Researchers Warn Against Homemade Sunscreen

A quick Google search for the term “homemade sunscreen” will list about 9,750,000 results. Many are recipes for “natural,” “simple,” and “nontoxic” do- it-yourself (DIY) products.

The allure of DIY sunscreen is rooted in multiple factors, such as potentially lower costs and the belief that an all-natural cream made with handpicked ingredients is more healthful than a mass-produced sunscreen with an ingredient list that features chemicals with illegible names.

However, a new study warns that we shouldn’t trust the sunscreen recipes that we find online to yield a product that offers the protection we need against sunburn.

The study comes from a team of researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, OH, and the Brooks College of Health at the University of North Florida, in Jacksonville. Its findings will appear in the journal Health Communication.

Homemade sunscreen is ‘risky’

They found that most — 95.2%, to be exact — of the saved posts (called “pins”) regarding DIY sunscreen suggested that the homemade products were effective, and 68.3% of the pins promoted DIY sunscreens that, the researchers say, did not ensure appropriate protection against ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Moreover, the team noted that a third of the posts featuring recipes for homemade sunscreen claimed specific sun protection factor — rendered on commercial packaging as “SPF” — rankings, of anywhere from SPF 2–50.

However, the researchers warn that such claims can be misleading, since the ingredients featured in those recipes actually offer minimal protection against UV radiation.

In their study paper, the investigators write that “[s]ocial media has become a powerful tool for sharing health information, yet it becomes dangerous when the information being shared isn’t accurate or complete.”

This also applies when people take the information regarding homemade sunscreens for granted. The researchers explain that specialists do not test such products, and for this reason, they may not provide any protection against UV rays at all.

“Homemade sunscreen products are risky because they are not regulated or tested for efficacy like commercial sunscreens. When you make it yourself, you don’t know if it’s safe or effective.”

Lara McKenzie, Ph.D.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that having “a history of sunburns, especially early in life,” can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Thus, it is important to wear sunscreen that is tested and proven to be effective, from childhood onward, whenever exposed to strong sun.

Currently, the American Academy of Dermatology recommend using sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection — that is, protection against both UVA and UVB rays. It should also be SPF 30 or higher and water-resistant.

The same guidelines state that adults should apply about 1 ounce of sunscreen all over their skin. Individuals should reapply the cream once every couple of hours when out in the sun and even more frequently if they go swimming or become sweaty.

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