Make Your Own Sunscreen and Bug Repellent with your Favorite Lotion

By JULIE - 4:43:00 PM

Marilyn Monroe via Visulize us
Last spring I got badly burned working in the garden in May in the mourning (non peak sun hours).  I never thought I'd need sunscreen in the spring!  Now I know better! I made my own sunscreen yesterday and I plan to wear it everyday (especially when I'm gardening).    I originally bought zinc oxide to make a acne cream (I'll post the recipe for that soon it seems to be helping by the way).  After having bought way more than I needed I realized having a lot of extra zinc oxide is pretty cool because you can just add it to your favourite lotion and make as much natural sunscreen as you want for super cheap.  I had one of those why did I never think of this before moments.   And better yet why not make it a bug repellent too!

Make Your Sunscreen do Double Duty by Turning it into a Bug Repellent Too!  
Here are some essential oils that show the most promise of repelling bugs.  Most plant based repellents are not as effective as synthetic in that they do not last as long (30-60 min), so make sure to reapply your sunscreen every 30-60 min (which isn't a bad ideal any ways to make sure your sunscreen is still working).  Citrus oils may also be helpful in repealing bugs but can be damaging to skin when exposed to the sun, not what you want in a sunscreen!
  • Citronella: up to 1 hr of protection.  
  • Lemon eucalyptus: according to Mother Earth News,"If you’re looking for a natural insect repellent that can stand up to DEET, lemon eucalyptus is your best bet. Studies have shown that products containing lemon eucalyptus oil provide as much protection against mosquitoes as do products that contain low levels of DEET. The CDC even recommends lemon eucalyptus oil as one of the best choices for protection against mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus."  The CDC also says that it should not be used on children under the age of three.  Up to 8 hrs of protection
  • Lemongrass: 
  • Neem (has a very strong smell that many find unpleasant but does also have antibacterial properties ) 
  • Geranium 

image via I Can Has Cheezburger
How to Protect Your Skin and Still Get 
Vitamin D
I know I don't need to say much about why you need to wear sunscreen, since I know you hear it all the time, and if your reading this article your obviously concerned. I've heard it too and I do wear sunscreen when I'm going to be exposed to sun for awhile, but not every day.  Well studying about acne I've come across a lot of general info on skin health and boy when you learn about the damage sun does to your skin, you will take it seriously!  UVA rays are the most damaging because they reach the deeper layers of your skin that don't regenerate easily (your collagen).  You are exposed to UVA rays year round even if your just driving in your car.  A good example of this is truck driver Bill McElligott pictured below.  Can you tell what side of his face was exposed to the window?  So you need to be protected even if you don't plan to spend all day in the sun.  I am convinced the easiest way to stay looking young is to de stress your life, weight train, wear sunscreen everyday, and avoid sugar and processed foods.  Anyone can do that!
Truck Driver Bill McElligott: Which side of his face do you think was by the window?

The problem with using chemical sunscreens all the time is your bodies absorbing lots of chemicals (that aren't being filtered before it gets into your blood stream) and your not getting any vitamin D.  Vitamin D is critical for many important functions (bone health, immune system (which is one of the reasons everyone gets sick in the winter), cancer prevention, etc).  The only food sources of vitamin D are cold fish, pasture raised eggs (which are hard to know if your eggs are pasture raised due to labeling) and fortifed foods.  Vitamin D is produced in your body from UVB rays.  You can not get to much vitamin D from the sun because your body regulates it, but you can through supplementation so always have your vitamin D levels monitored by a physician if you are taking vitamin D as a supplement. The sun produces UVB rays in MN from about March to October, and will vary depending on where you live (when the UV index is greater than 3 or when the sun is lower than 50 degrees above the horizon).   

The solution to this problem is to use sunscreens derived from natural ingredients and applying it only after you have had 10 min of sun exposure a day (only if where you live is producing UVB rays at that time of the year) at a non peak time for the sun if possible (mourning or evening). I still wear sunscreen on my face I just make sure my arms or legs are exposed.  I base this on the fact that studies have found that between five and 30 minutes of sun exposure to your unprotected face, arms, legs or back between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. two to three times every week is enough for your body to produce all the D3 it needs [source: National Institutes of Health - Office of Dietary Supplements].  The easiest way to do this would be to take your dog for a walk in the mourning (if you have one) or maybe your kid or a friend everyday.  Please note you want to have as little exposure to UVB rays as is needed to get Vitamin D, because usually UVB rays are the rays that cause cancer.

