Friday, June 22, 2012

A few thoughts for the first Friday of summer!

I can't believe it's summer already. I'm still working on Christmas presents I didn't get time to make! Here are a few thoughts for the day before I spend the rest of the morning in the workshop! 

Please please please don't make your own sunscreen. I know it's tempting to think that all we have to do is make a lovely lotion and load it up with some sunscreen ingredients, but that's not the way it works! My wonderful husband has vitiligo, which means he has spots on his body devoid of melanin, so he burns pretty quickly. We stay out of the sun as much as we can, but we spend a fortune on sunscreen every year so we can have camping or lake swimming fun. If it were so easy to make an awesome and effective sunscreen, don't you think I'd be making it? The chemistry is fascinating, but there's a reason that there are entire textbooks on the topic - it's a very complicated process that we can't do at home. .

Anonymous wrote in this post: What if I don't like the ingredients of a sunscreen? What if it contains citrus oils? What if I think that a sunscreen that is acceptable could be better with more antioxidant extracts included?

What if any of those things? I don't care how experienced you are or what philosophy you believe, if you make a sunscreen and give it to someone while making those claims, any future pain and suffering someone might endure through burns or skin cancer after using your product will fall squarely on your shoulders. You will be the person responsible for making your loved one uncomfortable with a burn or worse. Think about that for a moment. The reason we make our products is to make the people we love feel better - more moisturized, more hydrated, lovelier hair, smoother skin, and so on - so why would you subject them to pain and misery? This isn't like making our normal products - the worst thing you'll experience with a poorly formulated shampoo I made is a bad hair day! - this is a drug, and you can't make claims without testing them.

If, after this diatribe and the posts below, you still want to make your own sunscreen, go do it. I've done my best to dissuade you...

Edited to add: Seriously. If you still want to make your sunscreen, don't write to me justifying why you're going to do it and think I'm going to support your decision. There's no way you're getting my seal of approval, and you aren't going to change my mind that we should make sunscreen at home.

Do not refer me to the EWG's report on sunscreen. This is not a reputable report, and is not considered scientific in any way. I've heard my scientific idols say that these reports are causing more harm than good as people turn away from sunscreen and get more sun exposure. Exposure to the sun can cause sunburns, premature photoaging, and skin cancer. Those are facts. The reports presented by the EWG are not facts. If you believe that the ingredients found in sunscreens cause cancer, do a google search and see how many reputable studies report this. 

Related posts:
Blast from the past: Sunscreens
Please do not make your own sunscreen! 

Here are some thoughts on adapting your products for summer, as well as some products I love for this season! You really need to try the cool ties! They are awesome! (Blondie is modelling the latest in cool tie fashion - hot pink with black isn't just for the 80s any more! And you can tell how excited I am about this topic by all the exclamation marks!)

LiseLise has written a great post on her blog about defining what natural means. I'm happy to see that I'm not the only confused by this topic! I've added her blog to the blog roll below because she has a blog you want to read! (Have I mentioned lately how awesome you are, Lise? Well, you are!)

I'm off to the workshop! Any requests? (And the picture above of the ice cream with peaches just kinda screamed summer to me! Raymond made the ice cream and canned the peaches, and it was so tasty!)


Lise M Andersen said...

awwww thanks Susan!! I am incredibly honored!!

Tammy said...

I used a product of mine last year on my little one and again this year.
What about the facts that point to sunscreen ingredients causing more cancer then the sun itself? The chemicals in sunscreen are nasty, nasty, nasty! I prefer to take shade now and then and take my chances with the sun.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Lise! You're simply awesome! I didn't know about your blog, and I spent quite some time on it yesterday! Awesome!

Hi Tammy! There is no proof and no facts that sunscreen ingredients cause cancer. There are no reputable studies that point to any of the ingredients used as chemical and physical blockers being carcinogenic. (Please do not refer me to the EWG study because it's a laughingstock in the scientific community. If you have other studies, please send them along to me! I'm always interested in learning.) We know - for a fact - that exposure to the sun can cause skin cancer. If you'd rather take the chance of burns, premature aging, and skin cancer, then have at it. If you want to make sunscreens, then make them. If there are any long term damages from doing so, it will be your responsibility. I'm done trying to argue this issue.

Anonymous said...

