiveness on natural products with a mix of ingredients. The conclusion to this study states,

The present study is a building step towards the development of quality control methods for herbal products.

Remember what we just covered in myth 3…that the individual components can’t always give you an accurate SPF value? It’s clearly NOT establishing SPF values for individual components, since it’s testing multiple ingredient formulas…and only disclosing a few of the ingredients for each formula. More on THAT little oversight below…

20150518_134355

Turns out, the product they tested is more than likely this one: Bio Carrot SPF 40 Sunscreen

Here are the ingredients: Parijat (Nyctanthes arbortristis), Lodhra (Symplocos racemosa), Gajar (Daucus carota), Yashad bhasm Zind ash with herbs, Singjerahata (Talc), Cream Base Q.S. This review also pictures the back of the bottle, which lists additional ingredients including Ankurit (triticum vulgare) [wheat germ], sunflower oil, and other ingredients not listed on the website.

Remember the ingredients listed from HS3 above: Daucus Carot (Carrot seed oil), Wheat Germ, and Symplocos. Here’s a product with all 3 of the HS3 ingredients labeled for SPF 40. Pretty strong circumstantial evidence.

Because this is an Ayurvedic preparation, many of the ingredients are hard to pinpoint. But I did a little sleuthing. I wondered if other ingredients were contributing to the SPF rating as well. Turns out: YES!

Yashad bhasm is also a featured ingredient in diaper rash cream…are you suspicious yet?carrot oil spf debunked-zincAnd what is zinc calc, I wondered?

carrot seed spf oil myth zinc oxide - zinc calx

Yashad bhasm is also a featured ingredient in diaper rash cream…it’s a zinc preparation: it’s what we call zinc oxide. B.I.N.G.O.

So there is no way that the study is definitively attributing an SPF to even cold pressed (non essential) carrot seed oil, because the formula contains an already known effective (and yay…natural!) physical sunblock, along with many other ingredients that may or may not factor into the total SPF rating.

pool

I rest my case.

Pin to save or share! And read on to see what I am going to use this summer for my family…

To Pin!

DIY Sunscreen: Myth Busted! What you need to know before trusting a homemade sunscreen recipe.

What I Use: Natural Sunscreen

Now lest you think that I’m PRO chemical sunblock, I’m really not. I’m still trying to find my happy place with natural sunscreens. I rely heavily on swim shirts, shade, and my big floppy hat to prevent over exposing our skin to the sun. Although I am all for a little healthy play time before applying sunscreen to encourage vitamin D.

Last year, we used and really liked Babyganics Pure Mineral-Based Sunscreen, SPF 30 (affiliate link). The price is very fair: I paid right around $20 for 3 tubes on Amazon. it’s got a good rating on the Environmental Working Group website, and we found that it works well.

I’m planning to try the Badger line of natural sunscreens (affiliate link) this summer.

I’m currently testing out a DIY sunscreen recipe.

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  1. Sarah says

    Thanks Gwen! I have made my own, and have been considering selling it with my other products at the farmers market. But I am not comfortable without knowing the specific SPF. I use non-nano zinc oxide. Is there something I don’t know about this ingredient?

    • Star Light says

      YES!!!! As the maker you need to know that mixed with water or oil it is nontoxic, but dry it can hurt your lungs…or your kids or cats!! I go outside, keep the kids and animals away, and wash everything with a hose before I met them out there. I keep my containers that are open in three layers of plastic bags to avoid the dry exposue in the house.!!! Be careful!!! Use a mask and wash it down and then put it in laundry.

  2. Cynthia says

    Excellent point on a mistake that occurs over and over – the properties of a whole plant or fatty oil from a plant is almost always different from the essential oil.

    • says

      Yes, yes, yes! And you’d *think* that those selling essential oils would be the ones who would really take special care in differentiating between an essential oil and a fatty oil. It’s important to realize the difference when you’re talking about sun protection and skin damage. I know that there are many amazing essential oils that are great after the fact to help support healthy skin. But that’s a whole different ballgame than preventing damage.

