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DIY Sunscreens May Put You at Risk of Skin Cancer, New Study Warns

By Adam Trainor July 09, 2019

With the advent of social media, DIY (do-it-yourself) projects seem to materialize from every corner of the internet.

From golden-leafed autumn wreaths to painted ombre vases to summer kids crafts to homemade laundry detergent, there’s a never-ending supply of to-do projects.

As an example, Google DIY sunscreen right now. 

Do it. I dare ya. (But promise you’ll come back! Pinky swear!)

When I wrote this at 7:18pm on 7/3/19, my search engine populated 31,300,000 results in 0.45 seconds.


After scanning the top headlines, I noticed the following words frequently appeared: 

  ○  Natural

  ○  Homemade

  ○  Non-toxic

  ○  Effective

  ○  Easy

Not going to lie:

I had some major concerns pop in my head when I read these headlines.

Natural? Rocks are natural but I’m not going to start suggesting that everyone eat them.

Chemical free? Everything is a chemical. Ask any chemist and they will tell you the same thing. Every single thing on Planet Earth is made up of some sort of chemical formula.

Homemade? I could try to make homemade gasoline, but I can already tell you that the finished product would be 1000x worse than what’s at the gas station. Unless I had the proper education and tools needed to create said gasoline.

Easy? What’s easier than going to your local drug store and buying a bottle of sunscreen that went through countless clinical trials, rigorous testing to become FDA certified, and is supported by the American Academy of Dermatology?


Don’t mistake me. I’m all for health and wellness and taking the best possible care of my family. 

But on the other hand, I know my limitations.

And it made me wonder: where do we draw the line, especially in the health industry?

Chemical lab equipment

Just because I was curious, I looked up what it took to become a chemist for Johnson & Johnson, who create products like Neutrogena sunscreen. Here’s what I found:

  ○  PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Clinical Pharmacology or Biological Sciences (more education required for higher-level jobs)

  ○  Extensive hands-on experience pharmacologic modeling

  ○  In-depth experience in biologics and/or small molecular drug development

Not to mention the years in their undergraduate spent with pipettes, Petri dishes, mass-spectrometer machines, and hundreds of hours of learning and research.

And to think we research something on the internet for 5 hours and suddenly think we are experts. 

It truly is a huge disservice to our medical and health professionals.


Are DIY sunscreens worth making or not? Let’s go to the real experts to find out!

Are Homemade Sunscreens Worth Making?

Julie Merten, PhD, MCHES, Chair of the Skin Cancer Prevention Task Force in Northeast Florida and nationally associated with the American Academy of Health Behavior, conducted a study where 189 Pinterest homemade/natural sunscreen recipes were analyzed. She found that while 95.2% of the reviews demonstrated the sunscreen’s effectiveness, 68.3% of the pins, unfortunately, provided insufficient UV protection. 

And that only represents pins tested. 

Let alone the hundreds of other homemade sunscreen recipes that were not.

Not sure about you, but I'd much rather use quality products I know are 100% effective, thank you very much.

What Do The Experts Say

The FDA is quite strict (thankfully so) in their regulations for manufactured drugs and medications, along with sunscreens. For a sunscreen to be labeled broad-spectrum or water-resistant or have a specific SPF, it must undergo many stringent tests to pass defined performance endpoints. Other, it fails and begins all over again.

Dr. Richard Torbeck, board-certified dermatologist, says he feels that these DIY recipes are not worth the risk. And he knows the consequences of unprotected skin, considering the number of high-risk melanoma skin cancers he sees a lot.

"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, PhD

Fellow skin-expert David Leffell, MD, chief of dermatology surgery and cutaneous oncology at Yale School of Medicine, agrees:

“Mixing up a sunscreen at home, following scientifically substantiated recipes, can lead to an ineffective product.”

The Unseen Danger

With homemade recipes, there’s no way to measure the quality and effectiveness of the DIY sunscreen.

Obviously, you can use your eyeballs and see if your skin looks like a ripe tomato. HOWEVER:

Just because you can’t see the burn doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. A new photography technique called Deep-Skin UV Photography shows sub-surface skin damage that can’t be seen with the naked eye. #Whoa.

 UV damage scan

Image credit:

This is especially useful for determining your risk for melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. 

(Fun fact: getting just 1 blistering sunburn as a child more than doubles your chance of developing melanoma.)

Scared yet? Me too.

Good Sunscreen? Booya!

So, now what? First off, are we in agreement? 

FDA approved sunscreens = Great. Homemade sunscreens = Just. Don't.

Yes? Good, great!

But how do we know which sunscreens ARE effective and beneficial?

Picking a sunscreen

When it comes to picking out a sunscreen, there are a few factors to consider. The American Academy of Dermatology, a leading expert in skincare, recommends to look for these four essentials

  ○  SPF 30 or higher

  ○  UVA/UVB protection (aka, broad spectrum protection)

  ○  Water-resistant

  ○  Mineral/physical blocker (look for zinc oxide or titanium oxide in the ingredients!)

Nina Copeland, APN, FNP-C, a member of the Dermatology Nurses Association, recommends the following brands that fulfill those 4 criteria: BareRepublic (cheaper than most physical sunscreens), the BOB (a mineral powder great for acne-prone individuals), and Elta MD Sport (ideal for dry skin in the winter).

Ladies: check it! Did you know that some make-up brands include SPF in them!?! Look for mineral-based makeup with an SPF of at least 15 and simply layer on after applying sunscreen!

Stay gorgeous and stay sun-safe.

How to Protect Yourself From the Sun

Sun safety

While sunscreen is great and necessary, being skin-smart is more than just wearing sunscreen.

It’s about lifestyle changes.

Time to get creative and incorporate these tips and tricks into your life!

  ○  Hats - hats should be your best friends, especially wide-brimmed ones that protect your sensitive neck and ears (plus you’ll be stylin’)

  ○  Ladies, pair your new fav hat with a gorgeous maxi dress, keeping you light and breezy while keeping your skin safe (maybe even throw in a lil fancy umbrella to complete the look! Insert heart emoji!)

  ○  Avoid peak hours: between 10am-2pm, the sun is the plague, do all you can to stay away!

  ○  No tanning beds. Just no.

Bottom Line?

Some people worry about the chemicals in their sunscreen, but DIY solutions may be ineffective and even put you at risk of skin cancer. Beware!

If you're worried about the risk of sun exposure and UV damage to your skin, try Vital Reaction Molecular Hydrogen Tablets, a powerful antioxidant that can help mitigate some of the sun's harmful effects!




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