Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sun & Bug Lotion

So I came across a controversial DIY concept. You already know what had to happen next. It was inevitable. I had to make DIY sunscreen. I couldn't be helped.

But take a step back, why is there controversy? Well, you should peruse this go-to guide for sunscreen information. Make a donation while you're at it. The EWG is one of the few places that really work for you and me. Their report will tell you why most commercial sunscreens stink. But the web also supplied criticism of the DIY approach, namely the following:
  • It is impossible to measure SPF accurately when making DIY sunscreen. That is true. But have you read the results of typical sunscreen tests? This problem isn't really unique to homemade products, to say the least. Besides, I don't calculate the sun exposure we're getting down to the third decimal anyway. We do what we can and we try to strike a reasonable balance. The super-high SPF sunscreens come with their own problems and should be avoided anyway.
  • It won't be possible to mix the zinc oxide properly because that takes something called a 'micronizer' and nobody has one of those in their kitchen. Yes. That's true. From an application standpoint, though, the homemade kind goes on exactly like the storebought kind, leaving the same kind of uniform white film. I do agree that stirring with a spoon won't cut it, tough. Here are some pictures of applying it. First goes on pretty white but turns into pale white, barely noticeable, pretty soon after rubbing it in.
  • It won't be waterproof. This one baffles me. We have to re-apply all sunscreen after swimming anyway, right? Isn't that the recommendation? And let me tell you, cleanup after making this homemade sunscreen was helluva mess, and I needed my toughest homemade soap to get the stuff off my hands! I'm not sure it's any more or less waterproof than the other stuff. But I do know it'll be cheap, easy and pleasant to reapply.
Personally, I'm so torn about sunscreen use. This summer marks the first time I broke down and we tried the spray-on kind. We all agreed we didn't like it for a variety of reasons, and won't buy more of it. We had always used the thick white kind before (aka physical sunscreen, which is what the DIY is as well), and that is such a pain to put on the kids, plus the highly rated ones are very expensive for a large family that is outside more than inside in summer. So I figure we'll give DIY a shot. I'll report back on any problems if and when we run into them. Sadly I feel obliged to add this disclaimer.


The interwebs supplied a bunch of recipes, none of which I liked, because they all seemed really heavy to me. But I also found recipes that just said 'use your favorite lotion and dose it with a percentage of zinc or titanium oxide that suits you'. That was more my speed. Because I have a favorite lotion, and it's from soulemama's book 'The Rhythm of Family'.  She calls it Flower Essence Lotion and I have made it as Lemon Balm and Rosemary lotion, using just olive and coconut oils, with great results. It did separate after several weeks, but that didn't keep me from using up every last delicious bit for my dry hands this past winter.
Lately though, since my foray into shampoo bar soaping, I have had a hankering for putting cocoa butter into something. So, I formulated the following recipe, which deviates a bit from the general formula Amanda gives, but I did that with good reason. Shea and Cocoa butters are a bit more solid than coconut oil, and I wanted to accommodate the zinc oxide, which would add some body, too. The original recipe gave me more of a cream, and I wanted an easily spreadable lotion.
So here's a sunscreen lotion you can make from ingredients you already have in your home (if you're a crazy soaper, that is), except the zinc oxide, which the internet will supply for a modest fee.


15oz distilled water (or make it a flower essence (aka herbal tea) if you want to be fancy!)
6 capsules of a vitamin E supplement

5oz grape seed oil
8.5oz olive oil
3/4 oz Jojoba oil*
3/4 oz Apricot kernel oil*

2 oz beeswax

2 oz coconut oil
1.5 oz shea butter
2.5 oz cocoa butter

30 drops lavender essential oil

*these super conditioning skin oils were leftovers from soaping, so I used them up. The proportions are somewhat random.

This recipe makes a total of 38oz lotion. I didn't want that much sunscreen, though. So I poured 15oz of plain lavender lotion into two reused cream jars, and then proceeded to add the following ingredients to the rest:

3oz zinc oxide powder - not the nano kind*
If you want to vary the amount of zinc oxide, consult this table to figure approximate SPF. My recipe should yield a moderate to high SPF of roughly 12 or so. You could go all the way to 5oz, I think.