  3. Jenn Pranger says

    Thanks for all your research Gwen!
    I live in Canada and I thought “I should be able to get this here”
    I just called my HFS and they had already ordered it in before I called! I can pick it up locally. 😀

    • says

      Yep. He’s saying the same thing I am: some sun exposure is important. :) But living in the south with very fair skinned kids, I have to have some form of sun protection or we will all be burned spending an afternoon at the pool. “Appropriate sun exposure” is what I’m shooting for in my family, and that can look different depending on where you live, your skintone, what time of year or day you’re out, and for how long.

      Mercola’s article tacks on “and avoiding sunscreen,” but sunscreen has to be part of the “appropriate sun exposure” equation for my family. That’s why I’m spending time researching healthier alternatives to chemical sunscreens. :)

      • Lori says

        Agreed! We are in the south as well, but only 1 of my 6 is fair-skinned, lol. In that article I referenced, he did have a link to another article which talks about what to avoid in choosing a sunscreen. If I recall, he used to sell one of his own sunscreens, but I could not find it on his site.

  4. says

    Thank you for this article!!! I was thinking about making my own sun screen. However all the recipes I saw had essential oil in them and or carrot oil. I kept thinking it didn’t seem right, and I figured I would continue to buy that product. I use Honest Companies for my daughter. I also use it on my face, neck (when my hair is up and I remember!) and shoulders. Otherwise I try to let a little sun get into my skin for Vitamin D, since I live in Michigan and we don’t see the sun for at least 4-5 months a year!

    I haven’t searched your site yet, but I’m wondering what you do for bug spray? I’ve been making one and using Honest Company’s. I was actually impressed with the one I made with Essential Oils, not one member of my family got a bite when we were at a State Park ALL day, and it was very buggy. When I use regular bug spray I usually get at least one or two mosquito bites. (I’ll search your site now to see if you have an article about that)

    • aenflex says

      I use Badger anti bug balm for my family. We lived in FL with its multitude of insects and I found it to work very well. It’s a pain to apply though.

  5. Miriam Bolton says

    I use: (Lavender, Helichrysum, Carrot Seed, Myrrh). 1 C 100% pure Shea Butter 1/2 C Coconut Oil 4 ounces Beeswax,1/2 C Olive Oil 2 t or more Liquid Vitamin E 3 T Zinc Oxide Powder. The SPF on this recipe is about 30.

    What do think of the formula?

    • says

      Hi Miriam,
      I’m truly not an expert on SPF, so I’m not sure how you’d be able to make that claim unless you’re basing it on the percentage of zinc oxide? And even then, I’m really unsure as to how comfortable I would be on stating an SPF on a formula that’s not been tested. I can tell you that the essential oils are not adding any SPF value to speak of, based on what I’ve read.

      • Miriam Bolton says

        Hi Gwen,
        The Essential Oil are used to assist in healing of sunburn, the Zinc Oxide is used for Preventing. Did you find any evidence that Shea Butter should not be used?

        • says

          Hi Miriam,
          I believe shea butter is a good ingredient to use! You’ll want to look up zinc oxide percentages to make sure you’re using enough to really get the SPF where you want it. I love the idea of using essential oils to support skin health, but I think it would be more effective in a product that’s designed to soak in and maybe go into an aftersun spritz? The mineral based sunscreens aren’t designed to soak into the skin, but to sit on top of it. I doubt it hurts to use eo’s in your mix, but I think you’d get more use from them in an aloe spritz aftersun product. :)

  6. Sue Sullivan says

    I recently used Jafra Almond Oil for a sunscreen after reading about it. I run in the almond oil. I didn’t use very much. I put it everywhere except my face and chest. My face and chest were beet red after being in the sun, whereas, the cover areas got no sunburn what so ever.

