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The Trouble With Making Your Own Sunscreen

December 30, 2012

Yes I have gone sunscreen crazy a little over the last week or so but it is for a good reason. It’s hot here in Australialand right now, hot, UV rich and waaaay too long between pay checks to go buy a $20 bottle of SPF 30 something for some people.  That and the fact that there are a growing number of people for whom consumer SPF 30 plus sunscreen no longer cuts the mustard – too many chemicals, what about nanoparticles,  too much synthetic perfume,  allergic to the preservatives and so on.

So is home-made sunscreen possible?

I would strongly advise against trying and that’s not because I have shares in a sunscreen company because I don’t.  It’s hard. Very hard. It’s expensive and hard and more importantly sunscreens are not just any old cosmetic, they might just save your skin.

The googlesphere is jam-packed full with recipes teaching you how to make your own homemade sunscreen.  A typical recipe looks something like this:

To make 100g

25g of Zinc Oxide powder

50g Shea Butter

10g Jojoba Oil

2g beeswax

3g Cocoa Butter

10g Olive Butter.

Mix it all up and voila, your own sunscreen and as Zinc Oxide gives somewhere between 1-1.5 SPF unit per % added you have a product with an SPF of between 25-35. Amazeballs.

Only you probably don’t.

Having worked with zinc oxide sunscreens for the last three years with varying success (and lots of failures) I can assure you that it is a pig of an ingredient being both difficult to blend into a base and keep dispersed in said base.  Being a strongly charged particle it tends to migrate towards its self and form big clumps at every available opportunity (think of it like a super charged magnet that it sitting just shy of the pulling ground of a complimentary magnetic item). It doesn’t take much before whoooooosh, it’s moved and attached its self to its neighbour to form a duo that is TWICE AS STRONG AS IT WAS WHEN ALOOOOOOONE.  You can easily see what will happen next. It’s chemical carnage.

But you can’t necessarily see that and as I found to my detriment a couple of years ago, ignorance is bliss. Knowledge is pain.

I started off in 2009 by merrily mixing my zinc oxide into a base, not really aware of how bad it could get and enjoying each little win like I was some genius in a world filled with losers who just didn’t see what I saw.  I wondered why everyone from within the industry shied away from this type of formula, why they refused to take on this work and why they looked at me with that “oh no you haven’t” look when I told them about my happy successes.  I was happy because my creations had not yet been tested.

But then came the day of reckoning.  I took them to the sunscreen testing lab and they failed.

I had various goes at testing my ‘babies’ SPF’s.  Those that I expected would give me an easy 30 came in at a dismal 12,  those that were a sure 15 were only a 7 and one that looked amazing and a sure-fire 35 ish read only 8 on the SPF scale.  Epic failures all and what was worse was that this was all my own work.  In the early days I wasn’t really doing this for customers, I was just teaching myself some bits and pieces.  Trying it on for size and investing in my future.  Well, at $700 ish a pop for the basic stuff sunscreen testing is NOT something that you want to keep getting wrong and each failure hit me like a brick. And keep in mind that by this stage I thought I was onto a good thing and knew what I was doing – I won’t even go there with the tens of formulation tweaks that I tried and subsequently failed at.

One thing that I realised early on was that just because you put zinc in, it doesn’t mean that it stays sitting in the formula in a useful place.  A good sunscreen has to cover the skin evenly like a good coat of paint and unfortunately for zinc users, that chemical prefers to clump together giving you dense lumpy areas that you may or may not be able to see with the naked eye and then empty wasteland craters all of which can act as lenses for sunlight and actually magnify the rays as they come through.

badly clumped zinc sunscreen

Yes it is true, adding lots of zinc to your product COULD leave you with a hole infested sun magnifying glass rather than a nice, uniform sunscreen. Ouch!

Then came some progress.  I read a bit more, observed a little closer and tweaked a few techniques until something started to stick.  My reported SPF’s were still a bit lower than I wanted but we were on the right track, no zinc was cottage cheesing and the product was feeling good on the skin.  But that was over one year and several thousands of dollars worth of investment in time, materials and testing later and that was BEFORE we started trying to change preservative systems, add different actives, change emulsifiers and add perfumes.  Another thing I’ve learned with zinc only sunscreens is that every little change is a big deal and can make a big difference. And that’s where I’m up to today with a few ideas that work and a few that didn’t.

I’m not saying that I’m a genius and if I can’t do it you must be made to think that you can, honestly I’m not.   What I am saying that even with all of my friends in the right places, chemical resources, laboratory equipment and analytical testing experience I still stuffed up a lot before I started to make progress and surely that has to count for something.  I was lucky in as much as nobody was risking their lives with these failed formulations, the only thing being risked was my money at that stage and thankfully that is replaceable.  Our health isn’t always so easy to claw back.

The trouble with making your own sunscreen is that while it looks ever-so-easy from the ingredients list in reality there is a whole chemical dance that has to go on to get these things singing. Now you may just hit the jackpot and come up with a beauty but it is more likely that you won’t so please, please, please be careful and if this is something that you are likely to dish out to babies, your children or your elderly relatives do consider investing in at least one proper SPF test, just to be on the safe side.

Home made sunscreen? In my eyes it is just not worth it unless your home made sunscreen is a nice big hat or burquini 🙂

1st August 2015 Update:

This post has had a lot of traffic thanks to it being shared far and wide by various websites, blogs and forums.  I wrote this in December 2012 and since then I’ve continued to work on a number of zinc based formulations. I have one tinted moisturiser which recorded an SPF of 12.8 on the market (a secondary sunscreen) and two zinc only formulations pending marketing that meet SPF 15.  I also built a framework formula based on zinc oxide that went on to achieve an SPF of 40.  In addition to that I’ve formulated an SPF 40 formula that contains organic pigments and another two formulations with titanium dioxide as the main filter that meet SPF 15 requirements.  I’ve also worked on a number of natural sunscreen projects that for one reason or another failed to make it to market. It isn’t easy to meet everybody’s expectations.  That said  I achieved all of the above (which might not sound impressive, I don’t know) with the help of my homogeniser, propeller mixer, stability testing protocol, microscope and a huge investment in SPF testing (it costs around $300 per subject to get SPF tested and you need 10 people to form a panel).  I still wouldn’t recommend anyone trying to short cut the big bad chemical industry by making your own products at home as even with the right equipment and a few years of trying behind you it is so easy to get it wrong.  Even a change in fragrance can affect SPF.

It has been interesting to watch the comments roll in over the years (and on other forums) and yes, there are always people who read this and still feel that they know best.  Good luck to them I say,  may the force be with you.

Amanda x

142 Comments leave one →
  1. Shopping Doll permalink
    June 18, 2013 2:32 am

    So glad I found this. I’ve been flirting with the idea of making my own sunscreen, and have read a few articles telling me not to, citing various “experts,” but yours is the most convincing as it is based on true personal experience and tangible evidence. I’m disappointed that it can’t safely be done at home, but grateful now that I know better than to put my family at risk. Thank you so much for this.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      June 18, 2013 8:01 am

      Hi there Shopping Doll,
      Thanks for taking the time to write to me, it is much appreciated. Just wanted to clarify that you can make sunscreen at home in as much as you don’t necessarily need any special equipment BUT you do need to get it properly tested to make sure you aren’t putting your family at risk wearing a sunscreen that is ineffective. Good luck with whatever you choose to do and thanks again for reading.

  2. natluver permalink
    January 22, 2014 2:05 pm

    hi! i stumbled on your blog, its great! i have some qns, wonder if you can help? zinc sunblock is not common here, and if i had them made by a compounding pharmacy, will it have the same problem as you mentioned? or it will be just like those commercially prepared? and does rubbing in several thin layers of the sunblock on my face still provide the right coverage? thanks!!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 22, 2014 2:14 pm

      Hi there,

      Well that does depend on the experience and testing capacities of your compounding pharmacy. Pharmacy isn’t cosmetic chemistry and while some pharmacists know how to formulate a sunscreen and have a good appreciation of the laws and testing required others wont. Layering a bad product might help a bit but it won’t be pleasant to use and may still not give you enough of an SPF. Sunscreen R&D is expensive and I’d always go with a company that has and continues to test their product or products so as to ensure they remain safe and fit for purpose throughout the shelf life.

      • natluver permalink
        January 22, 2014 5:37 pm

        oic, coz i called them up they say the concentration of zinc oxide and base cream is up to me. once decided, they will ‘make’ it for me… what about application? was confused that some say to rub in the cream to lessen the whitish cast. others say rubbing in removes the cream thus leaving no protection.

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        January 24, 2014 7:33 am

        It doesn’t sound like they have much experience with this. UV protection and whitening on the skin are not related. I’d be finding another place to get your zinc sun cream made personally.

  3. Deanna permalink
    February 13, 2014 9:56 pm

    This was just what I needed to read before heading off to buy the ingredients!
    Great explanation you know what you are talking about Thanks

  4. Judi Gaytan permalink
    April 18, 2014 6:27 am

    This is an interesting article. Last year I developed a bad allergy to regular sunscreen (skin turns dark red, swells up, itches, stays like that for several weeks, then peels). I’ve tried different sunscreens that are for sensitive skin or that have different combinations of chemicals in them and they all do the same thing to me. Last summer I was desperate for some sunscreen so I could go to the pool, so I used diaper rash ointment (40% zinc oxide) mixed with white icing color (contains titanium dioxide, glycerol and water) and cocoa butter. It didn’t come off in the pool, and I didn’t burn. I reapplied it every hour like I used to do with commercial sunscreen. This year I was planning to order zinc from Amazon so I could try making a sunscreen that didn’t smell like diaper ointment, but it sounds like maybe I’m better off sticking with the diaper ointment since the zinc is already blended into it.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 18, 2014 6:40 am

      Hi Judi,
      Thanks for writing in and sharing your experience. I am glad that your blend seems to be working for you, not knowing you and your skin type or your behaviour during that test day I can’t comment further on your particular experience. Life being as complex as it is there will always be people who go outside and never burn, never get skin cancer. There will always be people who make their own medicines, creams and balms and live a long, happy and rash free life and there will always be people who react badly to products that have been thoroughly tested and validated. Such is life but my professional opinion and experience shows that on the whole these wins are short lived once the product goes to market. So, if you are experimenting that is your choice but I wouldn’t be selling that blend or promoting it to others any time soon.

