In the book Zero to One, Peter Thiel asks readers to think what views/truths they hold that very few people agree with them on. For me, one such view is that most sunscreen is not working to avoid skin cancer and might even increase the chances of it!
Sounds mad? It’s for sure not a popular belief, and I’m of course not recommending you to not use sunscreen or to ignore the advice of your doctor. I am, nevertheless, encouraging you to do your own research, look at the real studies, and use common sense when it comes to sun exposure. Sunburn is dangerous. But sunscreen isn’t the only way to avoid it.
The Problem with Commercial Sunscreens
Many sunscreens include toxic ingredients or endocrine disrupting chemicals that in many cases can actually enhance skin cancer growth and free radical production in the body. In fact, in the years since sunscreen use started, skin cancer rates have actually risen, and a 2007 document from the FDA stated that:
The FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer
In fact, many reports demonstrate that most sunscreens actually increase skin cancer risk. Even natural, commercially available sunscreens often have toxic ingredients! Many sunscreens also contain Oxybenzone, a known hormone disruptor that is not recommended for use on children. Consider this: Vitamin D= necessary for correct hormone formation. Sunscreen ingredients like Oxybenzone= endocrine disruptors that inhibit correct hormone formation. Starting to see the reason some sunscreens may do more harm than good?
The Environmental Factor
Recent study is demonstrating compounds in many kinds of sunscreen damage ocean life, especially coral. This is because these compounds may awaken dormant viruses in symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae. These Zooxanthellae algae provide food and color to the coral. Sunscreen chemicals cause the dormant viruses in these Zooxanthellae to replicate until the algae host dies. This, in turn, makes the coral to die. Researchers evaluate that over 5,000 metric tons of sunscreen wash off of swimmers each year. This “swimmer pollution” threatens a large part of the coral life in the ocean and indirectly many other ocean species as well.
The Vitamin D Factor
Taking into account many people these days are actually Vitamin D deficient, I personally consider lack of sun exposure to be a much larger issue than too much sun exposure.
Vitamin D deficiency has been connected to many kinds of cancers including the most deadly kinds of breast cancer. Shortage of Vitamin D has also been connected to issues during pregnancy including pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, premature labor, and more.
As a society, we’ve literally cut off our nose to spite our face when it comes to sun exposure. To avoid skin cancer, we’ve shunned the sun and the Vitamin D our bodies create when exposed to the sun.
On top of that, sun exposure itself is not the only factor connected to skin cancer, and many other factors, such as Omega-6 Vegetable Oil consumption can have a large influence on skin health!
I don’t buy the idea that even moderate sun exposure is damaging when our bodies need Vitamin D and light exposure for so many aspects of health. I personally take Astaxanthin daily to help protect my skin from the inside out.
A Common Sense Approach to Sun
In most cases, my approach to sun exposure is to get adequate daily exposure, without getting close to the point of burning. Since most of us don’t work outside these days, it actually takes effort to get daily sun, rather than to avoid it. I for sure don’t slather on the coral-destroying sunscreen in the off chance I might encounter a few stray rays of sunlight, and in fact, I welcome it!
In fact, thanks to 23 and Me, I know that I have mutations that make it very hard to get enough Vitamin D. This puts me at risk for a lot of serious diseases and taking supplements doesn’t work very well to increase my levels. For this reason, my doctor advised me to get adequate vitamin D… from natural sun exposure.
For sure, there is a limit to how much sun a person needs or should get. When I reach this limit, I:
- Use the Shade…
In case I’m going to be out in the sun for much longer than my skin is used to, it is often simple enough to just put on a hat or shirt to protect my skin. This is the approach that the Environmental Working Group advises. It is more effective at stopping excess sun exposure, costs less, and doesn’t harm the ocean. A common sense win:win scenario.
- Use Natural Sunscreen
If I’m going to be in intense sun and can’t simply cover up when I’ve gotten enough sun, I will sometimes use natural sunscreen. I’m yet to use it this year, and hope not to at all, but I wanted to share my recipe (and best picks for pre-made) so that if you are in the sun for extended periods of time this summer, you have a natural option. This homemade sunscreen would also be a more natural alternative for really young children, those taking medication that raises sun burn risk, or those who burn very easily. Just to clarify, even though this natural sunscreen smells good and is naturally moisturizing, I don’t advise using it daily since the Vitamin D you get from the sun will be more beneficial in the long run!
Is Homemade Sunscreen Dangerous?
