DIY Natural Sun Screen and Insect Repellant

This summer, avoid absorbing harmful chemicals by switching to these easy-to-make natural alternatives.

As a naturopathic doctor, I am mindful about what I am putting into my body. This includes what we put on our skin because it absorbs what gets put on it! There is growing concern about the chemicals found in sunscreens and insect repellents and whether they may be having negative impacts on us. Unfortunately, the evidence is not conclusive, though this doesn’t mean that they are not harmful. We do know the potential harm associated with prolonged unprotected sun exposure and the vast amount of diseases carried by various insects.

Luckily there are natural alternatives to both sunscreen and insect repellent that do not use chemicals and are effective enough to provide good protection.

Read on for my go-to easy to make recipes along with my recommendations for store bought alternatives. Not all natural products are made the same and it is important to look for choices with lower chemical burden that are also PROVEN to be effective alternatives!

Natural Sunscreen

It is so important to have proper skin protection from UV rays to avoid skin damage and cancer development. The problem with some of the chemicals found in commercial sunscreens is that they have the potential to disrupt hormones and cause damage elsewhere in the body.

There are several natural products that contain sun protecting factors (SPF), though not all have sufficient evidence to make this claim. Carrot seed oil and red raspberry seed oil are said to offer 20-40 SPF but I can’t find enough proof to rely on these two. Coconut oil, almond oil, lavender oil, and peppermint oil have all been shown to have around 5 SPF.

The best alternative is zinc oxide (and it has the research to prove it!). Zinc oxide does not get absorbed through the skin and it has broad spectrum UV protection!

I’ve adapted this recipe from Wellness Mama and the addition of essential oils provides some insect repellent action as well.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup of almond oil
  • ¼ cup of coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp. beeswax
  • 1-2 tbsp. shea butter
  • 2-4 tbsp. non-nano zinc oxide
  • 20 drops of lavender augustifolia essential oil and/or peppermint essential oil

Instructions

  1. Fill a big saucepan half full with water and put on medium heat
  2. Mix all your ingredients except the essential oils and zinc in a large mason jar and place in pan
  3. Stir your ingredient every few minutes until completely melted (wash the stirring instrument immediately when your done or you will be scrapping beeswax off)
  4. Remove the jar from the pan and slowly stir in each tbsp. of zinc.
  5. Add in the essential oils and stir them thoroughly
  6. Allow to cool on the counter. You may need to add more or less beeswax to get the right consistency.

This formulation gives about 20-30 SPF. The problem with homemade formulations is that you cannot guarantee their composition. This formulation is also not waterproof and should be applied every 3-4 hours. In addition to sunscreen, always use safe sun practices. Wear hats and try to avoid prolonged sun exposure, particularly between 12-4 pm. Cover the skin where you can to reduce exposure to sun rays.

If you are looking for a more natural sunscreen but don’t want to risk making it yourself, The Green Beaver Company has an awesome line of sunscreens!

Natural Bug Repellant

Mosquitoes are carriers of several nasty diseases, and here in Ontario we are most concerned with West Nile Disease. There is also growing concern about Lyme disease which is carried by ticks. This is in addition to the discomfort and itchiness that comes from a variety of insect bites. This is why insect repellent is so important and why you should not trade “natural” for effective protection.

There are several essential oils that have been shown to be equally effective as DEET, however not all essential oils have this effect and the species of the plant is very important!

In addition to using effective topical insect repellent, it is important to implement other safe practices.

When you are going to be outdoors for longer periods of time, opt for lighter colored clothing and avoid using products containing fragrances. When possible wear longer pants and sleeves, preferably with tapered ends (think elastic bands). Netting is also a great option, especially for little ones in strollers.

When it comes to ticks, do not panic. If you find a tick on a loved one, used tweezers to gently remove it. Find instructions here https://www.ontario.ca/page/lyme-disease#section-3. Put the tick in a sealed container so that it can be tested for Lyme disease. Not all ticks carrier this disease and they must be attached for 24 hours to transmit the disease.

For making your own bug spray or looking for a pre-made alternative, these are the essential oils along with their full Latin names that have EVIDENCE that they repel mosquitoes and/or ticks:

  • Lavender - Lavandula augustifolia & Lavandula dentata
  • Basil, Thai Basil, & Tulsi - Ocimum species
  • Eucalyptus species
  • Clove bud - Syzygium aromaticum
  • Lemongrass - Cymbopogon citratus
  • Catnip (Nepita cataria)

Homemade Bug Repellent

  • ½ cup of pure witch hazel
  • ½ cup of water or vinegar
  • 40-60 drops of a combination of the above essential oils

Combine all in a spray bottle and shake really well before each use. Reapply every 2-3 hours.

From personal experiences, combining essential oils in a carrier oil (coconut, almond, etc.) is more effective and lasts longer but less pleasant as an application.

If you are looking for more direction on products that are safer for your skin, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database.

Wishing you a safe and happy summer!

Melissa Bucking, naturopath and acupuncture provider, believes in educating and empowering patients to achieve their health goals. She is dedicated to providing care that supports the whole body for safe and long-term results. Every treatment plan is tailored to your specific needs and goals! Come visit her at Health Centre of Milton

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