Why I will never make a sunscreen, + you shouldn't either

Why I will never make a sunscreen, + you shouldn't either

It's that time of year again: summer, my favorite of all the seasons. The weather is beautiful. The sun is shining and warm. We're out gardening or hitting the beach or exercising outdoors. If you are like me, you are religious about your sunblock application. Daily and multiples times throughout the day.

While I thoroughly love the cosmetic formulation process, I understand my limitations and what is beyond my scope of ability, and frankly some things are best left to the chemists. A sunscreen is one of those products you will never find me making for personal use and especially not for sale. A sun protectant works by either blocking, scattering, reflecting, or absorbing the sun's rays to protect your skin cells from radiation. Whether you use a mineral or chemical sunscreen is up to you. The best one out there? The one you'll actually wear every day, without fail. 😉 

Despite the allure of DIY projects and the desire to control what goes on our skin, when it comes to sun protection, there's no room for experimentation. We're talking about safeguarding our skin from harmful UV radiation, and that's a serious matter. Let's delve deeper into why homemade SPF products are a risky proposition.

An SPF product is classified as a drug in the United States, and its performance requires rigorous lab testing to ensure efficacy. It's not a cheap process either, between having the capital for the proper equipment, multiple rounds of testing, and then the approval process. The FDA requires small manufacturers to pay a challenging and expensive fee of $20k to comply with their regulations for sunscreens and over-the-counter drugs. "Any sunscreen product sold in the US is regulated as a drug because it makes a drug claim — to help prevent sunburn or to decrease the risks of skin cancer and early aging caused from the sun." That's from the FDA, y'all. This means that sunscreen products absolutely must adhere to rigorous standards and regulations for safety and effectiveness. Even talented cosmetic chemists out there still have a difficult time getting their SPF products approved.

Sadly, there are numerous DIY homemade recipes on the internet that tout to be effective and safe because of nonsense that commercial SPF is causing cancer (this is patently false and has been debunked over and over again*). The base of these "recipes" is a generic lotion or body butter with some zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tossed in, as that's often found in commercial mineral sunblocks. There isn't a single home utensil that will properly blend all the ingredients together. Special lab equipment is absolutely necessary for this application in order to ensure all the zinc oxide is fully dispersed and homogenized within the formula. Your kitchen whisk won't cut it when it comes to mixing up a batch of homemade SPF — unless, of course, you're cool with a spotty, inconsistent, and very likely ineffective sunscreen.

If you're the type who enjoys living dangerously — you know, like running with scissors — relying on untested DIY sunblock is risky business. Without lab testing, you simply can't know if your homemade concoction is protecting your skin from both UVB and UVA rays. Remember, UVB rays cause sunburns, and UVA rays cause the invisible damage like premature aging and can contribute to skin cancer. When it comes to your skin's health, it's better to play it safe and stick with professionally formulated sunscreens that have been proven effective.

An even scarier revelation? Some indie brands are selling their own sunblocks, and not all of them are playing by the rules. Yes, indie brands can create safe and effective sun protectants, but they need to invest in proper evaluation and testing — again not a cheap process, and shortcuts are a big no-no. Shockingly, some indie brands are dangerously peddling products based on DIY recipes found online, which is as trustworthy as taking medical advice from WebMD. How do you spot these risky products? Look for incorrect cosmetic labeling that doesn't follow regulations — ingredients not listed in descending order of dominance, no SPF indication, and labels like "sun cream" or "sun lotion" instead of "sunscreen" or "sunblock." These brands mistakenly think they can evade FDA regulations with clever wording. These brands also spread false claims by adding up supposed "natural" SPF factors for each ingredient — for example, claiming shea butter has a "natural" SPF rating of 6-10. This is misleading, wrong, and also illegal. This isn't like making cookies where we're adding up the calories. SPF isn't cumulative. There's an actual formula for determining the rating.

Bottom line, please do not make your own sun protectant. Ensure you trust the brand you are buying from. When it comes to sun protection, you're putting your skin in their hands, and that's not something to take lightly. Your skin's health is worth investing in. Do your research, read labels carefully, and always opt for trusted, lab-tested sunscreens.


*Wong M. Will Benzene in Sunscreens Give You Cancer?. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. June 6, 2021. https://labmuffin.com/will-benzene-in-sunscreens-give-you-cancer-with-video/

Wong M. Octocrylene Causes Cancer? and I’m Propaganda Now. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. April 26, 2021. https://labmuffin.com/octocrylene-causes-cancer-and-im-propaganda-now-with-video/

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