Pediatric HealthSource: Is Homemade Sunscreen Safe for Children?

Recipes for “natural” products abound online, but some ingredients actually increase the risk of UV exposure and skin damage.

Lara B. McKenzie, Ph.D., MA
It's always important to apply sunscreen to children when outdoors.

Q: Is homemade sunscreen safe to use?

A: Parents always want to give their children the best care. Often, some parents try to protect their children by using natural, organic or vegan products—including homemade sunscreen. The truth is, homemade sunscreen does not provide adequate protection and can actually increase skin’s exposure to the sun.

Store-bought sunscreen is tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure it protects skin from ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which cause damage by penetrating the skin deeply, and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which cause sunburn and are closely related to skin cancer. Its sun protection factor (SPF) and water/sweat resistance are also tested.

Sunscreens made at home aren’t tested or regulated and can be harmful. Oils often used as a base in homemade sunscreens (such as coconut, carrot seed and raspberry) actually absorb sunlight, allowing UV rays to penetrate skin. If parents purchase titanium oxide or zinc oxide (which work by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting harmful rays) for a home recipe, they may have trouble working with them as they are difficult to blend, and some or all of your child’s skin may still be left unprotected. Lastly, the SPF in homemade sunscreens is often far too low to be effective. Even with the best intentions, sunscreen recipes found online can leave children more likely to become sunburned.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health. For more pediatric health news parents can use, visit our blog: 700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org.

Lara B. McKenzie, PhD, MA, FAAHB is a principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Lara B. McKenzie, Ph.D., MA

Sunscreen Tips

When thinking about what sunscreen is best for the family, parents should consider:

  • High SPF and broad spectrum – Look for sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, never lower, and one that protects against UVA and UVB rays.
  • Protection in water – “Water resistant” sunscreen is effective for up to 40 minutes in the water and “very water resistant” sunscreen doubles the protection time to 80 minutes.
  • Reapply often – Even when sunscreen has all the necessary characteristics, it should be reapplied every two hours, and even more often if children are swimming or sweating a lot.