I was, surprisingly, the first one to arrive on Thursday. It had been one of those days where nothing had gone according to plan — my alarm clock hadn’t gone off, meetings had run late. But somehow, as I walked up the steps of Anarres Natural Health, sweat beaded on my forehead from the bike ride over, I realized that I’d made up those few precious moments. I was on time.
There was a note on the front door of the house welcoming me in, and as I took a seat on a brightly coloured cushion on the floor I was greeted by Xana. Four years old, ringlets of blonde hair, a beautiful blue ball gown on… her big blue eyes widened as she sized me up, but she didn’t say a word.
Within moments, the others began to arrive. There were six of us in total, all ready to learn how to make our own sunscreen.
I’d seen an advertisement for the workshop (run as a fundraiser for the Women’s Healthy Environments Network) in the Centre for Social Innovation‘s newsletter, and while it immediately caught my eye, it wasn’t until the day before that I finally decided to sign up. I hadn’t taken a course before as part of 52 Projects, and had kind of reveled in the thrill of having to fend for myself. The endless google searches, the library books, the late night phone calls to friends for advice. But as Tracey began to introduce the workshop, I realized that it was 100% worth it.
The first half of the workshop was spent trying to absorb a fraction of Tracey’s incredible knowledge about natural health care products. We learned about the importance of drinking lots of water (2-3 litres a day) not only to detoxify our bodies and keep us moist, but also because well hydrated skin is less suceptible to burning. We learned that UV-B rays are shorter, and are the ones that lead to tanning/burning. We learned that most natural oils and butters (coconut, avocado, hemp seed, shea, etc) are naturally SPF 15, but only for UV-B rays… but wait. Let me just explain from the top.
Tracey began by giving us a lesson about the sun. She explained that there are 2 types of UV rays. UV-A rays are the longer ones, which are most harmful when we’re talking about things like melanoma or skin cancer. We don’t feel them, like we do with UV-B rays, because they don’t heat up our skin, but they are definitely something to protect against (and something that many sunscreens don’t). Only three things can block out UV-A rays — zinc oxide, titanium oxide and various chemicals. UV-B rays are shorter, and are ones the make us burn.
SPF is an industry-created term that stands for Sun Protective Factor, and the number corresponds with the number of times longer you should be able to stay in the sun as a result of wearing the sunscreen. SPF 15 means you should be able to be in the sun 15 times longer, and with SPF 30, 30 times longer. The problem is that everyone’s skin reacts to the sun differently, and the intensity of the sun’s rays change given the time of day, so you can’t really equate the two. Also, we learned that your body metabolizes the protective particles in sunscreens after 2 hours, so you should always reapply after that amount of time.
Tracey then told us that there is some question as to whether higher SPFs are actually proportionally more effective. Many say that you can’t actually create a lotion that is higher than SPF 30, and some dermatologists say that anything over SPF 50 could actually be bad for you.
From there, we started trying things out. Cocoa butter, avocado oil, coconut oil, shea butter, hemp seed oil… the list goes on. With each item, Tracy explained the beneficial properties. She also reminded us that all whole citrus essential oils (mandarin, tangerine, orange, lemon, lime, etc) are phototoxic, meaning that they cause skin to burn faster in the sun! So don’t stick those guys in your product.
After a bit more chatting, we moved into the kitchen to get to work.
Just like when you’re canning or pickling, sterilization is a huge part of sunscreen making. The ones you buy in the store are packed with preservatives, but au natural requires a pretty strict process. Everything we used – from spoons to pots to measuring containers – got a good wipe down with a very strong rubbing alcohol. We also put our products in aluminum containers, which helps with the preservation because our hands never touch the product, and the container keep the lotion cool.
As the base for all our sunscreen’s, we used Tracey’s basic white lotion. Because of timing, we didn’t prepare it ourselves (and for those of you in Toronto, Tracey sells the lotion in bulk at a very reasonable rate), but to ensure the completeness of this How-To, I’m including both. So, to start, you want to make a basic lotion base (which is a great moisturizer too!):
Cocoa/Shea Butter Lotion Recipe (Makes five 150 ml bottles)
- In a double boiler, melt together 40g pola emulsifying wax and 50 ml fractionated coconut oil very slowly
- In a separate pot, gently heat together 500ml water and 100ml rose water, until bubbles start to form and rise to the top
- With the first pot still on low heat, slowly start to trickle the heated waters into the melted wax, stirring constantly
- Remove from heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens into a lotion
- While still warm, add 1 tsp grapefruitseed extract (this is an anti-oxident and fungicide) and any additional extracts or essential oils, stirring thoroughly.
- In another pot, gently melt 100g of either shea or cocoa butter. Add it to the lotion mix, stirring constantly until thoroughly mixed.
- Pour the lotion into clean pumps immediately. It will firm up more within 24 hours.
We started at Step 5, and did both a shea and cocoa butter mix. Both are naturally SPF 15, although I don’t think they protect against UV-A Rays (I’ll have to check back with Tracy about that). While some of these ingredients may seem a bit hard to track down, Tracey sells the individual ingredients at great rates for DIYers, and you can look up her list of products here.
We then went on to make an SPF 30 lotion, which is definitely UV-A and UV-B protective, because of the zinc oxide. This recipe makes five jars.
- Melt together 40g cocoa butter, 25g beeswax, 150ml avocado, sesame, hemp seed or coconut oil (we chose hemp seed because it’s locally produced)
- At the same time, heat gently 225 ml flower water (you can use plain water or aloe vera gel water too), and 12.5g borax
- Pour the waters into the oily mixture
- The add 2.5ml benzoin, 2.5 ml grapefruit seed extract and 2.5 ml vitamin E
- Blend in 50 g zinc oxide
- Pour into five 120ml open mouthed glass gars and let set!
One of the things that was most impressive about this workshop was Tracey, and her immense amount of knowledge. The workshop was just as much a social justice lesson as it was about natural health care and making sunscreens. We talked about fair trade and the conditions under which non-fair trade cocoa butter is harvested. We spoke about the various issues with traditional cosmetics. And when it comes to waste, no stone is unturned. The plastic wrappers that the jars come in? Well, they go to a local supplier who uses them to sell products at the farmers market. And when we cut the plastic straws at the bottom of the pumps for our jars? Those get donated to a craft centre for kids.
I could go on and on about all the other stuff I learned, but instead I’ll leave you with three last things. First, the high recommendation that you take a course with Tracey. You can make your own shampoos, cleaners, face masks, sunscreens … the list goes on. Second, if you just want to buy her stuff, either check out her website or go to Karma Food Co-op and look for her stuff. And lastly, when you’re looking at sunscreens or cosmetics at the store, here’s the list Tracey gave us of toxic substances to watch out for.
- Benzones (avobenzone, doixybenzone, oxybenzone, sulsobenzone)
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC)
- Salicyclates (octyl salicyclate, Trolamin Salicyclate)
- Padimate O
- PABA (Para amino benzoic acid)
- fragrances and FD&C colours
To find out more about these, go to http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/ and look each ingredient up.
Have fun the Sun!