Hey Susan,
This probably is a very weird question, but I was wondering, just for curiosity's sake, what would happen if you made a change in a lotion recipe, say added extra of an ingredient in the oil phase but didnt reduce the percentage in the water phase (so the recipe didnt equal 100% anymore) what would happen? Ive never done it, nor am I planning to, I was just curious if it was that important you reduce 1% if adding 1% somewhere else and what would the result be if it happened? Thanks!

Littlebird said...

Skin cancer runs very heavily in my family. My grandmother has had melanoma twice. Did you know you can get it on your eyes? She's lost one eye and she's lost most of the muscle on the back of her bicep. My father has had 12 occurrences on his face of a "milder" cancer. This really isn't a joke to me, or something to take lightly.

I'm confident in my various creations but I will never touch sunscreen. We need to know that what we are getting is REALLY SPF 15, or 50, etc.

Susan is so very right on this subject.

Anonymous said...

Calm down, I'm not going to kill anybody. I live alone, my parents live in another country, my sister in another, my friends simply do not share my love for natural cosmetics and I have no intentions to sell it, everything I make, I make it for myself. I also said in my comment that I'll do it at my own risk, so if happens that I hurt somebody, that would only be me, which is unlikely because I can't tolerate hours and hours under the sun and I already love the color my skin is, I simply use sunscreen as a part of my skincare routine. I'll still do it, I'm obviously not looking for your approval.
By the way, I never use the EWG database as a reference, I already seen that is wrong in many ways.

VickiPS said...

Good article, Susan. I also really appreciated the link to Lise's excellent blog: great stuff! I had two comments:

First, a product I came across a couple of months back, from a practitioner of "natural therapies" who happened to be an RN in a previous life. Amongst her products is this one:
"Natural Sunscreen All natural, non greasy sunscreen. No nanoparticles… Made with coconut oil, neem, sesame, coffee, cocoa, turmeric and powdered zinc oxide. Suitable for under makeup or for lathering on the body. With a light brownish tint. Non waterproof. It has not been tested for spf rating, however I have been getting good results from kids, scuba divers. If you're a pale red head out all day in the sun it needs to be reapplied several times and still wear a hat! The zinc is also very healing on the skin if you have minor blemishes."

This scared the hell out of me, I have to say. More than that, it is ILLEGAL here in Australia to peddle something as sunscreen when it hasn't been tested and SPF-rated! I am still gobsmacked that this person is recommending her product for CHILDREN, especially as we have one of the highest rates of skin cancers in the world! (I am also astonished at how much profit margin you can add to an untouched igredient such as shea butter, simply by putting it into a jar and labelling it). Hmph.

Second (and this relates to my first point): Tammy, if you are in Australia you really should know better. If you want to take the risk that's your problem, but denying your child sun protection is something else altogether. Please, try to assess the facts rationally and do the right thing for your child. Skin cancers are horrible, but they ARE preventable. As Susan has already said, please share the scientific evidence to support your beliefs about sunscreens, so we can all make informed decisions?

Lorraine Pierce said...

I know liquid sunscreens are complicated, and no, I will never try to make them! Question: how can a mineral makeup claim an SPF by simply adding ti02 and ZO as actives?
Say it's 10% and 7% respectively. Fine, but how do they know how much a person is using to be able to claim that SPF?
I know they've had it tested to make the claim and yes, it's labeled as a drug then, but usage varies soooo much with minerals.
Ex: I have a lady in Australia that orders 5 full size foundations every few months. My 1 jar lasts me about three months. Obviously she laying it on thick!
So, even though we have ti02 and ZO in our minerals, I tell my customers we make no SPF claim because usage amounts vary, and to use a sunscreen with our makeup. CYA :)
L.A. Minerals

Jessica said...

Totally agree and I think this is an important-enough topic that Susan should write a new post on the first day of every summer!

I also find it remarkable that Tammy managed to contradict herself twice in a 24-hr period on this blog. In her first post she says she uses her homemade sunscreen product on her child, yet in the second post she says if she happens to hurt somebody, it would only be her.

I am a scientist (an epidemiologist) and there is evidence that early exposures can have a significant impact on future health and disease risk. Furthermore, sun exposure is a very well-established risk factor cancer (on the other hand, as Susan has mentioned, there is little to no evidence that chemicals in sunscreen cause cancer). Please, please, please be responsible. If you want to take a risk, take it yourself. Don't put homemade sunscreen on a child!!!! You're making decisions for that child and that comes with an enormous amount of responsibility. So, please make an effort to be properly informed.

