How to Make Your Own Sunscreen Lotion

You can easily make your own sunscreen – and it's easy! Why bother doing that? Because store-bought isn't exactly the safest option, the chemicals can be worse than getting a sunburn!

This post was originally published in June of 2008, but this topic is always an important one as the days grow longer and the summer sun returns each year!

I have a small list of things I never thought I would make myself, and sunscreen happens to be on that list. It feels good to prove myself wrong, and realize that yet another product that felt so elusive and out-of-reach to me is actually dead easy to make.

Last week, a friend and I gathered in my kitchen with our oldest daughters to attempt to create some safe and chemical-free, SPF 30 sunscreen… without fancy equipment, without any previous know-how, without an FDA stamp of approval.

First things first… do we even need sunscreen?

Most of the time, I would say no. Our family rarely uses it because I don’t believe it is generally helpful or even wise to use frequently. Particularly for us, living in the gray West Coast, we need the Vitamin D desperately (and I recently learned that it takes us until September each year to get back up to optimal levels after the winter!).

Instead of frequent sunscreen use, we employ a lot of common sense tactics to stay safe in the sun.

Occasionally, though, I feel like it’s the right move to pull out a bottle, to avoid burning during long periods of sun exposure (like a day at the beach). If you’ve been around this blog for long, you’ve probably already guessed that I won’t use the conventional sunscreen products lining the store shelves. I want something safer for my family.

So what does “safer” sunscreen mean?

From my understanding based on what I’ve read, the safest sunscreens are those with the same types of natural ingredients that you would want in any other type of skincare product.

Nourishing oils like coconut, shea butter, jojoba, almond, etc. and potentially other ingredients like green tea extract or other antioxidants to protect the skin. Minerals (zinc oxide being the most common) provide the actual barrier between the sun and your skin.

This is just a very short list, but these are some of the ingredients we want to avoid:

  • Oxybenzone (found in 65% of sunscreens)- a hormone disrupting chemical
  • Retinol palmitate (a form of Vitamin A- fine in the body, but probably harmful on skin)
  • Methoxycinnamate or Octinoxate
  • Padimate O/PABA
  • Nano or Micronized mineral particles

If you really want to learn more about what to avoid, and what to look for I would highly recommend the EWG Sunscreen 2012 Guide.

In particular, take a look at the sunscreens that rated the best, and then some articles on sunscreen safety and efficacy, such as What’s Wrong With the Sunscreen Protection Business, Health Agencies Question Sunscreen Efficacy, Sunscreens Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths, and Does Sunscreen Damage Skin?.

Additionally, Katie at Kitchen Stewardship has done some amazing research into sun protection over the last couple of summers. Of particular interest are her posts Do Mineral Based Sunblocks Work?, Sunscreen, Skin Cancer and Safety: How Much Do You Need?, and Natural Sunscreen Updates (on her VERY thorough and looong list of sunscreens that she has personally reviewed).

Which leads me to making my own sunscreen

This recipe intrigued me because it’s the same basic list of ingredients in MadeOn’s hard lotion bars, which are entirely pure and non-toxic (and which my skin loves). It’s been adapted to create more of a smooth lotion texture, with the addition of zinc oxide power (not in nano or micronzied particle form), for UVA protection. If you’re curious about the safety of zinc oxide, read more here.

It comes from the ebook, My Buttered Life: Summer Edition (which includes several other summer skin recipes, like bug repellant and after-sun skin conditioner). In the book, Renee addresses the issue of SPF and this is what she says:

According to an article on Badger Balmʼs website, zinc oxide should be 20% of the formula in order to get an SPF30. This recipe is right at 20% so this would be considered SPF30

Not bad. SPF 30 is as high as we really need. In my Skin Deep Database reading, I read that although many formulas claim even higher SPFs than that, they realistically may not be and provide a false sense of protection. If we think we need something higher, then maybe we shouldn’t be out in the sun for that long.

Here’s how we made our own sunscreen:

Our simple ingredients:

  • 1/2 oz. beeswax granules/pastilles (I believe we found this to be 1/8 cup when we converted it)
  • 1/4 cup shea butter (2 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (2 oz.)
  • 2 Tbsp. zinc oxide powder (1 oz.)

