Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe

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Wellness Mama » Blog » Beauty » Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe

In the book Zero to One, Peter Thiel asks readers to consider what views/truths they believe that very few people agree with them on. For me, it’s that most sunscreen does not help avoid skin cancer and may actually increase the chances of it! This is one of the reasons I’ve been making homemade sunscreen for years (even though I rarely use it).

Sound crazy?

Sunburn is harmful… we all agree on that and it should absolutely be avoided. But sunscreen isn’t the only way to avoid it.

It’s definitely not a popular opinion, and I’m certainly not encouraging you to avoid wearing sunscreen or to ignore the advice of your doctor. I am, however, encouraging you to do your own research, look at the actual studies, and use common sense when it comes to sun exposure.

Why Make Homemade Sunscreen?

I explain in full my stance on sunscreen here, but here’s why I decided to try making my own years ago.

Avoid Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals

In the years since sunscreen use began, skin cancer rates have risen. Many reports show that most commercial sunscreens actually raise skin cancer risk. This might be due in part to the fact that many sunscreens contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is a known hormone disruptor that isn’t recommended for use on children. It’s been banned in many locations worldwide.

A 2020 study looked at several different active ingredients in sunscreen products. While they did offer SPF protection, chemicals like avobenzone are absorbed into the bloodstream, even after one use.

My DIY sunscreen recipe relies on a physical mineral barrier that stays on the skin’s surface. It doesn’t penetrate through as most synthetic chemical sunscreens do.

There are many more mineral sunscreens with safer ingredients on the market now than when I first started making homemade sunscreen. I’ve listed some of my favorite EWG-rated sunscreens below. That being said, you still have to read labels. Even more “natural” sunscreens can still contain problematic ingredients.

Protect the Coral Reefs

Recent research shows the ingredients in many sunscreens harm ocean life, especially coral. Researchers estimate over 5,000 metric tons of sunblock wash off of swimmers each year. This “swimmer pollution” threatens a large part of the coral life in the ocean and many other ocean species as well. This is because these compounds may awaken dormant viruses in symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae, which provide food and color to the coral.

Some sunscreen ingredients have even been banned in some places due to their negative environmental effects on the coral reefs. This natural sunscreen recipe avoids all such ingredients.

The Vitamin D Factor

Also, our bodies need some exposure to the sun to make vitamin D, a necessary building block for hormone function. Combine vitamin D deficiency with hormone-disrupting sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and is it any wonder some of us are concerned?

I don’t buy the idea that even moderate sun exposure is harmful when our bodies need vitamin D and light exposure for so many aspects of health. Getting some of the sun’s rays every day is an important part of my daily routine. I also take astaxanthin daily to help protect my skin from the inside out (read why here).

Looking at these reasons, it makes sense to ask if sunscreen is the best or only way to avoid sunburn.

Is Homemade Sunscreen Dangerous?

Several recent articles claim that homemade sunscreens are harmful and you should never make your own sunscreen. This is because the FDA tightly regulates and verifies the SPF protection of commercial sunscreens. Since you can’t verify the SPF of homemade sunscreens, the chance of burning is higher.

I certainly 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 as shade and getting out of the sun’s UV rays in the heat of the day are better options anyway.

So while maybe we shouldn’t use homemade sunscreens like conventional ones, I’d also argue we shouldn’t use conventional sunscreens in the way we do either!

Bottom Line: Use common sense and get safe sun exposure. The amount and safety will vary by person. I recommend doing your own research and talking to a knowledgeable naturopath or dermatologist to figure out what works best for you.

A Common Sense Approach to Sun

In most cases, my approach is to get adequate but moderate daily sun exposure, without getting close to burning. Since most of us don’t work outside these days, it takes effort to get daily sun, rather than to avoid it. I definitely don’t slather on the coral-destroying sunscreen on the off chance I might encounter a few stray rays of sunlight, and in fact, I welcome it!

Thanks to Nutrition Genome Testing, I know that I have mutations that make it very difficult to get enough vitamin D. This puts me at risk for a lot of serious diseases, and supplements don’t work very well to raise my levels. For this reason, my doctor advised me to get adequate vitamin D… from natural sun exposure.

