A good sunscreen is extremely important in protecting your skin from the sun and maintaining the health and vitality of the skin. While many are tempted to skip slathering up in an attempt to achieve a desirably tan skin-tone (somewhere between Snooki and Donald Trump), sunscreen saves your skin in the long run. UVA and UVB rays are the ones most commonly associated with sunburn and these beams cause fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots which make skin look prematurely old. Sunscreen protects the skin from discoloration, dark spots, sagging, leathery skin, wrinkles, and helps maintain an overall even skin tone.1
Skin cancer is on the rise according to the National Cancer Institute. The rate of new melanoma cases among American adults has tripled since the 1970s, from 7.9 per 100,000 people, in 1975, to 23 per 100,000, in 2016.2 More than 3 million Americans develop skin cancer each year, and the trend for these statistics is upward facing and will, most likely, only continue to grow. So, wear your sunscreen.
The extent of human pollution is not limited to land as many sunscreens are known to be destructive to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Over 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans each year; 82,000 chemicals from personal-care products may be tainting the seas; about 80 percent of coral reefs in the Caribbean have been lost in the last 50 years due to pollution, coastal development, and warming waters.3 Sunscreens containing oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate are all known to be harmful to marine life.
When possible, consider using mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Or make one at home with safe ingredients. To prevent UV overload try making the following:
- 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil or almond oil (or other carrier oils) (natural ~5 SPF)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut oil (natural ~5 SPF)
- 1/4 cup beeswax
- 2 tablespoons shea butter
- 2 tablespoons zinc oxide powder (natural 5-20 SPF depending on amount used)
- 1 teaspoon carrot seed oil (natural 35-40 SPF)
- 1 teaspoon raspberry seed oil (natural 25-40 SPF)
This is not a fixed ingredient list and depending on your desired SPF coverage, may change according to your needs. Combine all the ingredients, except the zinc oxide, into a pint-sized glass jar. Fill a saucepan with 2 inches of water and place it on medium heat. Place a loose-covering lid on the glass jar, then put it into the saucepan. Stir the ingredients as they melt and meld into a homogenous blend. Once the ingredients have melded, remove the pan from the heat and add the zinc oxide. As it cools, mix in the powder. Zinc oxide is not safe to inhale, so turn on the vents when pouring and use a mask if necessary. Pour the final mixture into whatever container you choose and store it in a cool, dark area. Voilà! You now have an eco-friendly, non-toxic sunscreen. Add more beeswax for a thicker consistency, or use less for a smoother one. This sunscreen is NOT waterproof and must be reapplied after swimming or sweating.
The oils may be substituted, or not used at all. However, carrot seed oil contains powerful nutrients and is a rich, emollient oil which easily absorbs into skin, feeding it with its pro-vitamin A, beta-carotene, plant sterols, and carotenoids. Raspberry seed oil effectively moisturizes and improves skin elasticity, reduces wrinkles, dryness and skin lines. It also regenerates skin cells. Raspberry seed oil is also the perfect choice as it offers excellent skin protection and will also help to stabilize and improve the antioxidant activity. Even people with darker skin tones can benefit from sunscreen use. While the melanin in darker skin does protect from some UV rays, the natural skin can only block UV rays up to SPF 13.4 Skin cancer is not prejudice, and often people of color are diagnosed with skin cancer in the later stages because many believe they are immune to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.4
The World Journal of Dermatology released research showing that terpenes protect the skin and oral administration of aroma terpenes can prevent sunburn or skin cancer in mice; which could lead to more effective and safer ways of blocking sun damage to human skin. Of particular interest are terpenes like limonene, that protect the skin from irritation and cumene, that encourages new skin growth. Researchers found that d-limonene acted to protect against ultraviolet B-induced DNA photo-damage and sunburn in UVR exposed skin. They filed a patent application for their methods of using terpenes and terpenoids to block ultraviolet radiation and promote skin growth, so it should be interesting to see if such research will create a demand for natural terpene-infused sunscreen.
Testing Your Sunscreen
If you would like to know the precise SPF of your product or if your year-old store-bought sunscreen is still effective, follow this experiment. All you need is sun sensitive paper (available online), your sunscreen, and sunlight. Lay the paper in direct sunlight and spread a thin layer of sunscreen over the paper. Sun sensitive paper usually takes about two minutes in direct sunlight to change color from ultraviolet rays. Record how long it takes the paper to change color due with sunscreen applied. This recorded time is a rough estimate, as the paper does not absorb the sunscreen as much as human skin does.
Whether it is a homemade sunscreen, lotion, or other skin-care product, making these products from home is a gratifying and rewarding project, economical, and a way to ensure you are using only safe and non-toxic ingredients.
1 - "Is There a Skin Cancer Crisis in People of Color?" Skin Cancer Foundation, 5 July 2019, www.skincancer.org/blog/ask-the-expert-is-there-a-skin-cancer-crisis-in-people-of-color/.
2 - "Skin Cancer on the Rise." Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/skin-cancer-on-the-rise/.
3 - Zachos, Elaina, and Eric Rosin. "What sunscreens are best for you—and the planet?" National Geographic, www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/features/ sunscreen-destroying-coral-reefs-alternatives-travel-spd/.
4 - "d-limonene prevents ultraviolet irradiation: Induced cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers in Skh1 mouse skin." World Journal of Dermatology, 2 Aug. 2014, www.wjgnet.com/2218-6190/full/v3/i3/64.htm.