We added the two oils and then the beeswax to a glass bowl.

This is our makeshift double boiler, a glass bowl sitting on top of a pot with boiling water turned to a low simmer. It’s a blurry picture, but I thought it may still be helpful to see how we did it. We just had to be very careful with the hot glass bowl when we lifted it off, but other than that, this worked fine.

Once the oils were melted, we removed the bowl (set it on a folded towel on the counter) and dumped in the zinc oxide powder.

The book had recommended a stick blender, but mine is broken and I couldn’t find another one at the thrift store. So, I settled for using a regular hand mixer and it did the job just fine. The goal was to thoroughly blend in the zinc oxide until there were no clumps, and to whip the oils just a bit.

Once it was smooth, we poured it into glass mason jars.

The day we made it (after it cooled off) it had a thinner consistency. I took this picture on a cooler day, and you can see that it’s quite a thick lotion now. I was worried that it might not rub into our skin well, but I shouldn’t have worried.

This is how it looked as I first began rubbing it onto my daughter’s arm, but within a few seconds it softened and went on very nicely.

I wondered if it would leave a pale, ghostly white look, but it didn’t. You can see that the arm on the left is slightly lighter (this is the one with sunscreen). But, the difference isn’t very noticeable.

I want to tell you that we’ve been using it in the hot sun with great success, but where we live (the gray West Coast) we’ve had so few sunny days that I haven’t been able to properly test it out. I intend to as soon as we get some sun, and then I’ll update this post with how it works for us. What I do know is that in the past we’ve had success with natural-brand mineral sunblocks, so I expect that we will have a similar experience with this one. If anyone else has tried this, I would love to hear how it worked for you!

Update: We finally got a day to try it! We used it at the park on a very hot, sunny day. After over an hour of direct sunlight, plus another 45 minutes of on and off sunlight, no one was pink in the slightest, not even the baby with his super-fair skin (and we weren’t covered up, using hats, etc). Next I’ll try it on a water day and update again. :)

Update a year later: We’ve had opportunities to use this recipe while in the hot, glaring sun of southern Europe in the summer time. It provides us with excellent coverage, combined with our common sense techniques, and when we use it, we don’t burn. Even better, I recently bought one tube of a highly reviewed mineral sunscreen made by Badger, wouldn’t you know what the ingredients were? Simple oils like the ones we used, beeswax, zinc oxide, and just a bit of Vitamin E to preserve it. I guess we made “real” sunscreen after all!

Want to make your own sunscreen?

The recipe came from this book, My Buttered Life: Summer Edition. The oils and zinc oxide powder came from a DIY kit from MadeOn Skincare.

Just for KOTH readers from MadeOn! Right now you can get a free order of zinc oxide on orders over $25.00! Once your cart reaches $25.00, add the zinc oxide to your cart, use code KOHZINC and the zinc will be free! Expires June 30th, 2015.

She also shares some ideas for purchasing the products yourself in the ebook, if you wanted to buy them individually and not in the kit. Two websites that you could use for purchasing these ingredients are From Nature With Love, as well as Mountain Rose Herbs (but it looks as though they do not carry the zinc oxide powder, only the other ingredients).

You can also try viewing the videos that Renee has made, this one for making the regular sunscreen that we made, as well as this one for making a different version that goes in a pump.

Here's how to make your own sunscreen – safe and chemical-free, SPF 30 – without fancy equipment or ingredients.

What is your stance on sunscreen… do you use it or not?

Disclosure: I received this kit and ebook for the purpose of review. This post includes affiliate links.

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. Stephanie – thank you for this comprehensive overview encouraging the reader to make their own reliably safe sunscreen, I moved to FL, Feb ’13 . with sensitive skin I am most concerned with the quality of my sunscreen. Would you please provide information regarding the shelf-life and storage methods for your recipe. Again, thank you for your motivational article!!