Few recent articles say that homemade sunscreens are damaging and that a person should never consider making their own sunscreen. Their explanation is that you can’t verify the SPF with homemade sunscreens so the chance of burning is higher. I for sure agree that homemade sunscreens don’t have the lab testing that conventional ones do, but you know what else they don’t have? Endocrine disruptors and coral killing compounds. Also, sunscreen should be a last resort, according to the EWG, and shade and getting out of the sun are better options anyway. So we shouldn’t use homemade sunscreens in the same way we use traditional. I’d also argue that we shouldn’t use traditional sunscreens in the way we typically do either.
Bottom Line: Use common sense and get safe sun exposure. The amount and safety differs by person and I definitely advise doing your own studying and talking to a knowledgeable naturopath to figure out what works best for you.
Choosing Natural Sunscreen Ingredients
Many of the ingredients in this recipe have a natural SPF (sun protection factor). This is an organic recipe and has not been tested by a regulatory organization for exact SPF. For this reason, I can’t (and don’t) make any claims or even guesses as to the combined SPF.
The individual ingredients are considered low SPF and generally quoted at these levels:
Almond Oil — SPF around 5
Coconut Oil — SPF 4–6
Zinc Oxide — SPF 2–20 depending on how much is used
Red Raspberry Seed Oil SPF 25–50
Carrot Seed Oil — SPF 35–40
Shea Butter — SPF 4–6
The final version will have a different sun protective ability depending on the amount of each ingredient used. For a simple version, even just coconut oil and shea butter with a little Raspberry Seed and Carrot Seed Oil or some Zinc oxide will work for moderate exposure. As always check with your doctor or dermatologist before using any new products.
NOTE: This is an enhanced recipe since many people were having problems getting the temperatures exactly right to get the lotion to emulsify. This recipe will not have any of those issues!
Homemade Sunscreen Ingredients
½ cup almond or olive oil (can infuse with herbs first if wanted)
¼ cup Coconut Oil (natural SPF 4)
¼ cup beeswax
2 Tablespoons >Zinc Oxide (This is a non-nano version that won’t be absorbed into the skin. Be careful not to inhale the powder).
Up to 1 teaspoon Red Raspberry Seed Oil — optional
Up to 1 teaspoon Carrot Seed Oil — optional
2 tablespoons Shea Butter (natural SPF 4-5)- optional
Optional: Essential Oils, Vanilla Extract or other natural extracts to meet your preference (Do not use citrus essential oils as they increase sun sensitivity)
Homemade Sunscreen Instructions
Mix together ingredients except zinc oxide in a pint sized or larger glass jar. I have a mason jar that I keep just for making lotions and lotion bars, or you can even reuse a glass jar from pickles, olives, or other foods.
Fill a medium saucepan with a couple inches of water and place over medium heat.
Put a lid on the jar loosely and place in the pan with the water.
As the water heats, the ingredients in the jar will start to melt. Shake or stir from time to time to incorporate. When all ingredients are absolutely melted, add the zinc oxide, stir in well and pour into whatever jar or tin you will use for storage.
Small mason jars (pint size) are good for this. It will not pump well in a lotion pump!
Stir a few times as it cools to make sure zinc oxide is incorporated.
Store at room temperature
This sunscreen is not waterproof and will need to be reapplied after sweating or swimming. Make sure not to inhale the Zinc Oxide — use a mask if needed! Add more beeswax to make thicker sunscreen, less to make smooth sunscreen. I advise coconut or vanilla extract or lavender essential oils for fragrance. Store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge. I prefer to store in a small canning jar and apply like a body butter. It will be thicker, especially if you use coconut oil in the recipe. Remove the Zinc Oxide and this makes an amazing lotion recipe!
An Even Faster Way To Make Sunscreen
Get a bottle of your favorite lotion (that doesn’t contain citrus oils!)
Add a couple Tablespoons of non-nano Zinc Oxide
Pre-Made Natural Sunscreens
I’ve also gotten some questions about pre-made sunscreen options for those who don’t have the time or desire to make a homemade version of their own. The best brand I’ve found is Badger and they have several great organic, non-nano versions:
Sport sunscreen: Badger Organic SPF 35
For Baby: Badger Organic Baby Sunscreen SPF 30
Kids Sunscreen: Badger Organic Kids Sunscreen Tangerine and Vanilla SPF 30
Best smell: Badger Lavender Sunscreen SPF 30