Please note if your are above the age of 60 it might be wise to have your vitamin D levels checked even in the summer, because you might still need to supplement (under you doctors supervision of course).  Because as we get older, it naturally becomes more difficult to convert sunlight into D3. For example, when exposed to the same amount of UVB radiation, a person who is 70 years old will make 75 percent less D3 than a 20-year-old [source: Lee via Discovery Health].
Why Xinc Oxide?
Zinc oxide is currently approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens.  It's what's in those sunscreen sticks lifeguards use that makes their nose white, (when used in less percentage it won't show up as white).  Zinc oxide is a completely natural substance that sits on the outermost layer of your skin, where they scatter and absorb ultraviolet radiation, protecting your living skin below. Zinc Oxide is broad spectrum protects from UVA, UVB, and even UVC rays. Titanium Dioxide is another mineral active ingredient you may see in sunscreens. While it protects from UVB rays very well it does not protect from UVA as well as zinc oxide does.

 Another cool thing about zinc oxide is it's mildly antibacterial and it's ant-inflamatory (that's why it's the active ingredient in calamine lotion) and noncomedogenic (does not clog pores).  So it's actually a very skin care friendly substance too, which is initially why I bought some.   

How Much Zinc Oxide Should You Use?
The first question is how much zinc oxide should you use?  According to Live Strong, "Measure out 8oz of lotion........For an SPF of 12 to 19, measure out 1.2 to 1.5 oz. of zinc oxide. For an SPF higher than 20, measure out 2 oz. of zinc oxide. For an SPF between 6 and 11, measure 0.8 oz. For a very low SPF, between 2 and 5, measure out 0.4 oz. of zinc oxide." 

Below is a good chart I found that gives a little more detail.  

Concentration of
Sunscreens & SPF
(SPF 2-5)
(SPF 6-11)
(SPF 12-19)
Ultra High
(SPF >20)
Titanium Dioxide < 4 % 8 % 12 % 20 %
Titanium Dioxide, Micronized 2 % 4 % 6 % 10 %
Zinc Oxide 5 % 10 % 15 % 25 %
Zinc Oxide, Micronized 3 % 7.5 % 12 % 20 %
 table via scoochmaroo on instructables

How Much SPF Do You Need?

According to dermatologist, Dr Cynthia Bailey, a spf of 10 blocks 90% of rays and a spf of 30 blocks 97% of rays.  Dr Bailey recommends a spf of 30, which seems like a reasonable recommendation.  I plan to use an spf of 30 when I am very exposed to the sun, but I wanted to make this sunscreen, a bit more everyday.  Like normal lotion with a bit of protection.  I didn't want it to feel heavy or to show white streaks (the more zinc you add the more likely it is to show up white on your skin).

I formulated my recipe with an 18% zinc oxide (micronized) concentration, which if the above chart is correct is about an spf of 12-20, probably closer to 18 or 19 going by the above chart. It's about as much zinc as I thought I could add before it would start to feel really heavy and start to look streaky.  I would recommend while making this recipe for the first time that you set aside some lotion to mix in later just in case it is too sunscreeny for you to wear every day.  I'm not sure how accurate the above chart is because if you look at sunscreen brands that use zinc oxide often use less and have a higher spf.  Like for example I use the brand All Terrain's spf 30 and it says it has 16% zinc oxide (which I liked by the way).  And Aveeno's spf 50 has titanium dioxide 6% and zinc oxide 3%.  Hmmmm....  Badger sunscreen with a spf of 16 have 10.55% uncoated non nano zinc oxide, while their spf 35 have 22.5% uncoated non nano zinc oxide.  So my guess is the smaller the particle size the less you have to use, which is probably why nano particles are becoming popular with manufactures.  When in doubt I think it's better to play it safe an go with a higher percentage of zinc.

I would suggest using this sunscreen as an every day sunscreen and purchasing a good waterproof natural sunscreen for when you plan to really be out in the sun to make sure your sunscreen has enough protection since as you can see it's hard to know how much spf you're sunscreen is unless a lab test it.  Also this sunscreen might be a little water resistant but is not water proof.  I've made a zit cream with a high zinc oxide percentage and it does not come off with just water and my hands, I have to use soap and a wash cloth to get it off.  I did however use beeswax in making it which is suppose to help make sunscreen waterproof.  So in other words it is not water proof but might offer a little protection from say something like sweat.   