Of course, there’s a limit to how much sun a person needs or should get. Here’s what I do when I reach this limit:

Use the Shade or Cover Up

If I’m going to be out in the sun for much longer than my skin is used to, it’s easy enough to put on a hat or shirt to shield my skin. This is the approach that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends. It’s more effective at stopping excess sun exposure, costs less, and doesn’t harm the environment. A common sense win/win scenario.

Use Natural Sunscreen When Needed

If I’m going to be in intense sun and can’t easily cover up, I will very occasionally use a natural sunscreen. I’ve yet to use it this year and hope not to at all, but I’m sharing my recipe (and the healthiest options for store-bought sunscreens).

Important Note: Unlike most sunscreens, natural and homemade sunscreens may not be as waterproof or have as high (or broad spectrum) SPF. Homemade versions may not protect as fully against UVA and UVB rays. I am not recommending entirely avoiding sunscreen or getting too much sun which could lead to sunburn or sun damage.

Support Skin From the Inside Out

Sun exposure itself isn’t the only factor linked to skin cancer. Many nutritional factors, such as optimal vitamin D levels or even reducing harmful omega-6 vegetable oils, can have a big impact on skin health. Getting enough antioxidants in our diet from colorful fruits and veggies also plays a big role. See this post for how I optimize my diet and supplements for healthy skin and improved sun tolerance.

Natural Sunscreen SPF

This homemade sunscreen uses a blend of waxes, butter, and oils to make a moisturizing base. The main ingredient for natural SPF (sun protection factor) though is zinc oxide. It acts as a barrier on the skin to block harmful UV rays. Non-nano and uncoated zinc oxide is the healthiest option for skincare.

My homemade sunscreen also uses skin-nourishing and moisturizing antioxidant ingredients for even more skin protection. These include red raspberry seed oil, carrot seed oil, and vitamin E.

The final version will have a varied sun protective ability depending on the amount of each ingredient used. This recipe uses about 10% zinc oxide which is roughly a 6-11 SPF. If you want an SPF of around 20, then double the zinc oxide. Keep in mind it hasn’t been tested by a regulatory organization for exact SPF.

For a simple version, even just coconut oil and shea butter with some zinc oxide or a little raspberry seed and carrot seed oil will work for moderate exposure.

As always check with your doctor or dermatologist before using any new products.

NOTE: This is an improved recipe since many people were having trouble getting the temperatures exactly right to get the lotion to emulsify (as per the comments below). This recipe shouldn’t have any of those issues!

Optional Essential Oils

You can add some skin-safe essential oils here for added benefits and scent. Be sure to avoid any phototoxic oils, as these can cause serious skin burns if used before sun exposure. Common phototoxic oils include:

  • bergamot
  • bitter orange (wild or sweet orange are fine)
  • cold-pressed lemon (steam-distilled is ok)
  • cold-pressed lime oil (steam-distilled is ok)
  • grapefruit (experts are mixed on this one)

Do not use the above essential oils for sunscreen! Some better options include lavender, frankincense, sweet orange, or sandalwood.

homemade sunscreen
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4.13 from 265 votes

Homemade Sunscreen Recipe

Make your own sunscreen at home with natural ingredients and avoid the chemicals in commercial brands. Make sure to check out the notes at the end of the recipe for tips.
Prep Time5 minutes
Active Time10 minutes
Cooling time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 15 minutes
Yield: 10 ounces
Author: Katie Wells

Equipment

Materials

Instructions

  • Combine all the ingredients except zinc oxide in a pint-sized or larger glass jar. You can also use a double boiler instead of a jar.
  • Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and place on the stove over medium heat.
  • Put a lid loosely on the jar and place it in the pan with the water.
  • Stir occasionally to mix the ingredients as they melt.
  • When all the ingredients are completely melted, stir in the zinc oxide. This will take some stirring to incorporate.
  • Pour into whatever jar or tin you’ll use for storage.
  • Stir a few times as it cools to make sure the zinc oxide is incorporated.
  • Store at room temperature or in the refrigerator to increase shelf life.

Notes

  • 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 necessary!
  • Add more beeswax to make thicker sunscreen, less to make smooth sunscreen.
  • Store in a cool, dry place or in the fridge. I prefer to store it in a small canning jar and apply it like body butter. It will be thicker, especially if you use coconut oil in the recipe.
  • Remove the zinc oxide and this makes an excellent lotion recipe!