      • Judi Gaytan permalink
        April 18, 2014 7:36 am

        Oh, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else…it smells too bad for that, and it looks chalky on. I use it for my daughter and myself, because she has the same reaction to regular sunscreen that I have, and we’re both pale with freckles so we burn really easily. I expect now that daily sunscreen use is becoming more widespread and sunscreen is added to so many lotions and cosmetics, more people will become sensitized to it like my daughter and I did. Probably then alternatives with different chemicals will be developed, but until that happens, I’m stuck trying to come up with something I can use.

  5. ChristinaH permalink
    May 10, 2014 2:38 am

    Well then. I typed in “is home made sunscreen with zinc oxide effective”…and here you are! I’m really glad I found this because I had the same nagging question after reading oodles of homemade recipes. It is EXTREMELY important to understand the science behind these things! Just because it’s a creamy goo to the naked eye clearly means nothing. Thanks for actually taking the next steps in the process so that we don’t make the same mistakes and put our health at risk.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 10, 2014 8:16 am

      Hi Christina,
      I’m very glad that the article helped you. As there are plenty of professional sunscreen brands who have done the testing and meet the expectations of the organic, natural and cost-effective market I really do feel this is one area best left alone. I appreciate the interest and understand the sentiment but really the only sun protection you can make at home is good food, clothing and a solid hat. Oh and plenty of rest to keep your body working right.

  6. NatalieD permalink
    May 31, 2014 8:01 pm

    Thank you for this article! A lot of really great information to think on.. Especially since I was considering making my own sunscreen lotion! Do you have any recommendations for brands of sunscreen that are natural & safe to put on the skin?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 1, 2014 3:39 pm

      Well I’d say that any brand that has passed SPF testing and is labelled as broad spectrum is going to do the job. There are a few all natural brands that your health food store may stock that you could try, it would depend on where you are located as to what particular brands you might need.

  7. August 4, 2014 2:36 pm

    Great article, BUT really discouraging, as I have recently made a small jar of sunscreen for the first time. However, I’m wondering to myself, which is worse: store-bought, chemical-laden sunscreen that fully covers or homemade sunscreen with some “holes” in its protection?? I know I can purchase natural sunscreens with zinc oxide, but that still leaves me depending on their formulation, which usually includes oils or ingredients that do not work well with my skin (ie. pore clogging). I’m at a loss…

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 4, 2014 11:29 pm

      If you value your skin use a product that has been tested. Zinc is very tricky and while I have been making zinc based formulations for five years I can assure you that getting a good SPF is far from easy. I can understand why people might feel uncomfortable with formulations they haven’t made or ingredients they have no relationship with but I can honestly say that making your own Sunscreen is far more risky. Living amongst a community that likes to make everything themselves due (for some) in part to a mistrust of commercial brands I understand that there will be people who feel that I might just be making this out to be a bigger problem than it is, scaring people into consumerism or that I’m somehow trying to feather my own nest as a formulator. I know that this is far from the truth but can’t influence others and accept that as an industry insider with a background in chemistry I could be viewed as part of the problem. Such is life.

      • August 8, 2014 3:19 pm

        Thanks for the reply. I hope I didn’t come across as viewing you as part of the problem … or anything of the sort. I really appreciate the information you’ve shared about your trial and errors formulating sunscreen. I’m just really bummed to know that my homemade sunscreen may not be as wonderful as I thought. Ignorance is bliss, but I am the type that would rather know!

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        August 9, 2014 7:56 am

        Not at all! Feedback is welcome and yes ignorance is bliss and that’s fine to a point when you are experimenting on yourself but quite different when you are putting these concoctions on children I guess. Thanks for reading and commenting. It is always most welcome. Amanda x

  8. Monica permalink
    October 2, 2014 1:01 pm

    Hi RealizeBeautyEd,
    Thanks very much for your article. What would you recommend for those areas or skin that are hard to cover on kids. Hats and shirts etc OK but what about forearms and feet. is there a good commercial product? Thanks so much 🙂

  9. kerstin permalink
    January 31, 2015 12:19 am

    Dear RealizeBeautyEd,
    i have a question about sun powders containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide mixed wih mica and magnesium myrsistate, or an other base. does the zinc build dense clumps and craters in a powdermix as well or does that only happen when combined with fluids? i really like the idea of a light powder as sunscreen.
    thank you
    kerstin

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 31, 2015 7:31 am

      Hi Kerstin, You can make a powdered ‘sunscreen’ of sorts – we put zinc and titanium into mineral make-up powders and can get a recorded SPF but…….. Powdered products need to adhere to the skin well, it is usual practice to apply moisturiser or primer on under a powdered SPF make-up to get good adhesion, without that the SPF of the powder will drop at least 2-5 SPF units depending on the ‘stickiness’ of the skin. Also keep in mind that the dose rate of a sunscreen is actually quite high (2mg per CM 2 skin) and would look ridiculous if powder was applied that way. Therefore we pretty much never get the stated SPF with a powder so in practice I’d only rely on them to give you an SPF of say between 5-10 which is probably OK for daily wear but not great for on the beach.

      • kerstin permalink
        February 6, 2015 7:09 pm

        thank you so much,
        so i guess powdered sunscreen is not really an alternative.
        have a nice weekend
        kerstin

  10. Richard permalink
    February 28, 2015 8:15 am

    Curious, did you try titanium dioxide? Does it have the same problem or other issues?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 28, 2015 10:00 pm

      Yes of course, I’ve used titanium dioxide for many consulting clients but the natural market here in Australia prefer titanium only. This isn’t such an issue outside of Oz and as time goes by more clients are OK with titanium. We had a local issue here with titanium dioxide in sunscreens rusting colourbond roofs and it caused people to question the safety of such products. Zinc is thought to be the ultimate in safe sunscreens. I am not so sure but anyway……

  11. April 9, 2015 9:25 am

    Hi, thank you very much for this post! I was wondering if since store-bought oxide ointment could be used solely as sunscreen. Thank you in advance~

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 9, 2015 11:03 pm

      If it doesn’t state an SPF probably no as for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to perform as a sunscreen they need to be attenuation grade pigments. Pharmaceutical grade pigments are not necessarily good enough to give a solid SPF so it’s possible to have a zinc product that goes on white and looks like it’s covering when in reality the coverage is full of minute holes.

  12. Claudia Stefan permalink
    April 13, 2015 11:00 am

    Dear author of this page,

    I understand now that making your own sunscreen is bad. But using nano particles sunscreen is also bad. Using chemical ones is worse. It’s not possible to wear a big hat white swimming neither. What do you recommand ? Are there other solutions? Thank you

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 13, 2015 11:08 am

      Hi there,

      I am the author of this page. I here your frustration in not wanting nanoparticles or sunscreens that contain chemical filters but there are zinc and titanium sunscreens that don’t contain nanoparticles (particles less than 100nm) that are made professionally. These contain micronised particulates that retain their UV protective features without being really small. Nano sunscreen particles can range from anything from 10nm up to 99nm and a micronised product often has particle sizes between 120-200nm so there is quite a difference. The reason I am so against people making their own sunscreen is because while the risks to the individual of getting cancer from using either a nano particulate sunscreen or one made with chemicals are nothing compared to the risk of developing skin cancer from wearing an ineffective product. Finally even if you take the fact that this is a sunscreen out of the question making at home is unlikely to give you a product which has been properly micro and stability tested and so there are real risks there too.
      Of course these are my thoughts and observations based on my experiences. I can’t make personal recommendations for anyone else as this is a science blog and not a beauty/ product review blog. Your chemist or health food store should be able to point you in the direction of a suitable micronised sunscreen.

  13. Tirzah permalink
    May 19, 2015 1:15 am

    Hello there! Thank you for this blog, it is so very helpful. I have looked into SPF testing here in the states and so far the best quote I have received is $2,900 us dollars, does that seem accurate to you?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 19, 2015 11:27 am

      Yes it does seem about right but of course it would depend on the protocol and how many people were being used in the panel. Sunscreen R&D is hard work and very expensive, facts that are often un-appreciated by the general public who have no real idea of what it takes to make a commercial SPF formula.

  14. Sarah permalink
    June 15, 2015 12:19 pm

    First of all I love your article, but I wonder what your thoughts are on sunscreens with 20% zinc oxide but also have Essential oils with High SPF contents like Red Raspberry Seed carrier oil, Carrot Seed Essential Oil Etc. which are both said to have SPF’s of 30 themselves.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 15, 2015 12:34 pm

      Hi there,
      I would like to know where the evidence is for the SPF 30 of Carrot Seed and Red Raspberry Seed Carrier oil as that is certainly not what I’ve found on testing. I’ve known several projects trying to make sunscreens without using any of the regular filters but none of them were feasible. Some natural ingredients can improve the resilience of the skin and maybe even increase the persons base line sun resistance but I’d be really surprised if doing this could raise the base rate SPF more than a couple of points – say equivalent to an SPF 4-8 maybe.

  15. June 25, 2015 9:17 am

    What if your homemade sunscreen keeps you pale and white after a while in the sun… you’re saying it does not work? Is redness and tan the sign of sun damage. I know there are other damages unseen being done, but if you’re not burning…. and conventional baby sun screen gives you a chemical burn what gives?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 26, 2015 6:04 pm

      Hi Brooke, I posted this because I know just how bad things can get when you trust a sunscreen that doesn’t work and how hard it is to make one from home that does work. That may seem alarmist and like I might have shares in sunscreen companies but it isn’t meant to be and I don’t. If you have managed to make something that is good for you then sure, use it. If you don’t seem to burn then great, go for it. It is entirely possible that you have managed to make a great sunscreen in which case I’d go spend the money to get it tested as I’m sure there would be a market for it, especially if it is all natural. As for experiencing chemicals burns when you use a baby sunscreen I’d get that checked out, It may not be the sunscreen actives that are causing it, it might be a preservative or fragrance that you might come across elsewhere. If it is the sunscreen actives that are causing it you might be able to find a ready made sunscreen that doesn’t contain those actives, there are quite a few sunscreen actives around that might be more suitable for you. Good luck with it all.