  7. Jay says

    Thanks Gwen! My girlfriend asked me about coconut oil as sunscreen and my searching led me here! You inspired me to look further into natural oils as sunscreens.

    I put together a list of all the SPF values (and included more information and links to the original studies). Pressed raspberry oil looks promising, but I think it would be difficult to apply it thickly enough to protect as well as commercial sunscreen.

    http://spflist.com

    If you have any feedback or find any other natural sunscreens, I’m all ears! Thanks again!

  8. Carrie says

    Gwen,
    Thanks for the info on Carrot Oil. I am a carrot top desperately seeking sunscreen. Many of my all natural friends do not understand that yes, there may be chemicals in the sun screen that I use but I WILL get sun poisoning, skin damage, and skin cancer if I don’t use sunscreen. It is very frustrating for me when someone who is not nearly so susceptible to sun damage as I am is critical of my choices for me and the palefaces I love. I too rely heavily on hats, clothing and shade but I play tennis and garden and sunscreen will always be a part of my bag of cancer avoiding tricks. I will try the formulations you mentioned.
    FYI the lighter your eyes the more sun damage is done to them, wear sunglasses to avoid cataracts.
    Carrie

      • Julie Corps says

        Thanks for all your research Gwen. Certainly gave me lots to consider and I truly appreciate that.

        I am leaving on vacation this week and was looking up a recipe for DIY sunscreen (to see how much carrot seed oil to use as I couldn’t remember) when I stumbled across your findings. I thought the claim of 38-40 SPF was high. However that being said, my unscientific brain can’t tell you why but for the first time last year I didn’t burn and all I used was my home made sunscreen. We were in Cuba and weather was consistantly mid 80’s the entire week. I used 40 drops of carrot seed oil (therapeutic grade is essential – buyer beware as they are not all the same quality and labels are misleading) in an 80ml glass jar of my home made base cream which consists of grapeseed oil, coconut oil, aloe vera juice, beeswax, distilled water, vitamin E and Tea tree oil. Out of caution I personally would not trust this on my grandson’s delicate skin. Everyone is different but this worked my me. I have dark hair, fair skin and lots of freckles. My skin is not super sensitive but I do burn if I’m not careful. I took a good quality store bought 40 SPF just in case but didn’t use it.

        I will mention, carrot seed oil smells disgusting. I added 10 drops of lavender to try to mask the smell a bit. Again, no science behind this but I feel the super moisturizing properties of the base cream may have contributed to my skin not being dehydrated and more prone to burning. I went through 2 jars over the course of a week and reapplied every two hours as I read somewhere the SPF protection with DIY sunscreen doesn’t last longer than that.

        I wholeheartedly agree – do your own research but I thought I’d share my experience as it worked for me.

        • Aaron Holmgren says

          Lavender oil cures burns. If you add lavender oil to your skin soon after being burned, the burn will disappear.

          • says

            I’ve tried a great quality pure lavender essential oil on a burn, and it doesn’t remove it. It may speed healing, but I had better results with aloe.

  9. Star Light says

    Oh yes…and what I have found is that coconut oil is bad for all of our skin exept about 8 percent of the population. It thins out skin unless we are in that small fractoon of the populous who it is good for. I have seen mothers burn their children in stubborn solidarity with it. Also, fermented coconut oil is the traditional coconut oil way.

    • LisaK says

      I appreciate this article and comments as I have been testing for several years more chemical-free sunscreens. I was hoping carrot seed EO would be the be-all, I realized the points made here. I finally have found a few (clear) zinc-based products that go on smoothly and don’t make you look like chalk AND that I can kid on my kid. They are pricey, but for her and for my aging face, it’s worth it.

      Question to Star Light: I’m curious to know more about how/why coconut oil is “bad for all of our skin” except a small percentage. What does thinning out the skin mean? And are you talking about all uses or just as sunscreens or just for faces? I’m still new to the natural skin game and have become a fan of coconut oil for cooking and skin (except for my face). Thanks for any input!

