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Are DIY sunscreens really effective? Here's what a new study says

While Pinterest sunscreen recipes promise SPF protection a new study finds these claims fall short and put people at risk for sunburn.
/ Source: TODAY

As the weather heats up, many start thinking about sun protection. Some motivated people might turn to do-it-yourself sunscreen recipes on Pinterest to make their own, but a new study reveals this is a really bad idea: Sunscreen recipes on Pinterest do not offer any sun protection.

“There are a lot of aspirational things on Pinterest, but these claims were not really based on scientifically valid information. What’s at risk here is, at best, a sunburn, and, at worst, skin cancer,” Lara McKenzie, an author of the study published in the journal, Health Communication, told TODAY.

While people might think a homemade sunscreen is safer, a new study finds they offer no protection from the sun. Courtesy Health Communication

McKenzie and her colleagues examined 189 pins about sunscreen. Most of the pins touted the positive benefits of homemade sunscreen. Yet 68% of them included recipes that provided poor ultraviolet protection.

“The main ingredients that were listed, very few of them have any protective qualities,” said McKenzie, principal investigator at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Many of the pins alleged to have sun protection factors, ranging anywhere from SPF 2 to SPF 30, but these claims are untrue.

“None of them have SPF protection,” she said. “None of the pins that we looked at said the sunscreen went through testing to prove the effectiveness of it.”

Dr. Adam Friedman, a professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study, agreed the recipes overpromise protection.

“They literally have essential oils in them and they are making claims of SPF,” Friedman told TODAY. “To say ‘I am going to make a sunscreen at home that is as effective as a commercial one’ is insane.”

Coconut oil and apple cider vinegar are two of the most popular ingredients in homemade sunscreen recipes, but there's not a lot of evidence they protect against UVA and UVB rays. Courtesy Health Communication

The most popular ingredients in homemade sunscreen were coconut oil and apple cider vinegar. Friedman said that coconut oil appears to have some anti-inflammatory properties and helps other ingredients distribute evenly, but there’s no evidence it prevents sunburn.

“I get the allure of coconut oil but there is nothing supporting its use as a sun protectant,” he said.

Commercially-available sunscreens go through rigorous testing and regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make sure they are effective. When people make their own sunscreens, there is no way of telling if they work.

Some recipes suggest adding zinc — which is used in commercial sunscreens — to increase protection. Friedman noted that sunscreen doesn’t work like that.

“You can’t just throw the zinc into it and say it is SPF 30. It is the formulation of these ingredients that allows it to be effective,” he explained.

Commercial sunscreens work because the ingredients are formulated a certain way. With home recipes, a random mix of ingredients does not offer the same protection. Courtesy Health Communication

Both Friedman and McKenzie recommend that people stick to commercial sunscreens and other sun protection measures, such as staying in the shade and wearing hats, sunglasses and sun protective clothing.

“More is better when it comes to sunscreen. Apply before going outside. Apply every two hours,” Friedman said. “We are trying to help people.”