Please Don't Trust Sun Protection From A DIY Recipe

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
firemanYU/Getty and Scary Mommy

Let’s cut to the chase. We all want to protect our skin from sun damage. And we all want to do so in eco-friendly, non-toxic, cost-effective ways. But please, please, PLEASE beware of homemade sunscreens. And here’s why.

According to a recent study, researchers combed through 189 DIY sunscreen recipes sourced from Pinterest. And get this — almost 70% of those recipes didn’t offer sufficient UV protection.

Despite the original posters claiming their sunscreen recipe is healthy, natural, or non-toxic, which may very well be true, a whopping majority of these recipes aren’t offering the sun protection your family needs.

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Folks, let me be clear: These DIY sunscreens are not worth the risk.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five people will develop skin cancer, the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. And there’s an increased incidence of women and people under age 40 being diagnosed.

Sounds terrifying, right? Well, it gets worse. When we’re talking about our kids, sun protection is critically important.

Even just one single blistering sunburn that occurs during childhood or the teen years can double — yes, double — a person’s chance of developing melanoma. If a person age 15-20 experiences five or more blistering sunburns, that person’s risk of melanoma increases by 80% and non-melanoma skin cancer by 68%.

Louise Beaumont/Getty

Why in the world are parents gambling with DIY sunscreens that have been proven, in most cases, to be insufficient?

For some people, stats are just that. And you may think skin cancer is an unfortunate diagnosis that some people face. But for me, skin cancer is personal.

When I was in middle school, I watched my uncle spend well over a year dying from malignant melanoma. He grew weaker and weaker, eventually entering hospice care. His frail body was covered in tumors, visible through his paper-thin skin.

We would visit him in his home where he would muster up the courage to smile at us before falling back to sleep, the cancer eating away and the morphine drugging him.

As a red-head with pale skin, he and his siblings grew up on a pig farm where they took care of the animals, gardened, and mowed. They never wore sunscreen. Ever. No one did back then.

In fact, my mom and her sisters, true to their generation, often slathered themselves in baby oil and laid out in the blazing Midwest summer sun, inviting a sunburn that would turn golden. They did this on repeat, all summer long.

Though living on a farm isn’t true of most of us, I’m certain that if you were a child of the ’80s and ’90s, you remember the popularity of tanning salons. They popped up on every corner during my high school years. Girls would strut around the hallways, happy to show off the pale bunny or heart silhouette from the sticker they placed on their skin prior to tanning. Jealousy and resentment built up inside me from exclusion.

I recall begging my mom to let me visit a tanning bed just once prior to my junior prom. I was going to wear a black ball gown, and my winterized skin was in stark contrast, glaringly uncool.

I’ll never forget my mom sitting me down at the kitchen table and reminding me that skin cancer was a real threat. It’d struck close to home.

Watching someone die from skin cancer impacts you forever. I’ve never been to a tanning bed, and I will never go. Because in its severe and later stages, skin cancer is unforgiving and relentless. The damage is already done, and cancer is a festering, ticking time bomb.

Of course, I don’t live under a rock. My kids spend the entirety of the summer swimming in an outdoor pool and playing outside. Also, like some Pinterest users, I’m dedicated to living as non-toxic a lifestyle as possible. We eat organic food, clean with white vinegar, and don’t wear shoes in our house. So of course, I’m not going to slather a toxin-laden sunscreen on my kids. It would be counter-intuitive.

But I’m sure as hell not going to DIY our sun protection based on the advice of a random Pinterest “expert.”

I know what you’re thinking. Sunscreen shopping is complicated. And I agree.

Is more SPF better than less? Which ingredients are the most effective? What’s the definition of toxic? Is spray-on or rub-in sufficient? What’s water-proof versus water-resistant? How often should we re-apply? How long can a person go between sunscreen applications? What about makeup with built-in sunscreen? Is it OK to use expired sunscreen?

Ratchapoom Anupongpan/EyeEm/Getty

I get it, folks. It’s freaking overwhelming. I’ve been known to stand in the sunscreen aisle at Target, bewildered and overwhelmed.

I won’t tell you which sunscreen to buy. I’m not a dermatologist. But I will tell you that I’ve done a lot of research, and we’ve thankfully found a sunscreen that works well for my family of six.

You don’t have to limit your sun protection to sunscreen, though it’s certainly a great place to start. In addition to sunscreen, families can help protect themselves from the sun by wearing wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved swim shirts, utilizing umbrellas, and wearing quality sunglasses.

Most parents I know have been guilty of judging sunscreen application by how cloudy it is or the time of day. You may have assumed that since your child has an initial or “base” tan, sunscreen is no longer needed. Perhaps you apply sunscreen liberally to your children’s skin, but you skimp on your own.

Don’t beat yourself up. Live and learn.

Just please don’t leave your family’s sun protection up to a stranger on Pinterest who posted a pretty picture and a compelling recipe. The science has spoken.

Buy commercial sunscreen, with discretion, and enjoy your summer.

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