Sorry for getting on a soapbox- but I couldn't help it. I have to say something when the topic concerns a child who, by his/her very nature, cannot make autonomous decisions about these things.

Kirk said...

Nobody can claim an SPF rating, regardless of ingredients, without getting the product tested to determine the SPF rating.

That said, the notion that if someone makes something intended to protect against the sun, it's their responsibility with regard to the long term consequences, is an irrelevant statement. Even if one always uses an over the counter product with an SPF rating, the long term consequences are still solely the purchaser's. No company that markets an SPF rated product is ever going to be held responsible for one of their customers contracting skin cancer, because cancer is such a complicated thing. It's impossible to associate any one instance of a melanoma with the use, or lack thereof, of any product.

Combine this with the fact that sun screen formulation science can be complex, and that even the people who sell SPF rated products sometimes make bad decisions, and the issue gets murky.

As an example, there are some very popular mass market cosmetics (not going to call them out with specific names) with rated SPF factors that get their rating from avobenzone and octinoxate. For the purposes of SPF testing, the combination offers both UVA and UVB protection, which is great, as many products still do not offer broad spectrum protection. The problem with some of these formulations that feature avobenzone is that they are not photostable. That is, they degrade rapidly with exposure to UV radiation.

For some formulations that people trust, their UV protection is getting eaten by the UV radiation at a faster than expected pace. They are not getting the protection that they expect.

There are also concerns that some of the chemical UV blockers can cause damage due to free radical creation. Through the course of doing their job blocking UV radiation, they break down. If this is happening just on the surface of the skin, it's probably not a major concern, but some of the chemical sunscreen ingredients are known to penetrate the skin. This is where the fear of sunscreen contributing to melanomas comes from, though the body of studies on the issue have not been conclusive. The studies have not disproven those fears, either, so there is reason to be conscious of the issue.

On the flip side of the chemical UV blockers are the physical UV blockers. In sunscreens, these are primarily titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These work, very directly, by physically blocking or reflecting the UV radiation. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have their own attendant health concerns, but are generally assumed to be safe when applied topically. There is some recent research that suggests that in non-encapsulated microparticle form, they can also penetrate the skin, and can cause damage in similar ways to the concerns about some chemical sunscreens, but the studies on this are even more sparse and less conclusive than the studies on the chemical sun screen ingredients.

The best thinking on this currently is that the non-micronized forms of these chemicals are perfectly safe when applied topically, as are the encapsulated micronized forms.

For myself, I started researching these issues because there is some common sun screen chemical that I am allergic to. I haven't done an exhaustive allergy panel of the different chemicals to try to isolate which one it is, because my reactions are fairly unpleasant, featuring both blistery pustules on my skin, where that skin has been exposed to sunlight (suggesting that the allergy is actually to the UV degraded form of one of the chemicals), and eyes that are swollen and gooped shut. The only definitively safe sunscreen for me is a 100% mineral sunscreen, and I can make those better and less expensively than I can buy them.

Were I to ever sell one of those formulations, though, I'd never claim an SPF without getting it tested for an SPF number. Nor would I make any claims about it being a sunscreen, as in the US there are a number of specifically described claims which are regulated by the FDA, and which require certified testing in order to make.

Tammy said...

Hey, that second post is NOT!! mine, Jessica!

Gah - now I am reminded why I keep to myself most of the time. My kid isn't vaccinated either, want to open THAT can of worms?

I live in the Yukon... we get 3 months of summer. I'm super careful in the sun without using chemical sunscreens. We don't spend days on the beach because our water simply isn't warm enough to swim in up here. If I were going to take my daughter out for a day of riding our horses? I might consider using a proper sunscreen.

In the meantime I'm careful about sun exposure, always have a large floppy hat and shirt on her, and we get lots of Vitamin D.

Crawling back under my rock now.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thanks to everyone participating in this discussion, but I think I'm done with this topic. It's taking up too much of my time, and there's nothing anyone can say that will convince me that making our own sunscreen is a good idea. If you want to make it, make it.

Kirk: Do you have your own blog? If not, I'm wondering why not?

Kirk said...

Susan, I do not. At least, not with regard to these topics. I have done, and still do on occasion, write articles about different aspects of software development. I may start writing on some of these subjects in the future, though. There is always so much to learn!