An Even Faster Way to Make Sunscreen

This easy recipe just takes two ingredients. While there’s no exact SPF guarantee, it should yield about 20 SPF.

  • 1/2 cup of your favorite lotion (that doesn’t have phototoxic oils!)
  • 2 Tablespoons of non-nano zinc oxide
  • Mix well

You can also make sunscreen bars with many of the same ingredients!

Store-Bought Natural Sunscreens

Not Interested in DIY? I’ve gotten numerous questions over the years about pre-made sunscreen options for those who don’t have the time or desire to make their own. I list my favorite store-bought brands in this post.

Does your family regularly use sunscreen? Do you try to get regular sun exposure? Leave a comment and let us know!

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Get sun protection without the toxins with homemade sunscreen. Made with coconut oil, shea butter, non-nano zinc oxide and other natural ingredients.
Sources
  1. Matta M. et al. (2020, January 21). Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2020;323(3):256–267.
  2. Ortenzi, T. (2011, November 17). Sunscreens With Vitamin A May Accelerate Skin Cancer: FDA Knows Danger, Doesn’t Report. Huffington Post.
  3. Hall, D. (N.D.). The Truth About Corals and Sunscreen. Smithsonian Ocean.
  4. Moulite, M (2018, July 3). Hawaii bans sunscreens that harm coral reefs. CNN.
  5. Roach, S. (2016, July 11). The Truth About Phototoxic Essential Oils and How to Use Them Safely. The Herbal Academy.
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

964 responses to “Natural Homemade Sunscreen Recipe”

  1. Kirsten Avatar
    Kirsten

    5 stars
    I haven’t made this YET, I got all the ingredients though. But before I start I’m wondering if there is a reason that coconut oil isn’t an alternative to the sweet almond/olive/avocado oil? I don’t want to make it if it won’t be as effective but I imagine the coconut oil may also prevent the zinc oxide from sinking like other comments had stated??

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Since coconut oil is solid at room temperature and melts in the heat (like when taken to the beach) using only coconut oil as the oil would create a sunscreen that doesn’t hold up well to moderate temperature changes. If you stir the sunscreen as it cools this works well to keep the zinc oxide mixed in.

  2. Erika Avatar

    5 stars
    Is it ok to use cocoa butter instead of shea butter in this recipe? I have all other ingredients on hand other than the shea butter. Thanks in advance for your advice!

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Cocoa butter is harder than shea butter so you’d end up with a firmer sunscreen. You could try reducing the beeswax a little to make up for it.

    1. Lindsay Donovan Avatar
      Lindsay Donovan

      Hey there,
      Hope you are having an amazing day! Can I add Aloe Vera gel to this recipe? Please let me know, thank you. 🙂

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Certain citrus essential oils are phototoxic and can cause really bad burns on the skin if it’s exposed to the sun. Wild or sweet orange is one exception.

  3. Sibtain Avatar

    What is the shelf life of this recipe and anything else we can add to increase shelf life for small scale selling.

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      It should last for about a year before going rancid if it’s stored and used properly. In the US and other countries sunscreens are regulated as a drug so selling them requires researching the legal obligations, as well as looking into which preservatives will work best with which ingredients and pH levels.

  4. Kate Merrick Avatar
    Kate Merrick

    I have been using your recipe for years and love it. But I made a new batch this summer and there was so much grainy zinc left at the bottom of the pots and it got drier and drier. I had no problems with the other batches so wonder when you changed your recipe and what the change was…?! Can’t think where I went wrong… Thank you.

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      The recipe should be the same but it’s likely the zinc oxide powder was different. Did you use a different brand? Or maybe the brand switched suppliers?

  5. Robin Avatar

    Hi, Katie,
    First, I’d love to thank you for all your interesting recipes and posts. I’ve learned a lot from you.

    Now, my question: you have this recipe (which I haven’t yet tried), and you have recipes for tinted moisturizers and foundation. For years, I used Jane Iredale mineral makeup that provides SPF protection, and a few years back started using Bare Minerals tinted moisturizer with SPF instead for my older skin. So, do you think that this sunscreen recipe might work well with the tinting aspect of your liquid foundation recipe? Have you tried combining the two that way? I think I’ll try making the combo myself, but wondered if you’d already done it and had some suggestions or feedback.

