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Is DIY Sunscreen Safe?

Wearing sunscreen is a must, but should you try to make your own formula? A recent study warned about concentrations of some sunscreen chemicals, which seems to have sent people looking for alternatives. But experts are warning that do-it-yourself sunscreen may not be a wise choice.

“I do not recommend making or using homemade sunscreens,” Dr. Julie Williams Merten, an associate professor at the University of North Florida, told SheKnows. “Homemade sunscreens haven’t been tested for their true UV protection, water resistance or photostability, which places people at risk for sunburn and even worse, skin cancer.”

Understanding sunscreen

There are two ways that sunscreens work: Chemical absorbers soak in UV rays to protect the skin, while mineral blockers or barrier sunscreens reflect ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Worried about chemicals from chemical-absorbing sunscreens? Try a mineral-based sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, Merten said.

Decoding the science

It’s important to understand the aforementioned research before becoming too alarmed. It was a small study done on 24 people. It was not conducted outdoors, where other factors may have impacted how sunscreen was absorbed in the body.

“This study definitely does not state that sunscreen is toxic or unsafe,” Dr. Noelani González, director of cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai West, told SheKnows. “The study did show that some sunscreen ingredients were found in the blood at a higher concentration than the FDA allows for, however more studies still need to be done. The truth of the matter is that we do not know if these ingredients are, in fact, toxic at these concentrations at this point.”

People should continue using sunscreen, González said. Again, those concerned should opt for mineral sunscreens which are broad spectrum, are tested rigorously for efficacy, and do not contain any of the ingredients mentioned in the study.

The Dangers of DIY Sunscreen

Another recent study examined how Pinterest users described and rated homemade sunscreen concoctions. Of the nearly 200 pins (or posts) they reviewed, 95.2 percent claimed by be effective, but 68.3 percent of pins had recipes that did not provide adequate ultraviolet (UV) radiation protection.

Even if you include zinc oxide—a proven mineral sunscreen—in your DIY formula, it may not contain sufficient amounts and it may not be properly mixed, Merten said.

“Many of the recipes listed specific SPF levels up to 50, yet the ingredients in the recipes are not scientifically proven to offer that kind of broad spectrum coverage,” Dr. Lara McKenzie, lead author of that study and principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, said in a statement. (She and Merten have conducted research on the topic together, too.) “Store-bought sunscreen is a better choice because it is regulated by the FDA and must have a proven level of protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” McKenzie continued.

Parents hoping to protect their children with homemade sunscreen should know that it could put a child at risk for sunburn and skin cancer, she added. “Resist the urge to DIY when it comes to sunscreen,” McKenzie told SheKnows. “Readers can use the internet for recipes for food — not for products intended to protect them.”

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