Shelf-Stable Homemade Sunscreen

You can stick this in your beach bag without worrying! Isn't it amazing?
You can stick this in your beach bag without worrying! Isn’t it amazing?

I am a very pale human being.

And when I say pale, I don’t mean I just haven’t caught enough rays lately.  I’m talking glows-under-a-blacklight, turns-blue-under-water, and friends-make-jokes-that-I’m-a-vampire kind of pale.  I couldn’t tan if I tried, and if I did I’d end up with nothing to show but a smattering of freckles or a sunburn bad enough to make me look like a human strawberry.

Unsurprisingly, sunscreen is rather important to me, especially with my family history of skin cancer.  That said, I’m also enough of a hippie that I don’t really want to deal with all the junk you can find in the commercial stuff.  And what with the Environmental Working Group finding that 80% of the sunscreens they studied contained things I don’t want on my body, it seemed high time I learn to make my own.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to take some lotion — homemade or otherwise — and put non-nano zinc oxide in it. I’d been doing this for awhile and my skin was quite happy with it, but since I don’t tend to go for store-bought lotion either I was left with homemade as my only option, which I’m sorry to say has its drawbacks.  For one thing, it’s an exercise in pure frustration to make lotion without some kind of emulsifying agent, and those are usually not as “natural” as I would like. Emulsifying wax is generally not too offensive as far as I can tell (and it definitely works) but I have a preference for whole ingredients that didn’t have to be synthesized in a lab.  Even so, convincing oil and water to mix is difficult at best and my attempts at making lotion without e-wax have all ended poorly.

On top of that, homemade lotion is highly perishable — again, the oil and water deal makes it prone to spoilage.  Thus it has to be kept in the fridge, ideally in a pump-top bottle or some other container that will minimize contact with your hands (the bacteria on your skin can make it spoil even faster). And even when taking all of these precautions, I have still had lotions grow bits of fuzz far sooner than I would like.

Thus the quest began for some kind of shelf-stable version, made with oil only so it doesn’t have to be kept in the fridge. The result is something even easier to make and delightfully simple to store. You can even stick it in your bag for use on the go without worrying about spoilage. Quelle miracle!

Shelf-Stable Sunscreen

  • 5 Tbs Coconut Oil (Has a low SPF of its own)
  • 3 Tbs Jojoba Oil (Also has a slight SPF and helps keep the coconut oil from hardening)
  • 2 Tbs Olive Oil (Mostly for further dilution and because I was being cheap; you may easily substitute more Jojoba.)
  • 6ish Tbs Non-Nano Zinc Oxide (You can adjust for a higher or lower SPF. I got mine from Bulk Apothecary.)
  • A small amount of Arrowroot Powder or another starch (Helps make things less greasy)
  • 20 or so drops Peppermint Essential Oil (Optional- You can also leave this out or use another EO, but make sure it’s not one that increases photosensitivity. I like peppermint because it’s nice and cooling on hot summer days.)
  • Cocoa Powder for tinting (Optional)

Combine Coconut, Jojoba, and Olive oils in a small saucepan and melt together over low heat.  Once they are thoroughly integrated and the coconut oil is clear, remove from heat and add Peppermint or other essential oil. Stir to combine, then mix in arrowroot and zinc oxide, a little at a time. Make sure to avoid inhaling any particles — ideally, you should wear a mask. (I didn’t, but I live dangerously.) You have now made sunscreen!

A note on tinting

The thing about non-nano zinc oxide is it doesn’t absorb into your skin, which is part of why it works as a sunscreen.  It forms a barrier between you and sunlight.  The sometimes undesirable result of that, however, is that it will usually leave a white residue on your skin and make you look like a ghost or a vampire or some other undead creature of the night.  I’m generally okay with this since I’m quite used to looking like a vampire anyway and I’m willing to own it, but if that bothers you or you have darker skin you can use a small amount of cocoa powder to tint your sunscreen.  I would add this a little at a time and test it on your inner arm to find a shade you’re willing to deal with.

I recommend storing this in a squeezy bottle of some kind or possibly a pump, less for reasons of spoilage and more just for easy dispensing.  I use an old purse-sized hand sanitizer bottle left over from the days when I still used hand sanitizer.

This should keep for several months at least, though as with any homemade product you should discard it if it starts to look or smell awkward.  I’ve stored my first batch of this out of the fridge for several weeks now without a problem.  It will separate if left to its own devices for too long, but a simple shake of the bottle will remind the zinc oxide to distribute itself more evenly.

Does it work?

It’s hard to give an exact SPF for this without a lab in which to test such things, but as someone who risks bursting into flame if I step out into sunlight without anything to protect my skin, yes it definitely helps. I have worn it on very long walks in mid afternoon sun and come back surprisingly unburned.  I don’t know that I’d trust it while swimming without a ridiculous amount of reapplication, but I find it to be a nice, functional sunscreen for daily use. Thus far I have never gotten burned while wearing it, and that’s hardly due to staying inside all day.


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