Less Plastic Challenge Day 16: Sunscreen

Summer is in full swing around here, which means lots of sunscreen every time we hit the beach, go for a hike, or ride our bikes. Sunscreen is yet another body product that is often packaged in plastic (with a few exceptions) and contains toxic chemicals that aren't good for our bodies and the environment.

I made a travel size! 

I made a travel size! 

Mainstream sunscreen contains the chemical Oxybenzone which is used to protect the skin against UVB rays (zinc oxide is the natural alternative). Oxybenzone is also responsible for ocean reef and eco-system destruction. Unfortunately for people, this ingredient is a known endocrine disrupter, meaning it can cause hormone imbalances when it enters the bloodstream through the skin. It has also been linked to cancer. Other toxic ingredients in many sunscreens include synthetic fragrances, retinyl palmitate, parabens, phthalates, octinoxate, homosalate, and octocrylene.

What We Can Do:

  • Make our own sunscreen with zinc oxide
  • If we don't want to make our own, opt for zinc oxide sunscreen that's not packaged in plastic. Check out Tiny Yellow Bungalow's amazing shop!

Vanilla Blossom Sunscreen

Ingredients:  SPF 20

1/4 cup shea butter

1/4 cup grated beeswax

2 tablespoons non-nano & uncoated zinc oxide powder (cover nose and mouth with bandana to prevent inhalation while making this recipe)

2 tablespoons coconut oil*

2 tablespoons cocoa butter

10 drops vitamin E oil

20 drops vanilla essential oil (optional)

*option to add 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup more coconut oil or another carrier oil (jojoba, sunflower seed, etc.) if you want this recipe to be really creamy. I like my sunscreen on the thicker side, because it doesn't seperate and melt when it gets too hot in the summertime. 

The Steps: 1. Combine the grated beeswax, shea butter, cocoa butter, and coconut oil in a double boiler. If you're like me and don't have one of these, put your ingredients in a ceramic bowl, place over a pot filled with water, and bring to a boil. 2. Once the ingredients have melted and are completely translucent, remove the bowl from the heat and add the essential oil, vitamin E oil, and stir. 3. Slowly add the zinc oxide a little at a time while stirring vigorously to help the zinc dissolve. 4. Once the zinc is fully incorporated into the mixture, pour your sunscreen into a sterile metal tin or glass jar. Not all the zinc will dissolve, so there will be some at the bottom of the bowl. You can add the leftover zinc to your container, or leave it out. 5. Let your sunscreen cool and set before use. 

Zinc Oxide:

It's very important to use non-nano and uncoated zinc oxide in homemade sunscreen, because the non-nano and uncoated zinc oxide particles are too large to be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. 

 Sun Protection Factor (SPF):

SPF is the level of protection from UVB rays. An SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks up to 97%, SPF 20 blocks between 94-96%, and an SPF 15 blocks 93%. SPF does not rate protection against UVA rays. We want to protect ourselves from UVA rays because they're the ones that cause skin cancer. A higher SPF sunscreen (50, 75, 100) does not necessarily mean greater UVA protection. 

Zinc oxide sunscreen is a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen that blocks the UVA and UVB rays by reflecting them! Coconut oil has a natural SPF of about 4-10. Shea butter and cocoa butter's SPF is 3-6. That being said, this recipe is still around 20 SPF or a little higher based on the proportions of ingredients. Some homemade sunscreens use carrot seed oil which has a natural SPF of 38-40, or red raspberry oil which has a natural SPF of 28-50. These oils are just a bit pricey for me, and I've found I don't need them, as the ingredients in my recipe work very well for my skin. 

Sunscreen Application: 

The application of sunscreen depends on our skin and how fast we tend to burn. For example, if you start to burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, then using an SPF 15 sunscreen would help prevent burning for 15 times longer, or 150 minutes. This sunscreen is suitable the body. If you're going to be swimming a lot, or you begin to sweat, it's best to reapply right away. How often you reapply your sunscreen also depends on your skin. To apply, simply dip your fingers into the sunscreen and rub into your skin. It's important that your hands are clean to keep bacteria out of the product. The zinc is white, but it rubs on clear! 


I find it best to store my sunscreen in a cool and dark place to keep it from melting on hot days. Because it contains Vitamin E oil which is a natural preservative, it will last anywhere from 6-8 months (in my experience). If I have any sunscreen leftover after this summer, I will store it in the fridge to extend its shelf life over the winter.