    Thank you again 🙂
    Robin

    1. Charis Ethridge Avatar
      Charis Ethridge

      Hello! I made this recipe the other day. Three batches. My first batch turned out great but my other two batches all separated when the sunscreen fully cooled.

      Can I reheat the ingredients in the jars (using hot water bath method) so I can mix the ingredients up?

  6. Karry Avatar

    1 star
    Made this for our beach trip and applied to myself and my kiddos. We got the worst sunburn ever! I don’t know what happened. I followed the recipe and instructions. I did not add cocoa butter or shea butter. Better off dressing in long sleeves and hats.

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Natural sunscreens do need to be applied more frequently and rubbed in more than conventional versions (this recipe isn’t water or sweat proof). Sometimes the zinc oxide can settle to the bottom of the container so not enough of it ends up on the skin (in that case be sure to stir well before using).

  7. Lori Avatar

    Can you please tell me what SPF this recipe would end up being? Thank you 🙂

  8. Stephanie Avatar

    I am wondering if I can add more of the red raspberry and carrot seed oil? Is there any reason that’s I shouldn’t?

  9. Nadine Avatar

    2 stars
    BE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT THIS RECIPE AND SUN BURNS!!!!! I would like to preface this by saying that I was very excited to come across this recipe, love the ingredients in it, and the ease of making it. I have made homemade artisan soap with my own herb-infused oils with a recipe that I have refined over the years that is rather complex. I have always wanted to make my own lotions and sunscreens since most are a similar process in many ways but also much easier. I loved everything about making this recipe, bottling it, and it felt fantastic going on. BUT……AND IT IS A BIG BUT…I went one ONLY a 40 minute walk and have the first sunburn I have had in 15 years!!!!!! Badly on my shoulders and bad but not as bad on my forehead. I have been diligent about sunscreen for a long time now but always hated putting things on my skin that worried me about their ingredients. I was just too lazy to finally make myself do the research of a homemade version that could do the trick. I finally did it and am sad and embarrassed to have such a sun burn at this point in my life. The other issue with this recipe is that it is so incredibly oily that you shine like a vampire from Twilight a million miles away and forget about going to the beach. You’d get mistaken for a sand dune. I sat down for about 5 minutes to meditate and every bit of dirt stuck all over me impossible to get off. Unfortunately, I am going to need to play around with a new recipe adding much more of the screening solutions and reducing the balming.

  10. caroline dent Avatar
    caroline dent

    1 star
    I made this but the zinc oxide would not mix in. It just sat at the bottom of the jar in lumps no matter how long i stirred the mixture

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Did you continue to stir it in as the sunscreen started to become solid? The powder can settle to the bottom when the mixture is still too liquid. Another option is to scoop the sunscreen into a mixing bowl and use a mixer or whisk attachment to combine.

  11. Linda Avatar

    thank you for the recipe Katie. If i want to make this without coconut oil and i dont want to sub in cocoa butter in its place, can you suggest another replacement for the coconut oil, please?

  12. Dina Avatar

    Wow thank you for the recipe. Please consider making a video about this. It would be very helpful!

    1. Jamie Larrison Avatar

      Because this isn’t a lab tested recipe the exact SPF is unknown. The ingredients have varying SPF values though and should provide some level of protection.

  13. Jeslyn Anderson Avatar
    Jeslyn Anderson

    5 stars
    I tried it and it was totally amazing! Thank you so much for the great and awesome recipe! ??

  14. Eldwin Avatar

    3 stars
    No essential oil nor oil for that matter will ever have SPF above 8. Your information on raspberry and carrot seed oil are wrong. The source from which you derived that information from states that it is sunscreen made with raspberry/carrot seed oil. The oils themselves do not contain that level of SPF. Please correct it as your misinformation is harming peoples’ skin by grossly overestimating its protection factor.

    1. Nick Avatar

      I agree, was just looking into the flaws of this post myself. These natural oils also do not properly protect against deeper penetrating Uv radiation (UVA), which is the real threat to skin cancer. I also found a scientific article claiming oxybenzone has not been proven to be harmful in research.

    2. Doro Avatar

      Its the zinc oxide that protects us from the sun … lifeguards use zinc oxide cream esp for the nose.

  15. Sydney Avatar

    Looking forward to putting my own spin on this recipe! I’m curious to know how creamy this comes out. I noticed you store in glass containers. Would this come out well in a squeeze bottle?

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