Learn how to make your own retro photoshop ad at Web Expedition 18

Where Can You Buy Zinc Oxide?
As you probably guessed this isn't something you will easily find at your local store, so you will need to find it online. I purchased mine through a company called Essential Depot.  I asked them before purchasing is their zinc oxide is nano particle (particle sizes smaller than 100nm that are able to pass the skin barrier).  Their listing describes it as " 20% + nano particles" and I wasn't sure what that meantThrough their live customer help on their website, their response was "that their zinc oxide particle sizes range from 108nm to 132nm, with an average size of 120 nanometers."  Or in other words just about as small as you can be before being nanosized.   Which is in my opinion what you want because you want a small particle size so it's less likely to show white streaks but not so small that it can cross the skin barrier because we don't know what that can do. You can buy zinc oxide from Essential Depot (I'm not affilated with them in any way through their website, Amazon, or ebay.

What You Will Need 
  • a 2 cup measuring  cup
  • spoon, handmixer (with only one beater), or immersion blender 
  • measuring spoons 
  • a new container or a funnel and butter knife to put back into the same container
  • 1 cup (8 oz) of your favourite lotion (perferably not very heavy and natural I used Whole Foods 365 brand lotion it's super cheap, light, and BPA free  and you can get it fragrance free too)
  • 3 tablespoons zinc oxide 
  • 15 to 20 drops of lemon eucalyptus oil or the above mentioned essential oils (optional can omit if you don't want it to be a bug repellent)
    NOTE: avoid using citrus oils, such as bergamot, orange, lemon or lime. They may cause your skin to be more sensitive to sun exposure , or in other words damage when in contact with the sun, reducing the sunscreen's effectiveness.
  • a face mask (because you don't want to inhale the zinc particles while mixing, it's not toxic it's just bad to inhale anything like sawdust, it's natural but you wouldn't want to breath it in).

    I used a hand mixer with only one beater to make sure the zinc oxide is fully incorporated
  1. Place 1 cup of your chosen lotion into a steralized small bowl or measuring cup.
  2. Put on your face mask and add 3 tablespoons of zinc oxide to your lotion, and 15-20 drops of lemon eucalyptus essential oils you want to add if desired. 
  3. Mix thoroughly with a spoon, a hand mixer with one beater, or an immersion blender.  I would suggest not using a spoon unless you don't have an immersion blender or hand mixer, to make sure that the zinc oxide is fully incorporated.  So you don't put on lotion with no sunscreen thinking you're protected!
  4. If using the same container as your lotion came in make sure it's empty first and use a funnel and a butter knife to help push it through the funnel
  5.  Pour your new sunscreen into a new container or use a funnel and a butter knife like I did to put the sunscreen back into it's original container (pictured above).  Just be careful if you do this that the container doesn't have any lotion in it still so that you don't have lotion without zinc in the container.  
Ideals for Variations of Your Sunscreen
I haven't tried any of these ideals but plan to next time I make it.  Belsey on Instructables used tumeric and cocoa powder in her sun and bug lotion to help dye the lotion to a closer skin tone color just in case there are any streaks.  I think this is a great ideal and plan to try it next batch.   Tumeric has antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory which are great properties for skin.  It also has such a strong colour that it can be used for dye, so I wonder if that would rub off on things like say a white couch? So I would do a small test first, maybe set aside a small amount of your lotion and put the tiniest bit of tumeric into it and test it. Cocoa powder could be a good choice, since it's often used in natural makeup as a bronzer.  If anyone has tried tumeric or cocoa powder in lotion I'd love to hear about it.

Don't want to Make Your Own Sunscreen and Would Rather Just Buy It?

Check out this sunscreen Will Ferrel is promoting for charity.  And yes, this is for real.   The charity is Cancer For College, a special foundation that gives scholarships to cancer patients.  The Charity SPF 30 sunscreens are available in three types of lotion: Sexy Hot Tan, Sunstroke and Forbidden Fruit.  Gotta Love Will Ferrel!

Don’t forget to “likeus on Facebook.  Let’s be friends on Pinterest and we can follow each other on Twitter and Google Plus.  And check out my other blog OhYou Crafty Gal.  

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