  16. ClickClack permalink
    July 22, 2015 4:31 am

    Thank you for sharing your experience. While it hasn’t deterred me, it does give me very important perspective and a reason to give my recent attempt at homemade block a wary look. Would you be willing to share any of the resources you read regarding zinc oxide? I am trying very hard to both avoid creating waste in my day to day and chemicals and living in Florida makes sun exposure a constant reality and bottles of sun screen add up, quickly. If nothing else, this first attempt is an AMAZING moisturizer.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      July 22, 2015 8:58 am

      Just keep in mind that a poorly covering sunscreen is actually worse than none at all and you will understand why this is all so dangerous. That said, it is your body and I understand the costs and waste involved in having to purchase sunscreen – I live in Australia and am very white (sadly). Zinc Oxide for sunscreen use should be an attenuation grade pigment. Ideally with a particle size of between 100-180nm (this is micronised rather than nano. Nano is actually better in terms of SPF performance but can be difficult to handle and is also….nano…. which some people don’t like the sound of). You can buy such zinc from the major manufacturers – check out the website Special Chemicals here for a list of options. Good luck and please do get it tested before relying on it. At least then you will know if your wonderful moisturiser also has an SPF.

      • Joelbasicosmetics permalink
        July 1, 2016 11:41 am

        I’m curious.. do you have a specific source for ZnO in the 100 – 200 nm range that you can direct me to. I’ve spent a lot of time searching through various suppliers and haven’t found one that has this average particle size range. This is a great thread btw!

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        July 2, 2016 11:24 am

        Antaria have some zinc dispersions with an average particle size over 100nm, Croda have Solaveil Clarus with zinc particle size of 75nm average and Ellis and Associates have a zinc with an average particle size of 175nm. There are more options out there too but these are three that I’ve worked with.

  17. T.Minor permalink
    July 28, 2015 10:57 am

    Info is the article is somewhat informative. I have to ask-shouldn’t one be using NON-Nano Zinc Oxide vs Zinc Oxide stated in article?!?
    Also, I do agree with ensuring the ingredients within such recipe one may find are compatible so as to not become volatile once combined. So further research in how each ingredient works with the others is important-as is prudence with general sun care (reapplication of sunscreen often-especially after water play or excessive sweat, periodic breaks in the shade, hats, long sleeves, etc). Even the best FDA approved sunblock needs that (prudence in use)-plus most on the market are actually MORE harmful than helpful in the overall scheme of things (larger picture than just a sunburn). I’ve been using oils and homemade sunscreen for YEARS now with zero adverse affect (for now, larger scheme remains to be seen-but I feel better with my homemade vs store bought FDA approved crap any day regarding long term affects).
    My recipe has NEVER clumped and always goes on evenly & smoothly.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      July 28, 2015 11:45 am

      Hi Tatiana,
      Thank you for writing in and sharing your ideas. I’ll just clarify a few things here.

      I can’t remember stating that people have to use nano zinc but just in case that is the message people are taking away people do have to use a sunscreen grade of zinc in order to get the best SPF performance. Usually a micronised (over 100nm but less than 200 nm) is OK as that ticks the box as non-nano but also SPF grade. I did mention that one of the problems with formulations on the internet is that they don’t specify the importance of a sunscreen grade of zinc.

      A cosmetic formula should not be ‘chemically reactive’ in any case as while we call this discipline cosmetic chemistry it is really more ‘physics’ as we are just trying to keep everything well combined and happy.

      There is no such thing as a sunblock. The FDA banned that term a few years ago as it was misleading.

      I would love to know where your evidence of ‘most on the market are actually MORE harmful than helpful in the overall scheme of things’ comes from.

      I have removed the link to your recipe as I am sure that people who are interested can find you but I don’t want to endorse a sunscreen recipe that is written in cups and spoons worth and says ‘optional’ after Zinc Oxide. That gives the wrong impression as this is a cosmetic chemistry blog (I am a professional cosmetic chemist).

      But finally I am happy that your formula works for you as I am sure that you know your skin better than I ever could. Yours is less likely to clump than an emulsion because there are no dual-phase interactions or pH issues. The down side for many people is that they perceive oil-only sunscreens as heavier and a little greasy but this is personal taste.

  18. Inger Marie Berning permalink
    August 2, 2015 2:03 am

    Thanks for a very interesting posts! I also make my own zinc oxide sunscreen, and scared by the possibility of magnifying the UV-rays due to clumped zinc in you post, I was relieved when I scrolling down the comments to find that oil-only formulas is less likely to clump than emulsions. What I have been speculating on is if sorbitan olivate as a thickening agent (it needs to be thickened to keep the zinc oxide dispersed) will disperse the zinc oxide better than if I use cetyl alcohol, beeswax, candelilla etc. Sorbitan olivate is said to improve dispersion of pigments, but would I have this benefit in an anhydrous formula? Thanks and best regards!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 2, 2015 8:41 am

      Hi there, it is true that sorbitan olivate can help in some formulations but whether it will help in yours or not I don’t know. I’m glad you picked up on the clumping issue but do be aware that clumping to the point of you noticing is one thing, the zinc can still be poorly dispersed and leave a hole-filled film even when visible clumping isn’t noticeable. Sunscreens should always be efficacy tested in a lab before use and that’s the bottom line. If you have a formula and are quite sure it is working then I’d urge you to spend the $300 per person to do at least a 3 person test. Yes that is a lot of money on a product that is only going to be used on a few people but that test is the only real way you will know if the product is giving you the coverage you need. Lack of redness and burning is obviously a good thing but if the coverage isn’t full enough (spectra wise) or covering to a high enough level you will still be getting more UV through than you might anticipate. This may be fine for an adult with incidental exposure but not fine for a child who is playing on the beach or in the garden. Test the product 🙂

  19. Kittens9001 permalink
    August 4, 2015 3:43 pm

    I absolutely love sunscreens and am passionate about sun protection in general and thanks to your blog and lots of reading and trying to make my own products at home, I’ve become interested in chemistry in general (having never taken a chemistry class in my life, but that’s neither here nor there!)

    I’m so happy you wrote this. I’ve sent this link to I don’t know how many people and I really hope it drives home the point that if you don’t have the equipment to make sure the ZnO is properly dispersed in the formula, and the money to get it properly SPF tested, DON’T MESS WITH IT- IT’S NOT WORTH THE RISK!

    I’ve tried some ‘natural’ brands (I don’t want to name and shame them) that I don’t think were properly formulated to disperse the ZnO evenly, just by how badly I burned when using them.

    Thanks for this.

    Also! Have you ever formulated with other sunscreen actives besides ZnO? What are your opinions on some of the filters available in the European market? I’m in the US and have loved some European sunscreens that combine filters that we don’t have access to, like tinosorb S and M, and have read that they can provide superior broad spectrum protection (Especially on the UVA side of things) compared to a lot of the sunscreens available here. Though I love zinc oxide because I have sensitive, acne-prone, reactive skin.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 4, 2015 3:59 pm

      Hi there,
      Thanks for the feedback!

      I have always been involved in the sunscreen market and have worked with all of the ‘chemical’ filters including the Tinosorbs (Ciba) and Univul Grades (BASF) plus the original Parsol MCX and 1789 from Roche, now DSM. I’ve produced some really nice high SPF products with these ‘chemical’ filters and it is much easier to get a light feeling product that people want to wear but these days as pretty much all of my clients want natural I work with Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. My favourite chemical filters in terms of SPF performance and skin feel are the BASF new generation UVA and UVB filters because that is the range I know best (I used to import the BASF sunscreens into Australia and was the technical support for the country) – Uvinul A Plus (Diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate) and Uvinul T150 (Ethylhexyl Triazone). I also like some of the silicone coated Zinc and Titanium particles like those made by Kobo but can’t use those in my natural formulating. I like them as they give a better skin feel and are easier to disperse. I have developed skin sensitivities to some commonly used sunscreen actives and I am sure that others are in the same boat as me and so I am always looking for better solutions for sun protection but it is an area fraught with issues.

      It is difficult to find utopian solutions to many problems and I think Sun protection is a great example of where something has to give (most of the time). Ideally we want to produce product that a) perform their function well, b) are products that people enjoy wearing c) do not represent a threat to the environment throughout their life cycle d) are products that we feel safe with and e) are products that we can afford. I am confident that it is impossible to produce one product that can do that for everyone. We try.

      Thanks for your interest and sorry to hear you had some bad experiences with a couple of natural sunscreens. I do know there are some good ones out there but I’ve also seen bad.

      • Kittens9001 permalink
        August 5, 2015 1:22 am

        Thanks for the reply!!

        I have another question- I’ve seen a few sunscreens (mostly it looks like they’re formulated in Europe) that have its main ingredients encapsulated in liposomes, which is supposed to help it absorb into the skin better, thus ensuring that it is longer-lasting and holds up better. Is there a lot of research into encapsulating sunscreen actives so that they penetrate better?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        August 5, 2015 8:45 am

        Why would sunscreen actives need to penetrate? That doesn’t make sense. Sunscreen actives need to stay on the surface of the skin to work either by reflecting or absorbing UV light. Sunscreen actives can be encapsulated to help stop them degrade or react with each other or to have them released slowly over time for longer-lasting protection (well that is the theory, I’m not sure if it works that well in practice as most sunscreen is lost when it rubs or sweats off). Also sunscreen manufacturers can put ‘sun spheres’ into a formula to boost SPF – these are like little beads that reflect light away from the skin rather like the zinc and titanium do. This can boost SPF without the need for boosting the level of traditional filters. There are many ways that we (cosmetic chemists) can boost SPF but pretty much all of the things that help – film formers, absorbent spheres, SPF stabilisers etc are synthetic and can’t be used to make a natural product. Antioxidants and some plant based materials can ‘feed’ the skin and make it more resilient to SPF but these actives – raspberry seed oil, seabuckthorn, shea butter/ coconut butter etc need to be used day-in-day-out to get the skin into great condition before UV exposure. Even then you would be lucky to see much in the way of a measurable change to the skins reaction but every little helps.

        Here is a link relating to your original question:http://www.cosmeticsdesign.com/Formulation-Science/Encapsulation-technology-can-increase-SPF-of-organic-sunscreens

  20. August 20, 2015 6:04 pm

    Hey!! really useful article..

    I am also currently working with ZnO and I am making it for an acne prone skin.. So I am using some non-comedogenic oils like Caprylic/capric triglyceride, C-12/C-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Mineral oil and Stearic acid to disperse ZnO. Can u tell me till what temperature should I heat these oils and then add to ZnO powder? and what pH should be of the oil before adding to ZnO?

