A Note On Safe Sun Protection

Hanalei Reponty by Brydie Mack

Earlier this week, we published a recipe for DIY sunscreen. A conversation quickly erupted in the comments about the efficacy and/or responsibility of taking sunscreen chemistry into your own hands. Even within the office, opinions were mixed. To settle the issue, we asked experts in the field to give us their input. They were wary of the idea, but not wholly turned off. Bottom line: There is no one route to protecting yourself from the sun. In fact, only relying on one product is not enough.

"Sunscreen is one piece of a good sun-protection plan," Dr. Jennifer Stein, an assistant professor at the NYU Langone Medical Center's Perelman Department of Dermatology, says. "A lot of people come into my office and say, ‘I don’t know what happened. I was wearing SPF 80 and I still got a sunburn.’ Sunscreen alone isn’t enough." But when you get into making your own formula, it's best to be cautious. "You just don’t really know what you’re getting [if you make it yourself]," she says.

A cosmetic chemist (who requested anonymity due to his relationships with multiple brands) warned against the whole idea of crafting sunscreen outside of a lab. He stressed that as a drug product, sunscreen is rigorously tested by both manufacturers and the FDA to ensure the integrity of the active ingredients and the homogeneity of the final product. Without testing, there's no surefire way to know exactly what SPF number you've created.

But not everyone rejects at-home sunscreen out of hand. "If you are motivated and want to put together products for yourself then that’s fine, as long as you're knowledgeable about what you are putting in them, like if you are including zinc oxide and carrot seed oil, which are known to have protective qualities," Dr. Jessica Weiser, of New York Dermatology Group, says. "I think that you, as the consumer of your own product, have to realize the potential for incomplete sun protection."

You know your body better than anyone else, so do what works for you—whether that be a drugstore sunscreen, a physical blocker like zinc, or just a fabulously large floppy hat (preferably all of those things at one time). Sun protection is good. Several forms of sun protection is even better. The one thing we would never recommend is baking in the sun for hours without a small arsenal of sun-blockers. That would be the worst idea.

Hanalei Reponty photographed by Brydie Mack.

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  • Haiku Jew

    Please apply sunscreen
    or else, resemble raisins
    not a sexy look.

  • ITGLacey

    Minimale Animale! The Tyler in White is perfect, but their entire line is insanely awesome & I want it all: http://minimale-animale.com/shop/index.php/shop/spring-2014/the-tyler.html

    • Monkey

      beware: the no returns policy is iron-clad. I bought a suit from them 2 years ago and still have a $275 credit with the store. I've tried on several suits (via mail, and shipping is deducted from the credit) since then but haven't found a good fit. At this point I pretty much just made a donation to the brand. :-(

  • http://artsdumal.blogspot.com ArtsDuMal

    I understood the article as providing an alternative to commercial sunscreens, not as suggesting one eschew sunscreen and sun protection all together. I think ITG readers are knowledgeable and responsible enough to make their own decisions about sun protection. If anything, maybe reading the ingredient list will drive readers to find more natural sunscreens or to rely on physical sunblocks instead of chemical laden formulas.

    • http://www.nailgirl.net/ Nail Girl

      FYI everything is considered a chemical - even water

  • Chantaine

    This was a really well-written non-apology, I'm impressed. I just hope in the future ITG takes more responsibility for the content you post - you have great makeup articles, but your skincare articles have been more than questionable.

  • KitKat

    "it has become abundantly clear that what you excel at is curating fun products and finding out what cool people like to use in their beauty routines...Maybe stay in that lane and leave anything that's hard-core scientific, sunscreen-related, or a potential health/safety issue to others?"

    I totally agree with this! The people who write for this site are clearly not medical/scientific professionals. I bet most of them have English undergrad degrees. More lipstick reviews, less scam science please!

    • B

      Well said. That's also one of the reasons why I couldn't stomach the "Korean diet" post. The science behind it doesn't make any sense.

      As Alyssa put it so eloquently, I concur about the nonchalant attitude towards the whole issue - very disappointing despite the fact that I've been a supporter AND reader of the site since it first began. With such wide readership, surely there needs to be some sort of responsibility when it comes to talking about eating a certain food every day or making your own sunscreen - potentially health/life/safety issue!

      I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.

      To end, A "sorry, we f'd up with the original piece" post would have been much more welcome.".

  • ieatbugs

    As the founder of a science and evidence based skincare forum I'm really shocked and disturbed by the fact that you guys would continue to post content that suggests that it might be safe for consumers to DIY this product. The kind of machinery required to get a thorough and evenly applied mixture of zinc oxide is incredibly expensive because it takes a MASSIVE amount of pressure to disperse it properly within a solution. There is absolutely no way a consumer could do this at home, and without that they're just going to be applying clumps of zinc oxide randomly across their face. And that's just the *first* problem with trying to make a sunscreen. Given that it's one of the first lines in defense for a potentially deadly form of cancer, I hope that for the health and livelihood of your readers that they do not take your advice and consider trying to use a DIY sunscreen. It is simply unsafe and irresponsible for you to post something that suggests it could be anything but.

