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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

60 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.

  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. 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!

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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?

  27. 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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