DIY projects and potions are taking control of the internet. Everyone loves the idea of “going natural” and making everything at home, from furniture to décor to facewashes to, now, sunscreen. And while some things are simply fun and creative, some of these DIY projects can be more harmful than good.
Like all the sunscreen recipes on Pinterest, for instance – none of them can protect against skin cancer.
Lara B. McKenzie of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told Newsweek: “Resist the urge to DIY when it comes to sunscreen.” She went on to say that the public “can use the internet for recipes for food; not for products intended to protect them.”
Most of these recipes have a base of coconut oil or something similar, but coconut oil only has a sun protection factor (SPF) of somewhere between one and seven while shea butter and lavender oil have SPFs of around 6.
Natural oils aren’t able to block harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays like commercially manufactured products can, with SPFs of 30 – the recommended level by The American Academy of Dermatology to protect the skin and prevent cancer – or higher.
McKenzie’s team searched things like “homemade sunscreen” and “natural sunscreen” and scrolled through the numerous results. Many of the recipes claimed to be “natural” and in line with “clean living.”
Beware of False Statements
On Pinterest, the team looked at 189 posts, 95 percent of which claimed their recipes were effective; 68 percent featured mixtures that didn’t offer a high enough SPF, and 33 percent of the pins claimed an SPF between 2 and 50. One of these pins had been saved 21,700 times! On average, all of the pins were pinned 808 times.
At least one made false statements about how the ingredients in commercial sunscreen cause cancer as they bake into your skin and enter your bloodstream. Only three of these pins gave warnings off the possible harm from using their product. The recipes were accompanied by language like “healthy,” “non-toxic,” and “good for you,” while some featured images of children.
McKenzie told Newsweek: “This is concerning because the ingredients recommended in homemade sunscreen pins offer minimal scientifically proven broad-spectrum protection from UV radiation yet are widely shared and promoted as safe alternatives to commercial sunscreens on Pinterest.”
Skin Cancer is Deadly
With skin cancer being the most common form of disease in the U.S., the results of these recipes becoming even more popular could be radically detrimental. Ditching sunblock and leaving ourselves exposed to UV radiation is the worst thing we could do as every year 10,000 people in the U.S. die of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
McKenzie did, however, make a disclaimer concerning the source of their study – Pinterest – as few studies have used it as a tool; it’s quite unclear, still, how many people put into action what they pin, so the impact of pins is still hazy.
McKenzie recommended that those aged six months and older should wear FDA-approved sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB sun rays and is water resistant, according to The American Academy of Dermatology.
A thick layer of sunblock should be applied 30 minutes before heading outside and again every two hours. Toddlers’ sensitive faces require an even thicker layer.
“When reading health advice online, use your best judgment,” said McKenzie. “Healthcare organizations and government agencies like the CDC are generally regarded as credible, trusted sources. When in doubt, ask your family doctor or child’s pediatrician.”
“For a week-long beach vacation, a school-aged child should go through an entire 8-ounce bottle of sunscreen, applying it twice a day,” she said. She also added that you should keep an eye on expiration dates and the look or texture. Sunscreens are only effective up to three years after they have been opened.
A Complementary Study
A completely different team of scientists did a study earlier this month that found the body can absorb ingredients found in common sunblock products, urging people to continue using it.
A British Association of Dermatologists spokesperson who was not involved in the research, Professor Brian Diffey, told Newsweek: “This is helpful research, which will hopefully highlight how poor most homemade sunscreen recipes are. There is an increasing trend of people looking for alternatives, specifically ‘natural’ alternatives, to commercial products.
“I think it is important to make it very clear that ‘natural’ does not necessarily mean effective and neither does it mean safe. There are plenty of ingredients from the natural world that are harmful, not to mention the dangers of a sunscreen product that does not work.
Getting this message out there is not straight forward though, as the mindset that natural is better is quite entrenched in some people. And don’t forget that the sun is the most natural thing in our environment but is responsible for skin cancer, the most common human cancer.”