    • bluesky557

      Agreed. Zinc oxide is a highly charged particle that is attracted to other zinc oxide particles, which leads to clumping and not being evenly distributed AT ALL. Leaving giant holes in your "sunscreen" is dangerous and a terrible idea to promote.

  • Sara

    I think ITG did the best they could with this article. I don't mind that they're not taking an actual hardline position on the issue because it's plain to see that the actual quotes from the people they spoke to said that it was a bad idea, and since I know ITG aren't super science-y anyway (which isn't a bad thing, since I'm not either) then I'm going to listen to what the doctors/dermatologists in the article said. It isn't good business sense for them to alienate their readership that believes in natural remedies, which is why their interpretation seems a bit...faffy, and while I don't agree with it, I don't mind, because like I said, the actual quotes speak for themselves.

  • ohheythere

    Um, the dermatologists are definitely all recommending that you NOT make your own sunscreen, though some are being more gentle about it than others. They also specify that this iffy concoction is a risk you'd undertake for yourself and your skin, not a risk you should endorse to thousands of people on the internet. Did you tell them you were publishing an article to suggest this DIY formula to other people, because I can't imagine any dermatologist being thrilled their name was associated with this opinion piece. And really, the mixed opinions of the other ITG writers in the office is pretty irrelevant.

    Being "knowledgeable" about ingredients doesn't mean "I know zinc oxide is something that goes in subscreens." It means knowing how to properly formulate and emulsify the product so that it's effective, which as many comments have noted, you just can't do at home. Please listen to these licensed medical professionals as well as your readership and retract the article, or re-name it to a "mildly protective oil blend."

  • meme

    Holy moly readers. You all need to grow up some. ITG is in no way encouraging that any person make there own sunscreen and rely on that alone, they are merely saying: hey, IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, THIS IS AN NEAT RECIPE THAT WE FOUND. If you choose to do anything, makeup/skincare, clothing or otherwise that anyone tells you to do on the internet (or even in a book/mag!), you do so at your own risk. If ITG said a lipstick was brilliant and my lips had an allergic reaction, would they be to blame? Of course not, thats silly. This is a great blog, and even though I personally prefer to buy my sunscreen from a store (hello badger!), I commend them on portraying many points of views on skincare/health/makeup, even if Im not always in agreement. Im happy that they followed it up with a general sun safety piece, because in the end thats all that matters. Relax ladies and gents.

    • http://www.nailgirl.net/ Nail Girl

      But the thing is, allergies and allergic reactions are things people don't have much control or choice over. No one chooses to be allergic to peanuts, and they can't blame anyone for it so your point is moot. Yes, using any product is at the user's own risk but people have a right to know the level of risk involved - and this level was particularly high. Unnecessarily high when well formulated and proven alternatives are available for purchase. Sadly, I will be unfollowing ITG because of this non-apology to the entire situation.

    • s

      ok, (my) final note on this discussion. a lipstick is specifically formulated, by people who know what they're doing, for a specific purpose, and allergic reactions to cosmetic products will always happen and are highly personal. a homemade sunscreen on the other hand is never going to work, which is a problem, because sunscreen is what's protecting you from - worst case scenario - cancer. which is why it's irresponsible to recommend it. there are plenty of blogs out there who have posted recipes for diy sunscreen (because commercially available sunscreen is full of ~toxins~ and ~chemicals~), and people have proceeded to put that on THEIR CHILDREN. that's dangerous. simple as. (and telling people to relax is pretty condescending, especially considering that lots of people here aren't angry, merely pointing out the reasons for why diy sunscreen is inadvisable).

    • Maggi

      An allergic reaction to lipstick is not comparable to melanoma. I've had a friend die from melanoma, leaving behind a newborn son. So, no, I don't think ITG should be posting 'neat recipes' for sunscreen and I don't think the intelligent criticisms posted here are in any way an over reaction.

    • Mady

      You may be giving the average reader of that post too much credit. I'm sure there are plenty of highly impressionable people who thought "neat idea!", when in fact, it is not, and shouldn't have been promoted as such to begin with.

    • Alyssa Hertzig

      Sorry but I don't think it's that simple. If you choose to establish yourself as an authority on a subject, you need to be responsible about what you do with that authority. And whether you're talking a lipstick, a fragrance, or yes, even a DIY sunscreen recipe, simply by being featured on Into the Gloss, there is an implied endorsement. And, since the original piece was not tempered with anything like, "Hey guys, every doctor thinks you'd have to be batshit crazy to make your own sunscreen--and we don't think you should--but if you still want to for some weird reason, here's one girl who did it," that endorsement becomes more explicit, than implied. The bottom line: When you're talking about serious stuff--stuff that actually can be life or death, as dramatic as that sounds--everyone (certainly not just ITG, by any means) should just really think before posting.

