Friday, May 23, 2014

Recipe for homemade sunscreen

We actually don't wear sunscreen much.  I'm sure y'all already know that a daily dose of sunshine is good for you.  I burn pretty easily so when I'm doing yard work I'll wear a hat and long sleeves, and I'll dress this way to social occasions where that's appropriate, which is just about everything except swimming, and I don't get to do that very often at all.

My kids, on the other hand, get to swim a lot when they're visiting my mom, and I have one child in particular who burns as easily as I do, and who, also like me, not only burns easily but has a worse reaction to wearing most sunscreens -- sunburn and welts. I've found one brand of sunscreen that doesn't do this to us, but it's over $30 for about 4 ounces.  And that's not even addressing the concern that these products might actually be carcinogenic or hormone disruptors or otherwise harmful to your health in the long run.

A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with Vitamin D insufficiency and my doctor put me on a high dosage for several months to correct this.  I later learned that one of the effects of low vitamin D is burning too easily, so I've been giving D to my easily-burned child since last fall.  It helped me last summer, so hopefully it will help him, too.

But still, for those occasions when we're going to be out in the sun for a long time, I want everyone to use sunscreen, so I spent a few years looking for a homemade variety that addresses my concerns and that works reasonably well.

This is what I made last year.  #1 Son can vouch for it -- last summer he spent several days in Mexico and Guatemala, mostly out in the sun, and didn't get burned.  We have some left over from last year, and it's still effective.  A couple of weeks ago his group had a fund-raiser, and they were standing in full sun from 10 in the morning till 7 that evening.  He only put on one coat of the sunscreen and was just a bit pink on the side that faced the sun all afternoon.  Now that wouldn't have worked for me -- I would have had to reapply it two or three times because I burn a lot easier than he does.  But it hasn't lost efficacy over time, which is nice to know.

Time to make a new batch

I've included links to the harder-to-find products I bought, but coconut oil is pretty easy to find in stores nowadays.  I bought the beeswax from a local beekeeper a couple of years ago and paid $5 for one pound.

Homemade Sunscreen 


4 ounces coconut oil
2 ounces shea butter
2 ounces cocoa butter
4 ounces beeswax
1 heaping Tablespoon zinc oxide


Melt the first four ingredients in the top of a double boiler, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and add the zinc oxide powder stirring well to mix (or use beaters or an immersion blender).  Wear a mask (I used a bandana over my face like a cowboy) so you don't inhale the dust.  It's bad for your lungs.

If you like, you can add essential oils to make a nice fragrance.  I used lavender and rosemary, and possibly rose absolute, enough to mask the chocolate smell of the cocoa butter.  Just don't use citrus oils because they increase sensitivity to the sun.

You can also add Vitamin E oil as a preservative.  I used a few capsules of Wheat Germ oil (which is what I had on hand and is high in Vitamin E), poking a hole in each and squeezing the oil into the mix.

Pour into mold and let cool.  I used a 9 x 13 pan, lined with waxed paper.  After cooling I cut it into bars.  Later, because this stuff melts when it's gets over about 80° I put some of it into small, lidded containers to make it easier to deal with.  You can store the bars in the fridge and then keep them in your cooler if you're going to the beach or on a picnic.

It's nice and thick . . .

 . . . and spreads pretty easily . . .

He looks burned, but he isn't.  It's just the light.  Really!

. . . and doesn't whiten too much, in spite of not using nano-sized ZnO.

Sunscreen on the left arm.  Right arm is bare for comparison.

Other info:

This sunscreen isn't waterproof, so you'll have to reapply it regularly.  I'm going to try adding more beeswax when I make a new batch this year and see if that helps.

Update, 26 May 2014 -- Yesterday I made a new batch using an extra half ounce of beeswax.  It's definitely more waterproof and the bars didn't start getting soft until they'd been sitting on my porch, inside a closed container, in sunny in 85° weather for a couple of hours, which is great for a bar you'll be using while swimming.  I set aside about half of it for that purpose, but the rest I'm going to melt down again and add a little jojoba oil so it'll be more spreadable, like last year's batch.

It's also a really nice after-sun lotion if you forgot to use it in the first place, or didn't reapply it often enough and got burned after all.  It's soothing and helps you heal faster.  Zinc oxide is used in diaper rash ointment for its healing properties.

We've also discovered that it's a decent bug repellent.  I don't know whether it's the essential oils, or what, but gnats and mosquitoes are less likely to hang around when you're wearing this sunscreen.

I've recently learned that you can determine the SPF if you know how much zinc oxide is in the formula as a percentage of total weight.  If the amount of ZnO is 20% of the total weight, that will give you an SPF of 30, which blocks about 97% of the sun's UVB rays, and is generally considered to be adequate protection. 

That said, I've never had this stuff tested in a lab, so I'm not making medical claims about the lotion -- I'm just telling y'all what has worked for us.


I read several different recipes for homemade sunscreen before deciding what to make for myself, but this recipe at Wellness Mama was my main inspiration.

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