    Regards!!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 20, 2015 9:16 pm

      Hi there Sachi,
      You can heat the oils up to pretty much any temperature below 90 – there is no need to go hotter. Heat will help to disperse zinc oxide but it isn’t essential though. Oils have no pH so you don’t need to consider that in an oil-only formula. If your formula contained water you would need the water to have a pH of 7-7.5 ish for most types of zinc although some are coated in a way that makes pH less of an issue.

  21. David Jones permalink
    September 9, 2015 11:31 am

    Do you have a list of sunscreens you recommend which are safe and well formulated? Ideally i would have liked to make my own zinc oxide cream for everyday use due to cost, but after reading this article it seems buying a sunscreen is the best option.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      September 9, 2015 2:27 pm

      I don’t have a list of such products but what I would say is go for brands that advertise their SPF and have the testing data rather than brands who are writing ‘with sunscreen’ or similar as these may not have been tested. There are a few zinc only brands made here in Australia that are sold in health food stores. You could approach them and see what testing they have done to support their claims and see if you can try a sample. Some are better than others and if you buy a sunscreen that is leaking oil or lumpy go get your money back.

      • David Jones permalink
        September 10, 2015 5:06 am

        ok, let me try another way. Are you familiar with the brands Badger sunscreen or Jason sunscreen? Both are mineral sunscreens using zinc oxide. I wonder if these are any good in your opinion?

        http://www.jasonnaturalcare.co.uk/sunscreen-spf-30/

        http://www.badgerbalm.com/s-29-about-badger-organic-sunscreen.aspx

        Both use sunflower oil in them which i feel is a shame considering it is a polyunsaturated oil and therefore relatively unstable/prone to oxidation.

        In the article you mention problems with zinc oxide clumping together. Do you know if this still occurs with zinc particles 100-200nm in size? Or is it just the larger particles that are problematic?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        September 10, 2015 7:17 am

        The only personal experience I’ve had with the Badger SPF product was in around 20012 when a tube was given to me by a client to try. The product leaked and was very, very thick and greasy so I didn’t personally like it and scientifically I was worried that the oil leaking would affect the SPF – even though at that time some brands were trying to tell people that oil leaking was nothing to worry about…….

        I haven’t tested the SPF of the product as I had no reason too and as my experience was three years ago they may well have improved their formula. The tube that I received was over-stickered on the ingredients side of things which made me think that they were aware of problems and were re-formulating to address these.

        The product is not available here in Australia so maybe they didn’t bother trying to come here.

        I haven’t had any personal experience of Jason Naturals but looking at its ingredients it isn’t what I would call natural:

        Ingredients: Aqua (Water), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dimethicone, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Glycerin, Glyceryl Isostearate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Polyglyceryl-3 Ricinoleate, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract Magnesium Sulfate, Silica, Sodium, Chloride, Tocopheryl Acetate, Benzyl Alcohol, Phenoxyethanol, Polydroxystearic Acid *Certified Organic Ingredient.

        The ingredients that I’ve highlighted are not the kind of thing that people here are looking for when buying a natural sunscreen. The Ethylhexyl Palmitate could be naturally derived but may be a blend of vegetable and petroleum derivative. The silicone is a big no, no though and many people looking for naturals would avoid the brand because of that.

        Does that make this product bad?

        Not really. There is nothing wrong with the ingredients that I’ve highlighted and looking at reviews for this product people seem to like it. It does contain both zinc and titanium as sunscreen actives and at a relatively decent level which makes me feel more comfortable that they have probably used micronised rather than nano (again, this isn’t a personal problem of mine. I’d be fine with nano but many people looking for natural products are not).

        So of the two I’d say that the Jason brand looks better to me from here with my limited experience of the two products.

        Maybe the brands can send you a sample of each and you can see how they look and feel.

        Amanda

        Active ingredients: Zinc Oxide 14.5%, Titanium Dioxide 2.0%

      • David Jones permalink
        September 10, 2015 9:29 pm

        Hi Amanda, thanks for your responses and analysis. I think you have a written a very important article and i can see why it has become so popular.

        Many people, like myself, and also yourself from what i have read, come across the idea of making a homemade sunscreen with zinc oxide and it seems simple enough. But not everyone has the scientific knowledge you do, or the scientific ability to test their homemade formulation as you do, and so just assume that it must be just as good as brand name products. Actually, i thought it was better, because i could control what ingredients went into my formulation. I didn’t realize zinc clumps together like you mentioned.

        Am i correct to assume that mineral sunscreen manufacturers are aware of this issue, and formulate their product accordingly so that it provides effective and uniform coverage? In other words, how do we know a sunscreen with zinc oxide works without the issues you discussed? As obviously, the average person isn’t going to lab test every sunscreen they try.

        I also have another query regarding zinc oxide if you don’t mind? I have noticed on the label of zinc oxide sunscreens that they recommend reapplying the sunscreen every 2 hours. My understanding was that this recommendation is necessary for chemical based sunscreens due to the ingredients not being photostable and so they degrade in the presence of light over time.

        But isn’t zinc oxide photostable and so once it’s on the skin it will stay there unless washed or rubbed off? So why would i need to reapply a zinc oxide sunscreen every 2 hours. If i am only applying it to my face and it is not rubbed or washed?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        September 11, 2015 3:21 pm

        Hi David,

        Thanks for the thoughtful response. As a cosmetic chemist who works in this area professionally at all ends of the spectrum – from small ‘I made this for myself and my family’ to multi-nationals I feel it is only right to share a little of what I know and invest in knowing every day.

        With regards to your question about manufacturers then yes, manufacturing companies making primary sunscreens must be TGA registered here in Australia. I am not sure about the rules in other countries but basically the costs and regulatory hurdles are enough to prevent people making sunscreens in their kitchen and putting them onto the market. This is, in my mind justified given that we know excessive sun exposure does cause skin cancers.

        Manufacturers do know about zinc clumping and go as far as they can to mitigate this but manufacturers do sometimes put products that fail onto the market – either it was a badly made batch that got thorough the QC department or it is a formula that turns out to not be quite as good as they thought it was. A formula may be SPF tested when it is first made with stability testing happening in real-time ie: when the product is on the market. Now it would be expensive and damaging to put a product onto the market that fails and so most responsible brand owners and manufacturers run at least a 12 week stability testing (approx. 1 year shelf life projection) BEFORE launching a new product. However, the industry being what it is some brand owners and factories push products out onto the market quite quickly and then either have to make running changes to a formula or have to recall and re-formulate because issues crop up over the year or so. Issues may be with clumping, with micro stability , physical stability or packaging suitability. Generally speaking the multinationals and pharmaceutical companies are the least risk-averse of all brands, the smaller brands are possibly unaware of industry protocol and people in the middle do a range of things.
        That said you should have confidence in the SPF rating of a product as long as when you buy the product and squeeze it out it looks smooth and homogenous. Check the use by date and you can also check out customer reviews.

        In terms of the re-application rate that applies to all sunscreens as you will sweat and rub most of it off. Re-application is key to good performance.

  22. September 13, 2015 6:26 am

    Hi, thanks fort his amazing and informative post. It has been very helpful for me as I always love hearing both sides of the same story. In all the other bogs I always heard fantastic things about making your own sunscreen.

    I love DIY cosmetics. I also felt very clever when I realized I could mix some zinc on my homemade face cream. Since I found your post I put on hold the idea of making my own cream with SFP as I think the same as you: sunscreen it’s not a game, either you do it well or you don’t do it. And if an experienced person like couldn’t do it, that means the average person could not either.

    BUT today, searching for other ingredients I found this on one of the suppliers websites. A zinc that is DISPERSED. That should take away the need for special machines, right? I don’t know and I would love to hear your opinion on this.

    This is what they state on their website:

    Zinc Oxide in dispersion is a safe and effective physical sunscreen with applications in skin care and sun care. Zinc Oxide homogeneous dispersions do not require high shear mixers or homogenizers so not only are they easy to use, they also provide broad range UVA and UVB sun protection using non micronized zinc oxide, the same material that Badger uses in its sunscreens.

    What do you think of this?

    Thanks a lot!
    Yedah

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      September 13, 2015 8:02 am

      Well many of my failed recipes have used dispersed zinc. In fact that was the first zinc that I started with when making sunscreen formulations. I personally went down that track because the company I was working for at the time made dispersing agents and so we did a lot of work to find the right combination of zinc and dispersant.
      So basically dispersed zinc offers you no protection against agglomeration, instability and poor SPF. A dispersed zinc can become un-dispersed and a dispersed zinc still requires a homogeniser to mix it into the rest of your oil phase. There are no loop holes to making a good home-made sunscreen in my opinion.

      • September 13, 2015 8:47 am

        I don’t know how to say to you thank you. Your expertise on this is very helpful. I will take out of my mind that idea and will look for the better commercial available product I can find where I live. Thank you so much for your answer.

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        September 13, 2015 10:56 am

        That’s Ok. Please do keep in mind that I’m not of the opinion that nobody can make a good sunscreen at home, more that what I am saying is that it is complicated and is made easier with proper mixing and dispersing equipment. Also without proper testing you can never be sure if your creation is giving you the protection you think it is. I’ve had plenty of people tell me that their product works for them and that is fine, maybe it does. I don’t always wear sunscreen either as I’m quite prone to forgetting, especially when I go out for a walk early in the morning. Some days I get burned but most days I don’t. Maybe my skin is stronger some days, maybe the sun isn’t catching me hard enough, maybe my clothes are more protective, maybe I wasn’t ‘in’ the sun on those good days long enough to get burned and maybe the UV rays are not particularly high were I walked on a good day. There is more to not getting burned than a sunscreen which is why sometimes we can feel that our home made products are working better than they really are.

  23. Andalah permalink
    March 1, 2016 6:22 am

    I really appreciated reading this intelligent, well-reasoned article, after seeing so many bloggers claiming you can make a sunscreen of SPF 20 or more just whisking some non-nano ZnO into a cream base. In my opinion, that’s plain irresponsible, and don’t even get me started on the people who sell these “sunscreens” on Etsy…

    With that in mind, I’m looking to start my own small cosmetics company, and it’d really be neat if I could manage to formulate a sunscreen to sell. I found a website online selling 60% ZnO pre-dispersed in a base of mineral oil, caprylic-capric triglycerides, and polyhydroxystearic acid, which I understand is a dispersion stabilizer. They state that there is no need for high-shear mixing in order disperse it, that you just stir it in the oil phase at 20-40% concentration to achieve an SPF of 15-30. Is this possible or is it just a sort of dodgy marketing claim?