    • meme

      @ beeswaxnoneofyour:
      Phew, I was beginning to think I was the only one that wasn't "enraged" "maddened" by this article. I don't find it irresponsible at all. It's important for readers to realize that ITG provides a platform and space for lots of opinions to be shared without this kind of uproar. It's good practice to showcase many points of view within the media and let people come to their own personal decisions.

  • Lili

    The problem with the original article, ITG, and anyone who thinks it's a good idea to whip up your own sunscreen in your kitchen is they are all treating sunscreen as if it were a COSMETIC. Sure, it's often marketed as the best way to "prevent wrinkles" but it's function is much more important and much more serious than that.

    It is meant to help protect us from becoming seriously and severely ill. So it would be better, smarter and more responsible to think of it as preventive medicine and treat it as such.

    Store bought sunscreens aren't perfect. Yes they can smell bad, yes they can cause breakouts and there's even debate over the benefits/drawbacks of chemical vs. physical sunscreen. But what guarantees do you have that a DIY version will actually work or that someone won't have a bad reaction to a DIY version? I would put more faith in the efficacy of those made in a lab by experienced chemists under specific controls than one brewed up on my stovetop using ingredients and methods collected by amateurs off the internet.

    No one would recommend mixing up a batch of homemade tetracycline to fight off an infection (at least I hope they wouldn't!), so why go that route and take a gamble with sunscreen?

  • Jezseeca

    I'm so intrigued. It's so hard to find a good sunscreen. I myself am looking for a super matte, high zinc oxide % like 13% or more, and no oils, and no 'cones of any cones. So hard to find! I used to adore BurnOut's Clean and Clear sunscreen made for surfers, but the changed their formula this year and it's totally and literally icky. Right now the current champion that meets the criteria is the new one by Derma E, but it's only spf30, but so far it's the only thing on the market that meets my criteria.

  • beeswaxnoneofyour

    Guys, I don't think ITG was advocating the original piece any more than they agree with all the people they have interviewed who swear blind that green juice fixes everything medical problem under the sun. I would hope we are all intelligent enough to read any of this and know that it is an opinion only. Personally, I can read this stuff and take what I enjoy from it, and the things I don't agree with, think, yeah, I don't agree, but it's that person's choice. It's not like I read something and go, yeah, it works for them, it's got to work for me. I just go with my head. If it doesn't sound logical, I don't do it. I would never do DIY suncare myself, because there is no way to know the freshness of what you've bought, the quality, and then you've got issues of product stability when mixed with other ingredients, a whole host of unknowns that I think can only really be controlled to a good standard when you have absolute traceability on sources and know your chemistry - and have QC. Also, I didn't think SPF was buildable - I just thought the thing with the highest number was ultimately the highest protection you had on. Don't know if someone wants to clarify, but I always had that impression.

    However, I didn't read the article and think ITG was being irresponsible (from a skin cancer prevention pov, I find bikini selfies by celebs on the internet infinitely more annoying and probably the big thing that perpetuates that want to lay out in the sun for hours, not one person's DIY spf recipe) or publishing clickbait (if anything I thought the concept of DIY suncare offered was a little naive on the part of the author, even though I admire the desire to create an at home alternative to mass market products generally) - they're offering someone a platform for their views, which are fair enough. If they didn't allow that, they would have to not include any alternative/holistic - ANY lifestyle choice in regards to food, medicine, skincare etc that could be construed as not sound medicine/chemistry etc (and let's not get started on people who smoke!) And that's pretty much everything, because we're all divided on things like petrolatum products, minerals, green juicing, organics, herbal meds, you name it.

    Maybe ITG needs to add a disclaimer saying - I don't know, really, just that the opinions stated are simply those of the writer and are not meant as gospel in any way. But I don't really think that would stop people from getting het up over a topic they feel strongly about! I think no publication/blog is going to be all things to all people, and they're going to present you with some things you may find contentious from time to time. Use your head. Say what you think, but remember that banning certain opinions leads to banning more and more until all you get is banal pandering to the masses stuff.

  • ITGLacey

    Eh, I'm bummed out now, too. I've wanted one of their suits for so long & now I just feel like I shouldn't give them my $$ :(

    • Monkey

      a lot of companies stock Minimale Animale (i.e. Nasty Gal) and if you buy through the third party you would be able to return it if it doesn't fit right :-)

  • Myrna

    Why don't you take the homemade sunscreen to a lab to test exactly how much protection it offers to UVB and UVA rays? That would settle the matter!

  • doublecurl

    Say it with me, EVERYTHING IS A CHEMICAL

  • ieatbugs

    Well said. If you'd be interesting in working for an evidence based site that is devoted to responsible reporting and information about skincare, let me know. We aren't trying to sell anything but knowledge.

  • Brian Stitt

    To be honest I do not believe sunscreen is good for you and not really sure if there is really the scientific proof supporting it! I eat good foods and when in the sun alot ramp up on broccolli and salmon etc. When younger and sunscreen was applied I was always burning and felt it did more harm then good. And when stopped using it, my skin was fine, yeah and tanned, but believe that it is healthier then blocking the ability for your body to produce naturally melanin, and take in the Vit D...


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