20 drops citronella essential oil
20 drops eucalyptus essential oil
I almost couldn't bear to mess with the beautiful scent of the lotion, but I figure whenever I want to use sunscreen, I really want bugspray, too, so I may as well combine. The result still smells great!

I dropped the lavender oil into the distilled water, and emptied the 6 capsules of vitamin E into that jug as well.

The little girls wanted to help, so I had them grate the cocoa butter. At first, I had them smell it and guess what it was. The confusion on their faces was priceless! Smells like chocolate. But what is it? I think grating the cocoa butter is nice but not really necessary. The beeswax was so hard, I just chopped it the best I could. Commercial places sometimes sell it in chips.

I melted the solid oils and liquid oils together in an improvised double boiler of a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Let that cool down, while stirring occasionally.

More cooling is better, but when the wax started to solidify on the walls of the bowl, I decided to proceed with the rest of the recipe. Now you're basically making a reverse mayonnaise: You pour the water in a thin stream into the oil, all the while mixing as hard as possible. I used a stick blender and it worked well**. The smell of the lotion at this point was amazing, like lavender chocolate, and when I sampled it, I really liked the texture. I poured 7.5oz into two clean jars each, and proceeded to turn the remaining lotion into sunscreen.

*A word of caution before the next step. It is unhealthy to inhale any type of fine powder, and zinc oxide is no exception. You don't want to inhale this. Wear a mask. When you weigh it out, scoop, don't pour. Do it outside. Do it away from small children or other distractions. Then spoon, don't pour, it into the lotion. Stir it in with a spoon until it's incorporated, so you don't end up creating a cloud of zinc oxide with the blender.
After dealing with the zinc oxide, I added the rest of the essential oils and blended the heck out of the cream. And I mean the blender was overheating and howling at me. You must get rid of any grittiness or small granules in the cream.
We don't believe in animal testing, but we sure believe in 'little girl testing' around here.... The Babee asked to lick the bowl, but sadly I had to say no to that. It really did smell that good though.

**A note on cleanup: The cream after adding the zinc oxide is very hard to clean up. Zinc oxide is sometimes used as a food additive (why? You'd have to wonder), so it's not poison, but if you're picky about your kitchen gadgets, you may want to use a dedicated non-food stick blender. I also had a really hard time getting my plastic bowl to come clean, but I hate using a stick blender in glass, ceramic or enamel, because I worry I'll chip it. I think an old plastic bowl that is no longer in food service is possibly the best choice here.

We're now armed with 6 1/2 jars of sunscreen, and covered head to toe already, just from cleaning up the bowl and blender. It feels so great on the skin, the kids were clamoring for more. I'll report back on my impressions after sun and water exposure, I promise.

Update: We took this sunscreen to the ocean beach, pond beach and to summer camp. It performs pretty much as you would expect from an SPF 12 or 15 commercial sunscreen. You have to apply it liberally, if you miss a spot you get sunburn (I guess that's how we knew it actually did something?), it's waterproof if I judge by the white film that is still on my skin after swimming in the ocean waves for a while. But reapplying is still best, as with all sunscreen.
The kids still got some color in their faces, if you want to avoid that, add more zinc or titanium oxide. The kids say that it's nice to apply and doesn't sting or is painful to rub in, and I have one with extremely sensitive (previously excema) skin.

    The Self Sufficient HomeAcre Wildcrafting Wednesday


  1. Very nice! We talked about this last week? You see a problem and fix it. I love it!
    Let us know how it goes and then I'll try this too! Maybe next year - or even this one - I'll get rid of the farmer's tan, not having to rely on clothing not to get burnt to a crisp!

  2. This lotion sounds great. I might have to make it without the zinc for now! Until I order some. Of course I have all of the other ingredients and I'm just a crazy lip balm and cream maker ;)!!