    I also found several websites selling what they call Z-Cotes Zinc Oxide, which they say is hydrophilic and, as such, far easier to get to disperse evenly. Does this claim hold water?

    Additionally, I’ve been looking into homogenizers and high-shear emulsifying blenders. Most of the homogenizers even vaguely (and I mean VAGUELY) within my price range are handheld tissue homogenizers, often used in lab settings. Would these be okay in small-batch sunscreen formulation or would you need a specialized one? Coming off that, are high-shear emulsifying blenders an okay alternative to the homogenizer? If you could only buy one (which would be the case, could I buy any), which would be more useful in the formulation of sunscreen specifically and cosmetics generally?

    Finally, if I were to, in the far future, manage to formulate a sunscreen and get it in for lab testing, would I need to get it re-tested every batch, or would just once be okay?

    Sorry, I know that’s a lot of questions, but you’re the first person I’ve found who seems willing to offer advice on this matter AND knows what they’re talking about.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 1, 2016 6:32 am

      Hi Andalah,
      Those pre-dispersed UV filters are just as hard to use as the powders as it is not just the form of the zinc that makes it tricky, it is preventing it from agglomerating in a formula and making sure it is evenly distributed. Even if you did make a product you would need a budget of $3000 minimum to run an SPF test on it to prove it works. There goes my homogeniser cost – and if the testing fails? There goes another $3000……
      Inevitably I get people who write in and tell me that they have been making their product for years and it works for them and it is not lumpy and it feels AMAZING, best ever and that’s fine. Some people WILL be able to hit the jackpot but most will think they have with a high SPF product when in reality the product only gives 1/2 to 1/3rd of the SPF they think due to a multitude of factors they never thought about or measured.
      No, making sunscreens is not for start-ups even with z cote or the pre-dispersed stuff and no you can’t just put the pre-dispersed zinc into a bottle and sell it as a spray on sunscreen. People have asked.

      • Andalah permalink
        March 2, 2016 11:33 am

        Thanks for your answer! I can definitely see what you mean that sunscreens are not for start-ups, with prices like that for testing. Purely out of curiosity, what are other factors that affect SPF? What do you need to keep in mind when formulating other than dispersion?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        March 3, 2016 6:28 am

        I am pretty sure I covered that in my post but basically over and above microbial and physical stability it is spreadability, film forming, dispersion of actives (non-crystalisation of actives in some cases), UV balance of the filters chosen and a base formula that doesn’t induce irritation and may even reduce it.

  24. peanut permalink
    March 25, 2016 12:00 am

    I have been using a natural zinc oxide sunscreen 25% all summer but i’m starting to question it’s efficacy. My arms are very tanned despite me using it everyday using copious amounts and also reapplying it every couple of hours. I do drive a lot so my arms gets a beating from the sun but i always make sure i reapply, yet i still have this nasty zebra tan. Could it be that’s it not formulated properly (zinc not dispersed properly, not coated, water based)? It is TGA listed and is quite popular too. I now bought a Cancer Council dry touch Avobenzone 5% based chemical sunscreen, hoping i don’t tan any further. I love Tinosorb sunscreens but i find them way too oily to use on my body. What’s your thought? Am i better off using a chemical sunscreen over a zinc oxide sunscreen?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 25, 2016 8:06 am

      Hi Whitney, I can’t talk for a specific sunscreen but zinc alone is able to provide good coverage and it should be enough for egret day use. SPF 40 is possible with the right formula although it’s pushing it without using another filter or booster. Even with the best sunscreen one you’ve reached your sun limit you will start to burn if you continue to expose your skin to the sun. I’m not sure what has happened in your case. Have you told MooGoo? I’m sure they would be responsive to your concerns. As for swapping to another sunscreen then I would say that the ‘chemical’ products are much more flexible to formulate with so consequently you can find on the market a wide range of skin feels, formula types and SPF, you can also achieve a much higher SPF with the right blend of chemical filters. Zinc can and does work for people but the majority of people go for the chemical products for harsher day-aftee-day conditions. Just one other thing, do you apply another product- moisturiser – on before the sunscreen? Sometimes that can affect the way the sunscreen film forms.

  25. Kristin Kidd permalink
    April 6, 2016 11:47 pm

    Oh my goodness, thank you! I’m in the U.S.. Sunny Florida to be exact. And you have just saved my hide! The difficulties you mention make sense. I will stop planning to sprinkle zinc powder in all my creams for protection. Back to the parasols and hats!

  26. May 21, 2016 6:30 am

    Hi there,
    I make a highly water-resistant homemade sunscreen that I use specifically for swimming in the ocean. I make it with Vaseline (petrolatum), large particle ZiO, and iron oxides for tint. I use a very large amount of ZiO in the formula so that it goes on like paint, totally opaque. I had a big problem with clumping when hand-mixing my first batch, so on my next batch I used a double boiler and heated the Vaseline to liquid and added the ingredients that way. It certainly helped everything disperse into the Vaseline. I did not use any kind of agitator like a hand mixer or anything – just stirring with a spoon. What do you think of this method? As I said, it goes on extremely opaque so I felt I was getting good protection. I never burn with it, so I know it works with regard to that, but my main concern is UVA – not UVB. I have a Celtic-complexion, very prone to freckling & sun damage of all kinds.

    I have also considered heating some Vaseline in my double boiler, then mixing my regular daily sunscreen into it (Avene SPF 50+…it has Tinosorbs and is highly protective) to make it more water-resistant for swimming. I would love to be able to just use my daily sunscreen in the ocean but as it is, it just comes right off in water, so I think thoroughly mixing it with a bit of Vaseline would help it to stay on in water…
    Thanks ever so much!!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      May 21, 2016 12:50 pm

      Unless you have the capacity to test your home made sunscreen to make sure it meets the guidelines for UVA/ UVB coverage then I would remain dubious about the level of protection it offers. If you are not getting burned then one could come to the conclusion that the sunscreen is working but it is impossibly difficult to know that for sure given the difficulties and risks involved with running a trial of sunscreen vs no sunscreen. While you could do that – cover one arm and not the other, 1/2 the back etc in a real life situation there is no guarantee that both arms or sides of the back receive the exact same intensity and direction of sun at the same time. It is very common for people to get burned in patches either with or without sunscreen.

      Large particulate zinc is like a paint and while it can produce an occlusive covering across the surface of the skin that can reflect rays away from you thus preventing burning it can also easily form holes in the film and these holes can act like lenses, magnifying the sun. This is a large reason for physical sunscreen samples failing the SPF testing, it can be remedied but usually it requires the addition of speciality ingredients such as film formers, dispersing agents and suspending agents, none of which are usually placed in a home made recipe (although they could be of course).

      I can’t tell you if your product is good or not but all I can say is that I recommend testing and as the Australian sun is so unforgiving for fair skin I’d personally be using a branded and tested product and leaving the home-made items for less critical applications but that’s just me.

      Good luck with it all.

  27. Zinc permalink
    June 21, 2016 11:46 pm

    What if you just put the Zinc Oxide Powder directly on to the face, as a powder form? Would that work as a good sunscreen?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 26, 2016 12:14 pm

      Absolutely not. Zinc needs to form a good film across the skin to evenly reflect the rays, zinc won’t adhere to the skin evenly without a good emollient or dispersing agent so this isn’t a good idea. In addition as zinc is a powder I would suspect that doing this would be more likely to result in you ingesting some zinc particles which is not ideal despite zinc being an essential mineral. There are more risks if the zinc you want to put on the skin directly is in nano form as inhaling that would be even less desirable.

      • June 27, 2016 1:18 am

        Hi there, I was wondering what you think about Zinka. It contains 25% ZO in a petrolatum base, and it is claimed as a “total block.” However they don’t have an actual SPF on their product. They’ve been around for 30+ yrs. What do you think about Zinka & its effectiveness? Thanks!

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        June 27, 2016 12:46 pm

        Oh sorry, I read this as just zinc powder. I’ve never heard of Zinka and not seen or tested it so I couldn’t comment other than to say that an SPF is something that I’d look for in a sunscreen. It isn’t perfect but it is at least a good start and easy way or ranking one product against another.

  28. Lara Tooby permalink
    June 22, 2016 1:39 pm

    Hi Amanda, thank you for your insightful article!! I just wanted to run a sunscreen past you and ask if you have heard anything good or bad? It is a sunscreen called ‘It’s all good UV natural BABY sunscreen’. From the list of ingredients do you think it looks okay?: http://www.uvnatural.com/australia/ingredients.htm

    Thank you!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      June 26, 2016 12:12 pm

      I have generally found UV natural products to be both stable and effective.

  29. Hannah McCoy permalink
    July 13, 2016 4:19 am

    Hello. I dabble in making stuff, including body butters, lip Butters, and deodorant. I really wanted to get into making sunblocks as well. I’ve been doing a lot of research and found the pros and the cons. It’s definitely been a bit disappointing and very educational. I’m not as motivated as I was before, but I still would probably like to give it a go at some point. I have a couple of questions for you.

    Is it the same type of chemical charged ion response if you use titanium instead of zinc?

    Also, if you add something that’s an emulsifier to the mix, or even arrowroot powder… Does that help keep the ZO evenly suspended?

    does having a thicker paste-like product rather than a thin oily lotion make a difference in how much it clumps to itself?

    And my last question is what if you cut out the zinc altogether? I’ve heard that red raspberry seed oil has a naturally High SPF. Have you tried to make a sunscreen with red raspberry seed oil, shea butter, coconut oil, almond oil, etcetera… Without actually adding zinc oxide to it? Thank you so much for your time.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      July 13, 2016 8:49 am

      Hi Hanna,

      Titanium has less of a problem than zinc. Zinc is by far the hardest ingredient to work with in any situation because of its charge density, Titanium Dioxide doesn’t have this problem. However, titanium dioxide doesn’t usually have the same UV spectra coverage as zinc oxide does so you typically need to pair Titanium with something to get the long range UV protection.

