Post-Consumer Pantry

Protect your skin: Commercial sunscreens give some people pause. Try making a homemade version to avoid questionable ingredients. Photo by Rich Orris

A few weeks ago I had a lively discussion about sunscreen on Twitter. My friends are as befuddled as I am — is sunscreen an essential part of summer, or do the chemicals in commercial tubes cause cancer? Is it worse to get a sunburn or put unpronounceable ingredients on your skin every day?

Conflicting studies make this a perplexing question without a clear answer. Since Rich and I aren't doctors or health care professionals, we are not qualified to make recommendations either way. But we have turned to zinc oxide as an alternative option.

Zinc oxide is a powdered mineral that has long been known to protect skin from UV rays. It sits on top of the skin rather than being absorbed, and many believe that it's a safer choice for health-conscious consumers.

Sunscreens with zinc can be very expensive, so we've come up with a recipe that is far cheaper. The process isn't very complicated and utilizes a double boiler method to melt the key ingredients (which include beeswax, olive oil and zinc oxide powder).

The only hitch is finding zinc oxide locally. We called five area stores in search of zinc powder, but ended up ordering it online. The rest of the ingredients can be easily found in Asheville, so ordering a big pouch of zinc once a summer isn't too much of a burden.

All our friends want to know: Does it work? Rich took it to a sunny three-day music festival to put it to the test. He coated his arms, legs and face with homemade sunscreen and got nary a burn. No tan lines either (except for his year-round farmer's tan). All we can say is it works for us.

A big hat and long-sleeve shirts are often said to be the best defense against skin cancer, but when you can't shield yourself from the sun's rays, homemade sunscreen is a safer alternative that's surprisingly easy to make. Just melt the ingredients, give them a good stir and apply liberally. Now get outside and enjoy some July Fourth activities knowing that your skin is having as much fun as you are.

Homemade sunscreen

1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbs coconut oil
1/4 cup beeswax
3 tbs zinc oxide powder
2 tbs aloe vera
1/4 to 1/2 cup water, depending on desired consistency

Combine all ingredients except zinc oxide, water and aloe vera in a glass pint jar. It's OK to re-se an old food jar, just don't eat out of the jar (or put it in the dishwasher) after using it to make sunscreen.

Fill a medium saucepan with a few inches of water and warm on the stovetop to medium heat. Place a steam tray or waterproof trivet in the bottom of the saucepan to keep the jar off the bottom of the pot.

Place the jar in the saucepan and stir ingredients until melted (double boiler method).

When thoroughly melted, remove from heat, add zinc oxide, water and aloe vera and stir. Stir a few times as the jar cools to room temperature.

Pour off any excess liquid and put sunscreen (which may be more than a paste than a liquid) into the container of your choice. We just kept it in the pint-sized mason jar we used for melting.

A few tips: Although zinc repels water, it is not waterproof, so be sure to reapply after swimming or excessive sweating. Also, the sunscreen is white, so you may want use a mirror when applying. Store the sunscreen in a cool place whenever possible and stir it up if the water starts to separate. This recipe has an SPF of about 25. Add more zinc (and balance it with a little extra water) for a higher SPF.


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