Homemade sunscreen is a recipe for burns

The growing trend for ‘clean living’ has seen many turn to social media for ‘organic’ alternatives to everyday products. 

But research has now warned ‘chemical free’, homemade sunscreen can be a recipe for burns.

A study found 68 per cent of DIY sun creams found on Pinterest offer insufficient UV protection.

Researchers warn homemade sunscreens that include essential oils, shea butter or coconut oil have an SPF of just one to seven.

And just because something is touted as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ does not make it safe or effective, they add.

Research warns 'chemical-free' homemade sunscreen is a recipe for burns (stock)

Research warns ‘chemical-free’ homemade sunscreen is a recipe for burns (stock)

The research was carried out by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio and led by Dr Lara McKenzie, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

‘The internet is a great place for families to go to for recipe inspiration and arts and crafts projects, but not necessarily for making their own safety-related things,’ Dr McKenzie said.

‘Homemade sunscreen products are risky because they are not regulated or tested for efficacy like commercial sunscreens. 

‘When you make it yourself, you don’t know if it’s safe or effective.’


Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumors. 

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 91,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in the US in 2018 and more than 9,000 are expected to die from it.

Around 15,900 new cases occur every year in the UK, with 2,285 Britons dying from the disease in 2016, according to Cancer Research UK statistics. 


  • Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
  • Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma 
  • Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
  • Hair color: Red heads are more at risk than others
  • Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
  • Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk


This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary. 

The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent. 

  • Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy: 

This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. 


  • Use sunscreen and do not burn
  • Avoid tanning outside and in beds 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
  • Keep newborns out of the sun
  • Examine your skin every month
  • See your physician every year for a skin exam 

 Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society

Sun screen protects against sunburn, which increases our risk of skin cancer.

More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the US than all other cancers combined, with one in five developing the disease by the time they turn 70, Skin Cancer Foundation statistics show. 

And in the UK, 15,906 people developed melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – in 2015, with 2,285 dying the following year, according to Cancer Research UK.

Social-media users often turn to sites like Pinterest to share health information, the researchers wrote in the journal Health Communication. 

There has also been a ‘societal shift toward clean living’ in recent years, prompting many to search for homemade sunscreen recipes. 

To uncover the dangers behind this, the researchers searched for ‘homemade sunscreen’ and ‘natural sunscreen’ on Pinterest, which returned 189 posts. 

Results revealed nearly all (95 per cent) posts touted homemade sunscreen as being effective. 

This is despite most (68 per cent) recipes offering insufficient protection against harmful UV rays. 

A third of the posts boasted the recipes offer an SPF of up to 50. 

However, coconut oil, which was ‘the most commonly suggested ingredient’, has an SPF of seven at most, according to laboratory studies.

And essential oils ‘do not have the UV blocking ability of commercially-made products’. 

‘Many of the recipes listed specific SPF levels up to 50, yet the ingredients in the recipes are not scientifically proven to offer that kind of broad spectrum coverage,’ Dr McKenzie said. 

The recipes included positive words like ‘healthy’, ‘non toxic’ and ‘good for you’, with some also featuring pictures of children. 

One even falsely claimed conventional sunscreen causes cancer. 

On average, the recipes the researchers found had been ‘pinned’ to users’ ‘boards’ 808 times. 

One post had even been saved more than 21,700 times. Pinning enables users to easily access their preferred posts again. 

And only three of the 189 posts warned of the potential risks of relying on homemade sunscreen.  

The researchers stress that just because something is labelled as natural does not make it safe.

They urge the public to opt for broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, are water resistant, and have an SPF of at least 30.

‘Store-bought sunscreen is a better choice because it is regulated by the FDA and must have a proven level of protection against both UVA and UVB rays,’ Dr McKenzie said.

‘These products are regulated for a reason, and DIY versions probably don’t meet the safety standards required by regulatory agencies.’ 

Sunscreen should be applied half-an-hour before going outside and every two hours after that, or more if you are swimming or sweating a lot, the researchers said. 

And bottles should be thrown away around every three years or according to their expiry date, they add. 


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