      This is another reason why making your own sunscreen is absolutely not advisable. Say you manage to make a titanium only or titanium and something else sunscreen, how will you know if you have the right UV spectra balance? Without the right balance you expose the skin to yet another round of un-naturalness as you potentially block out more UVB than UVA or vice versa. A professional sunscreen has this tested and has to pass a UV balance screening BEFORE it even goes near to the skin.

      Anyway, I’ll move on.

      As for emulsifiers I possibly didn’t mention that because it would have been a given. You will need either an emulsifier or suspending agent or both for your sun protection product. Arrowroot is going to be of no use to you in that regard as it is a thickener/ feel modifier.

      A thicker product CAN help a bit but it won’t be any match for zinc.

      People say lovely things on the internet about Red Raspberry Seed Oil, Shea Butter, Coconut Oil etc….. None of these can replace a sunscreen in terms of UV protection. They work differently, usually by the presence of a high (or reasonably high) level of antioxidant phytochemicals that help the skin repair after damage or help to reduce visible erythema (redness). This doesn’t mean the UV rays won’t do damage. I’ve been on enough forums and seen enough comments exchanged about families that avoid sunscreen altogether to families using raspberry seed oil or coconut to know that people do a whole range of things regardless of the information out that and the reality is that some people will go their whole life without sunscreen and be OK. Others will wear it religiously and get skin cancer. It’s a bit like smoking that way.

      Basically my professional view is this, nobody should ‘dabble’ in making their own suncare. You either make it professionally and get it tested or you leave it to someone who can.

  30. July 28, 2016 5:01 am

    Great post! I wanted to make my own sunscreen lip balm but now having second thoughts….basically I’ve tried so many different SPF lip balms before. Even if I’m not allergic to them on a cloudy day, I go in the sun I end up with rashy and itchy lips. I realised that those lip balms have chemical sunscreens so instead I started my search for zinc oxide based ones. I finally found one and was allergic to it even BEFORE I went out in the sun! (Think it must be the other ingredients as I use a zinc oxide based sun screen for my face daily). Which is why I thought I might be able to just mix zinc oxide and coconut oil together to avoid further allergic reactions but judging by your post, that might not be too effective / simple. Do you have any advice?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      July 28, 2016 6:57 am

      What does your dermatologist think? It might be that you need a few tests to get to the bottom of what is going on. You might even need to visit an allergy clinic which here in Australia your GP can sort out a referral to. The lips are the start of the digestive system so it might be coming from food exposure and avoiding something you are eating might just relax the lips enough to cope with a lip balm but then again it might not. So my advice is to keep going back to your Doctors until they have either ruled some things out or found the culprit. I have a friend who developed terribly sensitive, burning lips and that turned out to be the onset of an allergy to the sulfites in red wine! Weird.

  31. Meg permalink
    July 30, 2016 7:42 am

    Would mixing mineral makeup (with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as ingredients) with lotion make it ineffective as a sunscreen?

  32. Kathryn permalink
    July 31, 2016 6:27 pm

    Hi, great post. I make my own airbrush makeup so I already had a bag of non nano ZnO sitting around. I live in a climate where the UVindex is 9+ for 330 or more days/year. After making sure I get 15 – 20 minutes of unprotected sun time/day (I am type 2 skin, brown hair blue eyes, some freckles burn after 25 minutes but able to tan).

    My question is this, why would anyone even want SPF above 15? If all commercially produced sunscreens state reapplication is needed after 80 minutes, then, theoretically wouldn’t a stated SPF of 15 (with a poorly applied functional real life SPF of 9) be adequate for someone who takes >10 minutes to burn? They’d have sunscreen protection for 90 minutes. But reapply at 80 minutes and I’m covered right?
    I realize sunscreens degrade – especially Avobenzene without another to stabilize it.

    Now, having said that, homemade sunscreen with a stated SPF of 15, but actual SPF of 9 still might be flawed Bc of the poorly dispersed zinc oxide particles leaving microscopic holes in coverage.

    I’m a fan of the wash in product ” sun shield” to turn regular cotton clothing into clothing that provides UPF. Having said that I’ve only rarely burned through clothes. But it has happened that I’ve sunburned my back through thin threadbare t-shirts (providing an approx UPF of 4 or 6.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 2, 2016 6:54 pm

      Hi Kathryn,
      SPF 15 will not protect a fair skinned person here in Australia where the UV index can easily exceed 10 and with the added bonus of the hole in the ozone layer we do need as much protection as we can get. SPF 30 does give quite a bit more protection than SPF 15 and SPF 50, the highest we can get here in Aus is better still especially when people don’t apply enough and rarely re-apply as often as needed.

      Even with re-applying there is a limit to how much sun the skin can take and as no sunscreen gives 100% protection (the claim ‘sunblock’ was banned not so long ago by the FDA) people can reach their maximum dose faster than they anticipated.

      Some UV filters do degrade (Avobenzone is one) but the product formulator should be able to account for that as the solution has been available since the late 1990’s and is well known.

      I wrote this and some other articles on the blog to discourage those who don’t have the budget to test their home made sunscreens from trying it as I felt that was a health and safety issue. I still feel the same and in spite of all the comments and feedback have not changed my opinion that sunscreens are not something that should be messed with.

      Clothing and hats are my favourite way to block out the sun but you do have to be careful that your chosen clothing/ hat isn’t magnifying the suns rays through its weave so yes, clothes that have been tested and given a rating are a good option while they remain in good condition.

      • Kathryn permalink
        August 17, 2016 9:40 am

        I believe my question should be phrased differently. Perhaps it’s the marketing or labeling of SPF that should be changed. If all sunscreen needs reapplied after 80 minutes, even a person who burns after 5 minutes at UV index 11 should-based on the info we are publicly told here-, an SPF of 16 should be adequate. 5 minutes times SPF 16 = 80 minutes.

        Is it a matter of filtering 93% vs 97% vs 99% of UV rays?

        Here in the US we are told that the SPF tells us that if we burn in say, 12 minutes at UV index of 11, then wearing an SPF of 30 would supposedly (if applied adequately) give us 30 times as long in the sun before burning.

        Essentially 360 minutes or 6 hours–which is crazy Bc every sunscreen says to reapply after 40-80 minutes. Nobody should expect a sunscreen to last 6 hours, except perhaps a thick mineral based sunscreen on my face when I’m snow skiing and not sweating or rubbing it. Re: Avobezene I don’t think it’s sold here without homosalate or octonoxate or octocrylene or something else to stabilize it. Regardless I don’t use it, just mineral based with a zinc oxide % of 4 or more, and adequate titanium dioxide.

        I am a skin type 2 person, blue eyes, brownish red hair and even freckles but can tan before burning. We live in semi-desert area, Riverside Southern California USA with >340+ sunny days per year (it probably rains 2 weeks total per year). Today it is 103* F and UV index of 11. I surf and in in winter we snowboard frequently. I’m familiar with intense sun. I have more hats and rash guards than I have room for.

        But if an SPF of 15 and an SPF if 30 both need reapplied after 80 minutes I just don’t see the benefit of going higher than 15. If one is very sensitive then I guess 93% UV is filtered with SPF 15, vs getting 97% UV filtering with SPF 30, is the benefit. To me However, since I actually apply a shot glass worth of sunscreen on exposed skin after 20 minutes outside (mineral based as a physical block doesn’t need the lead time to work like chemical UV dispensers). I only use the Blue Lizard 30 on my face Bc I couldn’t find a 15. The only reason I feel hostile towards higher SPF is that I try to use the least amount of things as possible. How did Northern Europeans manage to avoid skin cancer 200 years ago? I’ll agree fair skinned folks were never designed to live in Austrailia, Baja California or South Africa, we don’t have enough melanin.
        Not to mention price goes up significantly and I just don’t see the need–then again I don’t see the sun as evil.

        When using a mineral based (tested) sunscreen such as Blue Lizard baby SPF 30, or another mineral based SPF 15 I have never burned with reapplying every 2 hours (greater than the 80 minutes recommended on the bottle).

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        August 18, 2016 7:48 pm

        People used to avoid skin cancer by either not living very long or by wearing lots of clothes (Bikini’s weren’t really a thing) or both. I can absolutely see your point but those few percentage points difference between the grades of SPF do make a difference because 93% protection is 7% getting through, 95% = 5% getting through and 97% = 3% getting through. Every second, every minute and every hour you are outside. You are also right that nobody really expects a sunscreen to last 6 hours as these things get rubbed or sweated off but some people will burn under strong sun within a normal day’s activities unless they protect themselves. At the end of the day it is up to the individual to find their comfort level of what product to wear or whether to wear a product at all but there absolutely is a valid difference between an SPF 15 and an SPF 30 in terms of overall protection. I do agree though that there is a practical limit to how much more benefit you can get from a sunscreen – maybe SPF 50 plus is the tops? Mainly I see this limit as the limit of the testing procedures and the percentage error margin.

  33. August 17, 2016 6:26 am

    Dear Amanda, thank you for this article and congratulations for the successfully formulated sunscreens. This is really one of the biggest challenge for a fomulator.
    i am currently working on a post in my blog where I’d like to emphasize the dangers of making our own sunscreen and I would like to ask for your permission to use your photo found in this post. I would of course link the source. Thank you very much for your answer.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 17, 2016 6:42 am

      HI there,
      I would rather you didn’t do that as people might assume that is something you have made. The picture is better in the context of my article so if you would like to use it I would suggest you just link back to my article rather than take the picture only. Thanks

  34. RIYA KHAN permalink
    August 21, 2016 3:19 am

    Can i use zinc oxide powder(available in online beauty sector) directly in my face? I have too too much oily skin and it burns for uv rays.so I think I need zinc oxide powder.please suggest me.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 22, 2016 7:22 pm

      You could but I doubt it would be pleasant.

  35. Petra permalink
    October 2, 2016 10:02 pm

    I got here through another blog post and I’m glad I did! I have lots of trouble with allergic reactions to sunscreen so I thought I should try to mix zinc oxide into the lotion I usually use and don’t react to. Reading about your experiences I guess I won’t give it a try.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      October 3, 2016 8:54 am

      I do find it worrying how many blogs promote the idea of making your own sunscreen with zinc or titanium without giving any cautions whatsoever. While there are some things that won’t really matter if you get them wrong, sun protection isn’t one of them. If you react to sunscreens it would be good to find out what you are reacting too, a dermatologist should be able to help with that and that knowledge would then empower you to go searching for the right solution. Some people also find heavy textured sunscreens irritating – I know I do – so the zinc and titanium versions should be properly formulated into a lightweight breathable base for you. Shiseido have some formulations like that.

