Saturday, April 26, 2014

Making Sunscreen -- Now We've Got To Try It

Our first beach trip in what seems like forever is a little less than a month away, and while I hope by then not to need any sunscreen (hush your mouth doctor), I've got a feeling three blue-eyed little girls, not to mention the work-indoors adults in the group are not going to be that tanned.

As part of my crunchy journey, I've not only become obsessed by how much other people have done, but super concerned about what goes in and on the bodies of the little people.

Once again, the world is our library and I could find plenty of things to concern me about what is in the sunscreen setting around the house. Not the least of which are the multiple parabens found in so many body care products, including sunscreen, as a preservative, which not only have been linked to hormone imbalances but actually found in breast cancers.

Conversely, I can find a number of articles saying that a do it yourself recipe for sunscreen won't get the job done, not because an individual cannot buy the zinc or titanium dioxide to make it, but because you may not mix it properly and cannot really determine its SPF.

Well, I may miss a spot applying sunscreen too, but those same professionals never told me not to use it because of an uneven application. And really, how much SPF do I need at any given time? Does that number mean a lot to me?

The tide of skin cancer is a rising one, despite the fact that most people have had it drummed into their heads to use sunscreen and we no longer see children with the peeling nose I had throughout my childhood -- you know, back in the dark ages before folks worried about sunscreen. It's also rising despite the fact that most people do not get a lot of sun and the fact that a fair number of people are suffering from a Vitamin D deficiency as a result. At the same time, my farm family neighbors, who spend much of the summer outdoors getting browner and browner as they work the land, are not necessarily suffering from skin cancer. They raise and hunt their food and eat a healthy diet, not the fast food and junk most of the rest of the first world thrives on.

Could it be that the sun isn't really to blame as the studies have indicated? Perhaps our crappy diets cause our skin not to process sun in the way it should? Perhaps the sunscreens aren't as great as we'd like to think? Perhaps there's another answer rather than blaming the sun? If only there were a pill for that, but I guess sunscreen is the next best thing -- anything other than taking a closer look at our overall lifestyles.

My favorite crunchy blogger Katie at Wellness Mama subscribes to that idea, citing her own personal experience with avoiding sunburn not by avoiding the sun, but by eating a healthier diet and gradually increasing exposure to the point she could be outside all day in Florida and not burn. Since she claims a fair-skinned heritage (as do I), I'm going to follow some of her advice this year. Besides, I've already had skin cancer and although my doctor preaches against the sun, I not only feel my early burns are more likely to cause it than any I may get now, but also feel better when my skin gets sun, plain and simple. He cannot promise I won't have a recurrence if I avoid the sun, so I do my best not to get burned or fall asleep in a tanning bed and consider that my part. (OK, I've actually not been in a tanning bed since discovering black soap for my bathing and addressing my winter dermititis with a healthier alternative than the UV rays that once stopped my itching.)

Instead of sunscreen she recommends avoiding processed foods, vegetable oils, grains and sugars, and eating lots of healthy saturated fats, foods rich in Omega-3s, leafy greens and tomato paste. She also recommends supplements, including Vitamin D3 (5,000 IU/day - some evidence shows that Vitamin D can have a protective effect against sunburn and skin cancer); 2000 mg Vitamn C, astaxanthin (a potent antioxidant which acts as an internal sunscreen, but not for children), 1/4 cup coconut oil melted in a cup of herbal tea per day - citing that the Medium Chain Fatty Acids and saturated fat are easily utilized by the body for new skin formation and are protective against burning, and Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend.

I'll try to make the diet adjustments and after some research added the astaxanthin, which is very reasonably priced and a potent antioxidant, as a supplement (already had vitamin D3 and C), but the Fermented Cod Liver Oil/High Vitamin Butter Oil Blend is really pricey and the one time I tried the coconut oil in tea I thought I would be sick to my stomach. Ugh. While I'm sure the actual oil is best, I may be forced to consider a supplement instead.

Still, even if I can manage my own sun exposure, early season and children will require some sunscreen in the immediate future and on vacation.

So, with the beach trip still weeks away I decided to make sunscreen and use it in a less crucial environment to evaluate it before the beach trip to make my own decision about what to use. Of course, the children's parents will also get to weigh in but perhaps we'll be able to come to a consensus.

After browsing through an assortment of recipes with hard to determine percentages for ingredients, or ingredients I did not have on hand, even after buying zinc oxide, I settled on the recipe for sunscreen bars from Wellness Mama. Having already made lotion and body butter (I'll write about them later), I had ingredients on hand and was ready for my newest crunchy enterprise.

Sunscreen Bar Ingredients:

1 cup coconut oil
1 cup Shea butter (you can also use cocoa butter or mango butter or a mix of all three equal to 1 cup)
1 cup beeswax (if you'd rather have lotion or body butter, leave this out and whip it as it cools)
2 tablespoons (or more) of Zinc Oxide
1 tsp Vitamin E oil to preserve
Optional: a few drops of essential oil for scent (do not use citrus oils as they can increase reaction to sun!)

You'll need to melt the beeswax, oil and butter in a double burner. I use a mason jar in a pot of boiling water and just use the same jar each time I'm concocting something because anything with wax is a little (ok, darn near impossible) to clean.

Having had problems with beeswax not melting as well as I thought before, I started with the beeswax alone. I got the pelleted version (everything came from Amazon) and it takes forever to become a liquid. When I made a lotion in one of my first endeavors, I didn't melt it first and I still encounter little wax pellets when using the stuff.

Once the beeswax was melted, I added the Shea butter and coconut oil. Coconut oil is not what we think of as oil. It melts at 80 degrees or so, but otherwise is more like shortening. When everything was melted and stirred together, I put it into a plastic bowl (my glass bowl was being used for sourdough pizza dough), then added the vitamin E oil and essential oils. I went with some citronella and lemongrass, both of which are bug repellent in the hopes that I can fight sunburn and mosquitoes at the same time.

The final ingredient was the zinc oxide -- not nano sized, which can be absorbed by the skin, but still a risk for breathing. I did not wear a recommended mask, but handled it carefully and didn't raise a dust either. Once it was stirred in the color of the concoction changed to a lighter color, and I put it into used baby food containers to cool. The bars are supposed to be solid below 80 degrees and rub on like a deodorant stick. We'll see.

So now that sunscreen is made, I'm ready for the sun to shine today and give it a test run. Little people will be hanging with me through the morning and the forecast is for sunny skies.

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