  10. kathyr says

    April 16, 2016
    I’m a generation or two older than most of you. We used oils to deliberately tan when i was young. I do NOT think that oils have much of an SPF factor! Don’t take the chance of developing skin cancer on random web recipes.

    • Fabiana says

      @ kathyr,

      Is not the oil that will give you cancer, but all those products out there. Have you researched all the ingredients they put into the sunscreen. Do yourself a favor and research all the ingredients. The secret is to stay away from the sun from 10 am until 4 pm. Other than that we need the sun to prevent cancer.

  11. Erica says

    GREAT post! But so sad that all those natural and good quality sunscreen (Bagder ++) is poreglogging (comedogenic). At least for one that is prone to acne.
    And also sad that most oil increases hair growth. I have not heard of one that does´t increae hair growth on the head, and also facial hair on men. So I Really don´t want any more facial hair than natural for a women 😉

  12. Sanne says

    Excellent post! Thanks a lot for the myth-busting mission and extensive research.
    I’m also not at all pro-chemical filters, quite the opposite. But I must admit that I do find these UV claims (made mostly, as you point out, by people who do not even differentiate bw the essential/volatile seed oil and the fatty/macerated oil…) floating around just irresponsible.
    Certain oils clearly do have UV protective qualities (in Europe products based on Karanja oil are sold with a SPF 6-8), but as you said, it really is more complicated.
    So if I may add to the myth-busting: Raspberry seed oil having a SPF of 28-50 is another unsubstantiated claim. I came across the study which seems to be the source of this rumor (http://www.lotioncrafter.com/reference/oomah.pdf). The explicitely stated aim of the study (2000) was to find out whether RSO could be marketable as a DIETARY supplement. The authors come to the conclusion that yes, it could, not least due to it’s high content (up to 80%) of polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic, linolenic) and the ensuing health benefits. PUFAs have wonderful skin care properties and penetrate easily into the skin, but are, due to their “unstable” chemical makeup, also extremly liable to oxidation – that’s why we don’t use them for frying. Putting polyunsaturated fatty acids in/on one’s skin under sun exposure is a bit like putting them in the frying pan, and could possibly accelerate the thing one’s trying to avoid – oxidative damage. The authors attest RSO a “relatively good shelf life” for it’s high PUFA content – but they are talking about “storage studies”: in a bottle and in the dark (and even there peroxide values doubled in the course of 10 days at 37°).
    Overall, the study is concerned with the dietary properties of RSO, and the authors themselves only say that RSO “may provide protection” against UVA and UVB – the whole UV protection idea is an aside (at best).

    I’m sure there is still a lot to discover reg. alternatives to conventional sunscreen. Substances like Ectoin that do not block UV rays but somehow seem to heighten the skin’s tolerance for oxidative stress sound extremely interesting. Green tea, internally and topical, seems to do something sismilar. I just think that one should keep in mind that most of these options are still untested waters.
    (And I really liked your idea with the zinc paste: inspired!)

  13. aenflex says

    GREAT article. Pisses me off when people make recommendations for EO use and haven’t idea what they’re talking about. It’s dangerous for those who don’t do their own research. Thank you for writing this.

    I’ve used the Badger SPF family, and really love the Damascus Rose tinted facial sunscreen. It’s unlike any of their other sunscreen products. Not greasy, runny consistency, spreads easy and dries matte. I super recommend it!
    I’ve used their regular 30 SPF cream for my body and found it way too greasy and hard to spread. I would never use it on my face. The film never left and for anything other than pool or beach, I found it unusable. I don’t want to be sticky while outdoor shopping, have lunch, etc.
    I returned to Clinique Sun cream.

  14. says

    Thank you for this article. I do sell essential oils, and I am fair, and live in a tropical climate, and I was going to sacrifice a potential sunburn on one shoulder to test out essential oils as a sunscreen. I adore my oils, but they can’t do everything, and I’m very grateful to you for saving me the trouble. I have been using the Davita brand, but they are very expensive, so I will try yours. Thanks so much!