  36. faithp814@inbox.com permalink
    October 28, 2016 2:14 pm

    so……when are u gonna sell suncreen u made for us?:)))

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      October 31, 2016 11:42 am

      I don’t own a brand. I make things for other people.

  37. mij permalink
    January 7, 2017 10:20 pm

    Completey out of touch, just like most skin products companies. Your articles discusses “too much synthetic perfume” that people are allergic to (WE ARE) then discusses your own products, which contain fragrances. Forget it.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 8, 2017 10:25 am

      I have to say that I love this comment so much Mij, mostly because I am not a skin product company, do not discuss ‘too much synthetic perfume’ and neither do I promote my own products. I have a feeling this is just mindless spam as it isn’t even relevant to the article but it is somewhat typical of the shadow boxing arguments that go on online. Thanks for making me smile 🙂

  38. Natalie Worsdale permalink
    January 8, 2017 12:47 pm

    I am planning on making my own anti-ageing serums and was looking at adding an SPF protection to them, as research says that, to protect skin from the harmful effects of sun radiation which leads to skin damage, a product should have an SPF of at least 30. Many articles list non-nano zinc oxide, and it has the additional benefit of being good for acne (I am nearly 50 and still have acne prone skin, as do my teenage kids who were looking for something helpful). However, after reading your article I am now not sure what to do. I am not sure it would disperse well in a serum anyway, without being visible in the solution, or leaving a visible coating on the face. Do you know of anything else that I could add to a serum to give me some SPF protection (I know it wouldn’t be tested for SPF but I live in Britain and don’t normally bother with sun lotion until summer, but know that I should use something daily anyway so wanted to add something to my serum). Many thanks.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      January 8, 2017 1:44 pm

      Hi Natalie,
      I guess the main point to consider here is whether you need to achieve an SPF in the serum or whether you can layer on two products?

      Also you don’t need an SPF to utilise zinc in the formula, you could add zinc anyway as it can be helpful as an antimicrobial agent in skin care and can also help to dry the skin a little if it is too greasy (although it can also feel greasy so that’s the pay-off). Although I wrote this article a while ago now I still don’t recommend people making their own SPF products unless they can do the testing as there is no easy way to tell what you are ending up with and that can set you up with a false sense of security.

      As serums can be based on oil, water or a combination (emulsion) there is no telling how the zinc will mix into your base. Its efficacy might be enhanced by other ingredients or reduced too, depending on what the rest of the formula contains. Generally speaking zinc oxide is quite stable a molecule and I see nothing wrong with you attempting to add some zinc in either this or another form as the zinc in the product. The SPF you may or may not achieve would be irrelevant – use a purposely formulated sunscreen with your serum.

      If you have your mind set on an SPF in the one serum then by all means try and also look at the chemical filters which include ingredients such as those mentioned here. BASF have this online theoretical tool for working out SPF but it is important to also keep in mind the solubility of the filter in a particular base, other ingredients in the formula which might lower (or boost) the SPF, product stability both microbially and physically and how the product feels.http://www.in-cosmetics.com/RXUK/RXUK_InCosmetics/2014-website/Documents/BASF%20Presentation3rd.pdf?v=635340197618915931

      Formulating stable, high SPF products that feel good and don’t add to the drama of acne prone skin is actually very difficult, not least because everybody’s acne can be triggered by something different. The best sunscreens are often water-in-oil or water-in-silicone but that can make them less breathable and even that fact, that they allow the skin to over-heat and for sweat and oil to become trapped slightly – can be enough to cause irritation and pimples in some people.

      Do know that this article wasn’t written to stop people exploring and trying to solve these problems but all too often people don’t even realise how tricky and difficult the situation is. It was written more to highlight that.

      Thanks for the question and good luck

      • Natalie Worsdale permalink
        January 9, 2017 12:51 am

        Thanks for your reply. I have been enjoying reading some of your very informative posts, so thank you for all that you do, it is very useful. I am very much still at the research stage, not got to the actual mixing stage yet and this is all new to me, so have no idea how the different components will blend together- or not! I am looking at using hyaluronic acid, CoQ-10, Matrixyl 3000 peptide, DMAE, vit C, E and Ferulic acid ( as an antioxidant and to stabilise the vitamin C and offer some photo protection), along with some essential oil. Still researching what to put in. Wondered if the zinc oxide would dissolve in this, or be a visible suspension? So the zinc oxide could help with skin problems, but leave a greasy feel? Don’t really want the product to leave a greasy feel, depends to what extent. I was also reading a post you wrote on emulsifiers, again, all so new to me! As yet, I don’t know if the ingredients I am choosing will blend together, and if the result would be too watery and require thickening a bit to help the application. Still so much research needed, before trial and error starts. I have some friends and family waiting hopefully to act as guinea pigs to help me work out if it works!

  39. Jade permalink
    January 8, 2017 1:46 pm

    Hi Amanda, thanks for sharing your journey. It’s always interesting to learn when 1+1 doesn’t necessarily equals 2. May I ask something elementary though: can we simply use zinc oxide on its own as a powder sunblock?

    • Jade permalink
      January 8, 2017 1:49 pm

      I intend to use it on my neck and body. If it ends up looking like how talcum powder does, which is barely there, I’m fine with that.

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        January 8, 2017 1:59 pm

        Hi there Jade,

        Thanks for the questions. I wouldn’t necessarily do that as it works as a physical reflecting agent so for it to work well it needs to be evenly dispersed across every bit of your skin. You could experiment with putting it into a powdered foundation rather than just dabbing it as a pure powder onto the face – many mineral make-ups contain sunscreen actives – but the SPF you achieve is based on how well it adheres and spreads into a film across the skin. SPF testing of mineral cosmetics used to involve applying a thick layer of moisturiser or base product first then layering the mineral foundation at the required 2mg/cm2 rate over the top. This inevitably results in a very thick application that is nothing like what the average person would use and is why some brands achieved SPF for their product. One always has to ask ‘is that practical’ when testing a product.

        In other news I would stay away from applying nano zinc directly to the face as the tiny particles can be dangerous when inhaled. Larger, pharmaceutical grade or pigment grade zinc isn’t usually that effective as an SPF agent as it isn’t manufactured for that purpose and can actually be photoreactive.

        So another bad idea in my opinion 🙂

  40. peanut permalink
    January 28, 2017 11:22 pm

    This time around…I’ve been using Moogoo SPF 15 19% zinc oxide around my eyes. Then the rest of my face, i use Cetaphil Suntivity Liposomal Lotion SPF 50. It’s the only way i can make chemical sunscreen work on my face without stinging my eyes out. I like the Cetaphil Suntivity, it has Tinosorb S/M which has kept my pigmentation under control. But it’s too sticky for my body. I use Cancer Council Active Dry Touch SPF 50 for my body. I had the Moogoo sunscreen for a over a year now and it hasn’t separated or gone off. I’m still skeptical of natural based zinc oxide sunscreens but i’ll trust Moogoo over any other natural brand out there.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 4, 2017 3:58 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, the Moogoo sunscreen was quite good last time I tried it.

  41. February 11, 2017 5:44 pm

    I was wondering if just applying zinc oxide powder neat to your skin would do any good? One sees sportspersons especially with that white paste on which, I believe, is pure zinc oxide. I’m OK with the white cast if I’m just at home or I could mix it with tinted powder to match my skin tone.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 14, 2017 4:46 pm

      Quite a lot of people have asked that and no it doesn’t work. The white you used to see on sports persons noses was from zinc sticks and they weren’t actually as good at protecting the skin as some of the newer generation small particle sized products are.

  42. February 17, 2017 7:47 pm

    Really interesting article! I’ve been making my own sunscreen for a few years now, wouldn’t a good sign that it’s working be whether you get burnt or not? (My family has been guinea pigs and suffered a lot for it lol, but I finally got a recipe to work for me)

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      February 17, 2017 7:55 pm

      Well yes but there are some surprising issues with that as a strategy. The variability of the suns intensity is not something that can be controlled outside of a laboratory and so it is easier to fall into a trap of thinking that something is working better than it is not if a) the persons UV exposure wasn’t actually as long or as extreme as they perceived or b) the person used more or less than the recommended amount of sunscreen. Of course a lab test is not necessarily ‘real life’ whereas ‘real life’ is just that but we have to try to eliminate as many variables as possible in the lab while keeping things as close to ‘normal’ or acceptable as we can. If a product is working for you and your family that’s great! Even though I know I should probably take more care in the sun I rarely apply sunscreen myself (don’t like the feel and haven’t found one that doesn’t sting my eyes when I’m bushwalking). This year has been really hot with extreme UV but I haven’t got burned even without the sunscreen. I think I’ve probably just adapted my behaviour and clothing better and learned how to read my body more. I didn’t write this post to discourage people from finding what is right for them but when it comes to putting something into a bottle for third parties to buy then the best advice I can give is to assume nothing. What works for you may not work for anyone else and to protect yourself (and them) the best bet is to run your product through the official testing channels. Are the official testing channels the greatest thing since sliced bread? NO but that’s another story. Thanks for sharing yours and visiting the blog. Amanda x

      • February 18, 2017 8:58 am

        Wow! Thanks for the mega awesome prompt reply 🙂 You’re right about it being a hot summer, we’ve just had our hottest day on record over here in Whangarei, NZ! Well, in recent years I’ve been similar to you in that I try to just wear a hat and clothing to tweak my exposure to the sun. After reading some of Ian Wishart’s “The Vitamin D connection” I was put off commercial sunblock for life as he was showing how sunscreen is actually giving people skin cancer by blocking the Vitamin D they need in order to fight it (and not only that but many other cancers, and a lot of disease and sickness)
        So I’ve been living by this. However, there’s times when I just can’t do without it, mainly being water sports such as wake-boarding or surfing. And so that’s why I’ve been making my own sunscreen out of natural oils. I started with big mixes of different oils, which usually included Zinc. But in order to achieve results that don’t get my family burnt, I’ve had to single out Raspberry oil, and lately have been using a ratio of about 6:3:1 Oil:Beeswax:Zinc (including a bit of carrot oil and essential oil). It seems to be working pretty good now, but if you have any suggestions on how to improve on this, or a better recipe, I would so be interested in knowing!
        The reason I actually landed up on your blog – I was researching on how to make the Zinc less “grainy” in my mix (and my bottom cream for my kiddo haha!)

