Sunscreen, naturally

Local mother makes her own sunscreen from natural ingredients

Stephanie Plummer began making her own sunscreen from natural ingredients after becoming concerned about reducing toxins in her and her 3-year-old son’s environment.

Stephanie Plummer began making her own sunscreen from natural ingredients after becoming concerned about reducing toxins in her and her 3-year-old son’s environment.

Photo by Katherine Green

Stephanie Plummer’s basic natural-sunscreen recipe:
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (jojoba or sesame-seed oil can substitute)
  • 1/4 cup shea butter
  • 2 Tbsp. beeswax granules
  • 20-30 drops carrot-seed essential oil
  • 1. Using a double boiler or small pan over low heat, melt coconut oil, shea butter and beeswax together. The beeswax will be the last to melt.
  • 2. When the beeswax is melted, remove the mixture from the heat and let cool to room temperature. If there are some lumps, that is OK.
  • 3. Move the mixture to the fridge for 15-30 minutes. You want it to set up, but still be soft enough to whip.
  • 4. Take the mixture out of the fridge, and using a stand or hand mixer, start to whip it. Drop in the carrot-seed essential oil and keep mixing until light and fluffy.
Use as you would any regular sunscreen. Application rates will depend on your activity and exposure to water. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator between uses.

As a mother of a 3-year-old son, Stephanie Plummer is trying to do things as naturally and toxin-free as possible.

“That was my New Year’s resolution this year—to slowly but surely transfer everything over from synthetic stuff,” Plummer said. “It’s nice to know that I’m not putting toxins in anything.”

Plummer recently began making her own deodorant for her family, and using essential oils to treat all manner of illnesses.

She also makes her own sunscreen.

“I have always tried to do things as naturally as I could,” she said, “but we used [conventional] sunscreen growing up, and I didn’t think anything of it.

“Last year, [my family] used regular sunscreen; I knew it wasn’t good for [my son], but I didn’t know what else to use.” Conventional sunscreens often contain such potentially health-damaging chemicals as oxybenzone and various parabens, as well as retinyl palmitate, which research suggests increases the growth of skin tumors on sun-exposed skin.

When Plummer discovered essential oils and their various homeopathic uses, she was thrilled. Not only had she found natural remedies for common ailments, but she also discovered an online support group in connection with Utah-based essential-oils producer Young Living Essential Oils, from which she could garner new information and share recipes (and for whom she now works as an independent distributor).

“Through them,” said Plummer, “[I found out that] carrot-seed oil has a natural SPF [sun-protection factor] of 38 to 40, and I thought, ‘Why can’t I just make my own [sunscreen]?’” (A 2009 study published in Pharmacognosy Magazine confirms that sun-protection products containing carrot-seed oil have a natural SPF of 38-40.)

She’s been making her own sunscreen for about a year now, and believes that it has protected her family from the sun as effectively as the conventional kind.

Plummer’s recipe uses “coconut oil, and shea butter—and carrot-seed oil—and I put lavender [oil] in, because lavender’s great for sun protection.

“We don’t use a lot of sunscreen anymore [of any kind],” she noted, “because I’ve also read that we protect ourselves a little bit too much from the sun, and we’re not getting all the vitamins we need. But if we’re going to be in the water all day, I don’t want [my son] to get burned.”

The recipe Plummer uses is not the only option around; many recipes for natural sunscreen are available. “There are tons of different recipes you can use—I’ve found a lot of recipes on,” she said. “I know a lot of people use the zinc-oxide powder [a powdered mineral that absorbs UVA and UVB rays] that you can buy. I don’t need to use it because of the carrot-seed essential oil.

“I like using essential oils versus zinc oxide [because], in addition to protecting our skin, they have healing properties … so I figure we’re getting the double benefit,” Plummer said.

She says to be wary of essential oils that have a label saying “Do not ingest,” as these have probably had synthetic ingredients added. “Even if you inhale something, you digest it,” said Plummer, “so you really don’t want anything near you that you don’t want in your bloodstream.”

However, John Campbell, wellness manager at the Chico Natural Foods Cooperative, says that essential oils labeled “Do not ingest” are usually labeled this way to avoid being labeled as supplements. These essential oils are not food or pharmaceutical grade, but that does not necessarily mean that there has been anything added or taken away, or that they are unsafe in any way, he said.

“The only thing you don’t want to put [in your sunscreen] is anything with citrus oils,” Plummer said, “because citrus oils are photosensitive—they react to sun exposure—and they will discolor your skin. They won’t really hurt you, but you’ll have a weird, brown, patchy, strange tan.”

Dr. Kafele Hodari of North Valley Dermatology Center says that the concern with mainstream sunscreens revolves around whether they contain nanoparticles of any of their ingredients—particles that have been reduced to a size at which they can actually pass through cell walls to target specific cells. Some people are concerned that these ultra-fine particles may be unsafe (some have suggested they can cause cancer); Hodari said these concerns have not been conclusively proven to be valid.

He recommended using a zinc- or titanium-based sunscreen, “with the fewest ingredients possible.”

While Hodari said that he had no particular knowledge about carrot-seed oil having a naturally high SPF, he did say that he didn’t believe it would be harmful.

While Plummer expressed concern about Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun exposure, Hodari said that people actually don’t need to be in the sun all the time to get Vitamin D. “There are many issues related to Vitamin D deficiency—including fatigue, joint pain, and possible hair loss, but you need only about 20 to 30 minutes per week of UV light to convert Vitamin D,” he said.