  15. joop says

    I’m suprised you didn’t just patch test a few oils on your arm, for example. Of course this won’t give you a number, but at least you’d have direct experience of it worked. If you used your normal sunscreen everywhere apart from a patch on your forearm, where you used carrot/ wheatgerm/ avocado oil, well, thats the first port of call i would go to, to accompany my reading with my own imperical data =)

    • says

      I’m SO fair that I hesitate to test too much if I’m in the sun all day. :) I wanted to research first to see if there was any validity to essential oils having SPF. So now I can spare the expense of using my oils on something that they’re really not designed to do. (Plus, can you imagine the expense and exposure levels of using that much eo on your body through the summer?)

  16. Amy says

    If you wish to get cancer – by all means go ahead buy and use the commercially made ‘sun screens’ who make mega millions on our expense. Most of the products in these are not even tested. Funny , we do not like testing on animals but rather be the subjects ourselves!

    We are mislead to believe that the sun, something so natural is the enemy. The sun is good for us! By using the sunscreen you are just protecting yourself from a long and healthy life. Stop lining the pockets of the manufacturers of lies!

    Wake up people!

      • Anna says

        Amy is right. Those industries brain wash us ! We need the sun… From 8 am to 10 am or from 4 pm on…. Unfortunately, people are already brain washed by pharmaceutical and the food industry. No wonder why there are so many people with cancer, and other diseases… Wake up people

  17. Bia says

    All of those sunscreen from badger and pure minerals have toxics which goes direct into your kids’ blood stream. Plus you need to be in the sun for 20 minutes without any sunscreen in order for your body to absorve vitamin D. Sorry , but all those industries just want to make money out of you.Read the ingredients and research them.

    • Anna says

      I agree with Bia. I have used coconut oil, raspberry seed oil, sesame oil and non nano oxide of zinc and it worked perfectly. The secret is to stay in the sun from 8 am to 10 am, or from 4 pm on. Also do stay in the sun for 20 minutes without any sunscreen. We need the sun, is ridiculous how all of those industries scared us away from the sun. Again, stay in the sun with moderation. The sun can even prevent cancer. What gives you cancer are all of those sun lotions . If you google all the ingredients that those industries put into the Sunlotion, you would never buy any of those products again. Just saying…..

  18. Bruna says

    I have used coconut oil, oxide of zinc, raspberry seed oil and it worked just fine. I recommend avoiding the sun from 10:30 until 4 pm. You will be just fine with the natural sunscreen. All of the products you buy has toxic ingredients for your skin anyway. if you want to get cancer keep buying those products.

  19. says

    My son and I are both very pale and burn easily. I make a mixture of coconut oil, myrrh essential oil, carrot seed essential oil and lavender essential oil. It’s the best sunscreen I’ve ever used! I used to get the worst sunburns as a kid and did NOT want my son to experience that. I’m not sure what kind of essential oils you used or if you didn’t use enough drops in your batch or what, but we love our DIY Sunscreen. :-) I hope y’all find one that you like and works well. Gotta protect our sweet little ones!

    • says

      Hi Kelly! I’m glad you have something that you like, but essential oils do not provide sufficient spf to be used protectively for us…I provide links to my sources in the blog post. :)

  20. JD says

    But all the store bought “natural” sunscreens are not really 100% natural. What they do is make the sunscreen part of the cream natural, but the rest is full of chemicals. It’s all in the marketing. So when you ask if it’s natural sunscreen, technically it is…but the rest is not.

  21. Tania says

    Sweetgrass and sunshine…

    You are sooo wrong. Yes, we can make our own sunscreen at home. What you can’t do is to toast on the sun all day long. All of those sunscreens that you buy out there contains toxic ingredients that eventually will give you cancer, so industries spend billions of money brain washing people like you, so you can run to the store to buy their product. They don’t care about your health, but about making profit out of you. Wake up my friend!

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