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        February 19, 2017 12:57 pm

        Looks like you’ve got a busy life there and yes, I too feel that the vitamin D issue is something we need to be mindful of – the sun is good for us in moderation. OK so adding a good skin diet of antioxidant oils and actives is a great idea as it helps your skin to be as strong as it can be. The Raspberry seed oil is a good source of antioxidant Ellagic Acid but there are others too including things like Macadamia oil which contains Omega 7 fatty acid which is a good antioxidant – much better source than Seabuckthorn oil which actually has less Omega 7 than the liquid extract. Beeswax will keep this on your skin and carrot oil is mostly antimicrobial so not necessarily great with the sun but I can’t see it being bad either. If the zinc is going grainy it is clumping and therefore not available to work as a sunscreen. In the big old world of chemistry we coat the zinc with a dispersing agent (natural or not, it varies from supplier to supplier and whether you want the zinc to be oil or water soluble). These dispersing agents are good value as zinc has a very high charge density and so it very attracted to its self hence the clumping. We also tend to have to formulate around this problem too which is why a zinc sunscreen ends up with lots of odd looking ingredients in them – film forming polymers, suspending agents, emulsifiers etc. I think that where you are at is about where it is possible to get with a home made ‘skin prep’ and beyond that I’d go for a formulated product. Feeding your skin has its limits as while healthy skin can deal with the sun better than stressed skin it is still getting the UV radiation and if it gets too much it will flip out and burn. If it gets just under enough and doesn’t burn you might still be ageing it and could still be doing some damage to the DNA over time but as everyone is different only time would tell if this is an issue for you. Some very white people have no problem with the sun and some quite dark people end up with melanoma. There is also a viral component to melanoma and genetic predisposition issues so all in all it can feel like a bit of a lottery.

  43. Ciao permalink
    March 27, 2017 1:17 am

    Hi Amanda, great article!

    I have an SPF question that I’ve been scouring the web to get answered, but nobody seems to have a definitive answer.

    I have seen, suggested, by more than a couple of people that layering sunscreens with different actives might be helpful- specifically, an inorganic filter-containing sunscreen over a sunscreen with all-organic filters. Is there anything to support the idea of laying down a ‘chemical’ sunscreen, then applying a layer of ‘physical’ sunscreen on top? Supposedly, the top ‘physical’ layer reflects UV and the ‘chemical’ layer absorbs it.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 27, 2017 8:07 am

      Hi there Ciao, Ok the best way I can answer this is to work through it as you have asked it. So you have seen it suggested that layering sunscreens with different actives can help. Specifically an inorganic over an organic. Firstly I would say that this could never be a ‘rule of thumb’ and would only ever be able to be proved or disproved on a case-by-case basis. Many sunscreens and most very high SPF sunscreens already contain both sets of filters to achieve the high SPF but they are formulated together rather than into two separate products. Formulating things together is the optimal way of achieving the best SPF because one can make sure the SPF coverage is balanced and meets the true broad-spectrum criteria. Formulating together also means that there is no incompatibility between carriers, emulsifiers or film formers. There could be examples of where two products, a physical sunscreen and a chemical sunscreen work well together and provide a higher SPF than expected but there will most likely be cases where the opposite is true. So basically the theory of combining technologies for a greater result holds true but this is most reliably achieved in a single product.

  44. Roxanne Garcia permalink
    March 28, 2017 3:59 am

    Hello Amanda! Thanks so much for this post. I wanted to ask a question about using zinc oxide powder as a sunscreen. I wear makeup during the day and I bought some zinc oxide powder to dust over my makeup throughout the day. Do you think this is effective? Since I wear makeup during the day, I can’t reapply a cream sunscreen. The face powder that I wear contains sunscreen, however, since it is pricey, I thought that dusting powder zinc oxide on my face would be an inexpensive solution. I appreciate your time and attention!

    • Roxanne Garcia permalink
      March 28, 2017 4:01 am

      This is the one that I purchased: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00XAM2W8S/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        March 28, 2017 10:52 am

        Wow, the fact that someone would sell something like that with those claims worries me greatly! I am pretty sure that the brand owner either has never set foot in a sunscreen testing house or doesn’t realise they exist. If you could send a link to this article to the brand owner that might be a start. I would not want to shame them but it might be good to help them see that what they are doing is potentially dangerous and could backfire in a pretty big way if people get burned.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      March 28, 2017 6:58 am

      Hi Roxanne, There have been tests done on powdered foundations (mineral powders) and when applied quite thickly these can achieve an SPF – sometimes around 20-30. However, I must emphasise the word ‘thick’ and the fact that these are applied over a decent layer of moisturiser or primer. Zinc Oxide powder is either going to leave you very white (large particles) or exposed to nanoparticles (if the zinc goes on clear). Neither is a good plan and neither is a good way of getting an even boost in SPF. I would look for a well formulated powdered SPF foundation and re-apply that through the day as the best option you have. With sun protection it is important to get good, even coverage and a lose powdered zinc may not adhere to the skin properly or thickly enough to make that happen. Not a good plan really.

      • Roxanne García permalink
        March 28, 2017 10:45 am

        Thank you, Amanda! That is helpful!

      • Roxanne García permalink
        March 28, 2017 10:59 am

        One other question regarding your recommendation: would I want to also apply a thick layer of the powdered SPF foundation throughout my day?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        March 28, 2017 11:09 am

        Sunscreen should be re-applied regularly to maintain its efficacy. Depending on what you do during the day will determine the level of UV exposure and risk. The reality is that most people don’t re-apply sunscreen as it requires taking off make-up and re-doing everything. If you get very little exposure in the average day a hat might be enough but if you work outside or are outside a lot there is no other way but to re-apply.

  45. Alan permalink
    April 14, 2017 6:29 pm

    Hi Y’all
    I’m a paint chemist, and yes, you are painting your skin. One of the several reasons that we don’t use “natural” substances to disperse pigments like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide is that, apart from limited durability they are wildly varying mixtures of chemicals, most of which don’t have structures suitable for stabilising separated oxides. In fact most natural oils are never going to prevent particles from sticking together and you need something to bridge the surface of the particle to the oils used to carry it. One “natural” derivative that is sometimes used for this though is soya lecithin, but even that is not as effective as many synthetic chemicals (and arguably not as safe) but might be worth a try. . Soy does contain phyto-eostrogens which indisputably interact with mammalian androgen receptors. Many modern synthetic dispersants are now safer and less irritating than many “natural” chemicals, and biodegradable, but availability for home users would be an issue. (Yes, hard to believe but even paint chemists aim for low toxicity and environmental safety).

    I have to add that the hype over the potential harms of nanoparticle zinc oxide and titanium dioxide looks to me to be overdone. There seems to be a lot of arm waving, fairly wild speculation and “whataboutery” but bugger all hard evidence which would be clear after 20+ years of use. Lots of smaller particles would provide better surface coverage than fewer larger ones so if you are brave, they might be worth a try.

    Good luck.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 15, 2017 6:31 am

      Thanks for that Alan.
      With regards to the hype over nano I agree that there does look to be a potential over-reaction for how these nanoparticles act on the skin and the trial that I was a guinea pig in found no increase in skin penetration with the nano particles.

  46. April 15, 2017 6:22 am

    Thank you for the thoughtful and informative article! Are there other concerns to consider in working with zinc for non-sunscreen formulations? I add some to a store-bought moisturizer to use at night. Any red flags beyond the spf issue? Thanks!

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      April 15, 2017 6:34 am

      Hi Jessica,
      If you are using pharmaceutical grade zinc then the particle size is usually relatively large so the fine dust breathing hazard is less of an issue. Just make sure you read the MSDS as you would with any chemical and handle accordingly while manufacturing. As for your finished formulations do keep in mind that zinc is photocatalytic in its natural state (uncoated) – well it’s always photocatalytic actually but sunscreen manufacturers use zinc that has been prepared to quench or block that ability so as to make a stable sun filter. I wouldn’t put uncoated zinc into a day-wear product but baby moisturizers is fine. Zinc is quite greasy and heavy on the skin but it is a good barrier former and has some anti-fungal properties.

  47. RealizeBeautyEd permalink
    May 19, 2013 5:38 pm

    I stil work in the cosmetics industry 🙂 I run a busy consultancy and formulating co and yes, zinc is still a pain to work with!

  48. May 20, 2013 3:19 am

    Oh my gosh I’m sorry for the mistake! I will correct it. Also, are you a chemist? I wanted to put that but wasn’t sure. Thanks for the good info, by the way!

  49. RealizeBeautyEd permalink
    May 20, 2013 7:48 am

    It’s no prob 🙂 and yes I am a chemist. I also work closely with a sunscreen testing facility from time to time as this is a major area of interest for me. Glad you are enjoying the blog.

  50. sonizuro@hotmail.com permalink
    January 30, 2014 2:59 am

    could i overuse zinc powder and do something poisonous to my body? I bought powder of ZinkOxid in the pharmacy and mixed it 1/3 with vaseline for mine and daughter skin. It seems to work but i am not sure if I am not giving too much since I could not find anywhere on the net dosage. Thanks for a reply already in advance

  51. RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
    January 30, 2014 5:33 am

    Talk to your pharmacy about that or your doctor. I don’t know what you would need such a cream for. Zinc is allowed for sunscreens in the USA up to 25% and in Europe you can ad as much as you like I think but you would have to get the formula safety assessed. Not sure it would do anything bad but you should check with a health care professional about your situation.

  52. Patience Pecoraro permalink
    June 6, 2014 7:11 am

    I’ve read that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide if inhaled can be dangerous. In addition, I think it important to clarify the health risks and potential hazards of non micronized and micronized zinc?

  53. RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
    June 15, 2014 9:47 am

    Yes of course they are dangerous when inhaled and that risk would be outlined on the MSDS. I thought I’d mentioned risks to the manufacturer but maybe that was in another post….. Much of the sunscreen grade microparticle titanium and zinc is sold as dispersions as they are easier to use and that avoids the risks posed by inhalation but you are right, people should also consider how they are going to mix these things and take precautions. I doubt many people have an extraction cupboard at home.

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