Part of the lifestyle of living sustainably can also mean making your own natural products such as soaps, bug deterrents, cleaning products, and other skin care necessities. Once I have the ability to make my own lye with ashes from our wood stove this winter, I want to get into making my own soaps, both for our bodies and our laundry. Someday when I have bees, I want to harvest their wax for lip balms and such. Sunscreen is one thing that I find particularly interesting.
I’m fair-skinned, and have despised sunscreen with a passion for my entire life. I have always hated the fact that my choices were either: burn, cover up completely in 70-100+ degree weather, or put on greasy disgusting sunscreen. The moment I put on sunscreen all I want to do is take a shower to get it off. Most of the time I would choose burn, to be honest. As I’ve gotten older I’ve accepted my pale skin more and more, covering up more in the heat, and trying not to complain about it. Then, I went on a long holiday to New Zealand.
New Zealand has a big ozone hole in the atmosphere right above it. Sunscreen was my unfortunate constant companion. One day we were out all day in the sun, and it was HOT. I made a point to reapply sunscreen every few hours, as much as I loathe it. At the end of the day, I was burnt to a crisp anyway. I took a hot shower that evening (it works, trust me, something about it takes the heat out of your skin… I know my way around a sunburn. Even had a bout of sun poisoning while in Florida many many years ago – and yep, I had sunscreen on then too!). The next day was more of the same, I angrily put on MORE sunscreen, and cried. I HATE the stuff.
So now you know my motivation for the research I’ve put into making my own natural sunscreen. I, like all of us, have been taught my whole life that sunburns cause skin cancer. So, apply sunscreen every few hours to protect yourself, right? Not exactly. The simplest (and I do mean simplest, this topic is a lot more complicated than this) explanation is this: the sun produces two types of rays: UVB and UVA. UVA rays are the dangerous ones that can cause cancer. UVB rays are the good ones that give you vitamin D. When your skin starts to burn, it means you’ve absorbed all the vitamin D you can take for the time being, and your skin is starting to reject the sun. It’s time to get out of the sun, your skin is telling you. Guess what most commercial sunscreens protect against? UVBs. Yep, the good vitamin D rays. I could go a lot more deeply into how I feel about that… but I won’t (this blog is about homesteading, not conspiracy theories 🙂 ).
Anyway, I researched natural ingredients that have natural SPFs, that protect against UVA rays, and put my own sunscreen together. Here’s what I did:
My ingredients: 1/2 cup Shea butter (SPF 4-6), 1/2 cup Coconut oil (SPF 4-10), 2 tsp Red raspberry seed oil (SPF 25-50), and 2 tsp Carrot seed oil (SPF 35-40). These numbers are all depending on who you ask and purity. I got as pure and organic as I could find. Red raspberry seed oil also protects against UVA rays (is apparently one of the only things that does!).
I melted all the ingredients together in a small mason jar submerged in water in a pot on the stove (shea butter has a melting point of about 90 degrees). Then simply let it set, first on the counter until it cooled, then in the fridge to solidify it. I wanted to give it a really solid “test”, by using my sad never-see-the-sun legs. I applied my sunscreen to my right leg, and sacrificed my left leg to the sun gods. Then R and I sat out in the blaring Southern Utah sun for about an hour, while we drank a beer and played with the dog. Here was the outcome:
First of all, a little of it goes a long way. You don’t need to slather it on, and if it’s at the right temperature/consistency, it spreads pretty evenly. I didn’t end up as burned as I thought I would in general, and it seems like my sunscreen just made my leg slightly less burned/more tan than the other. The other times I’ve used it, on my arms and shoulders when we’re out for short periods of time, it seems to work really well. There’s more experimenting to be done, and I have more tweaking of the recipe to do, but for now, I like it and I’ll take it! Plus, if you like the nutty earthy smell of shea butter, like I do, you’ll enjoy the fragrance a lot more than commercial sunscreens. And it makes your skin all silky smooth. All the benefits!
My next experiment is bug sprays!