  2. Cosmogirl2331 says:

    As a licensed cosmetologist and esthetician you are uneducated about the sun. I understand you need vitamin D and its quite gloomy where you are from but you can still get cancer without being burned by the sun. You should always wear an SPF of at least 15 to protect your skin. Any exposure to UVA and UVB rays can be harmful. That still applies even if its snowing. To be fully protected, a broad spectrum sunscreen should be applied along with other protective clothing and hats.

  3. I have tried olive oil for my skin and is the best. It is not greasy and prevents you from burning. Can not get more natural and cemical free than that!

  4. Maralee says:

    I am SO happy to have found this post!! My son has always broken out in hives from any sunscreen other than the Warerbabies kind, and I know that one still has nasty chemicals. I’ve been trying to find a recipe for one I can make myself without all the nasty stuff added! Thank you!

  5. What about UVB protection? According to “UVB is the middle-range of UV with wavelengths between 290-320 nm. It responsible for burning, tanning, acceleration of skin aging and plays a very key role in the development of skin cancer.”

  6. Thanks for this recipe. We are taking Girl Scouts on a camping trip here is sunny NC so I WILL make this.
    I find that by eathing a diet rich is deeply colored veggies for at least 3 months prior to sun we don’t get burned. But our upcoming outing just might stretch it a bit and I want to enjoy our time, not hide out. I am a blonde haired freckled fair skinned person and so far, with all the gardening I have been doing, I have NOT gotten burned yet. I have actually tanned. Our green monster smoothies for breakfast since February is my claim for above. All greens (kale spinach and swiss chard) freshly picked from our garden. Wishing everybody a happy healthy burn free summer!

  7. Sesame Seed Oil also has a natural spf of 4 from what I have read…… The Coconut Oil also has a natural spf of 4.

  8. What can be used instead of beeswax? I’m Vegan :)

  9. What could you use in place of coconut? My son and I are allergic. Thanks!

  10. I noticed you said that your family doesn’t really burn, even though you’re all fair skinned. I wondered if part of the reason might be low sugar intake? A friend told me several years ago that her daughter had never sunburned (even in the hot Georgia summers), and she attributed that to her child not eating sugar.

  11. Jasmine Chee says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thanks for sharing this recipe with your readers! Can I substitute shea butter with cocoa butter?(since it is often used interchangeably)

  12. DianeMargaret Miller says:

    Is there anything you could use other than Zinc?
    We’re allergic. :(

  13. What an excellent write-up! We don’t wear much sunscreen either, and when we do, it’s Badger. One of these days I may have to try my hand at making my own…thanks for all the tips! (We love Renee’s hard lotion, but I didn’t realize she made sunscreen–and sunscreen kits–too!)

  14. You might have mentioned it but I didn’t see it in your article – do you preserve the sunscreen? In the fridge? Room temp? How long will it preserve ? 12 month?

  15. Hi
    I suffer with severe prickly heat which makes me feel miserable and I want to enjoy our holiday, do you think this would be ok to use? Many sun creams I have used just irritate it.

    Many thanks

  16. I know I’m coming to the party late but I just found your site. What’s the shelf life of this sunscreen??? I’m one of those very fair skinned ppl that burns BADLY if I just think about the sun too much. But I hate all the added chemicals in commercial sunscreen, not to mention they don’t work for me. (after using a SPF 50 sunscreen precisely to the directions I still ended up with second degree burns on my ears once, after that I just tried to avoid the sun pretty much all together.) Finding a natural alternative would be lovely…

  17. Hi! I am having trouble melting the beeswax… The Shea butter and coconut oil are clear liquids but the beeswax won’t melt…am I doing something wrong?


    • The beeswax has a higher melting point than the other oils so you just need to apply a tad more heat. As for the Shea butter, typically unless you are making soap it is best to melt your oils and beeswax together and then add your Shea butter after you remove your oils from the heat. Stir until melted. The reason is that Shea butter gets a grainy feel if melted at too high a temperature or if it is re-heated a second time. Good luck with your recipe! I am making sunscreen today as it is beautiful here in the great Northwest this weekend!

  18. Do you think raw mango butter would be ok to use in place of the shea butter?


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