Step 2: Ingredients and where to find them

Picture of Ingredients and where to find them

Water mix:
1/3 cup witch hazel (or 5 tbsp if you do not use coffee)
2 tsp fresh coffee grounds (optional)

Oil mix:
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 1/4 tsp ewax
1/2 tsp Neem oil
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cocoa powder (optional)

Powder mix:
1 tbsp zinc oxide (quantity can be doubled for extra protection)
1 small pinch xanthan gum (do NOT omit)
1/2 tsp turmeric (optional)

1/4 tsp vitamin E
1/4 tsp essential oils (combination of citronella, eucalyptus and lavender, but pennyroyal and peppermint can be used too)

Note on ingredients:
Coconut oil, sesame oil, vitamin E, zinc and turmeric are all "sun" ingredients. Turmeric (a yellow spice you'll find in any supermarket) was used as a cure all in Ayurvedic medicine, but since those guys also believed diseases were caused by demons and that you can wish yourself not to age, I included it here for other reasons: #1 color. I prefer to look sickly yellow rather than zombie white (the coffee and cocoa are also here to improve the color). #2 according to wikipedia turmeric is used in sunscreens and to protect foods from sunlight. If it keeps a pickle nice and firm, hey, maybe it'll keep me from getting flabby! Now I'll just close my eyes and wish for eternal youth...

Neem oil, witch hazel and the essential oils are the bug ingredients. It is a potent ,dark oil which in this diluted form is safe (and good for) your skin, but it should be avoided during pregnancy. Neem has a distinctive smell somewhere between garlic and peanuts. Unpleasant at first, but it grows on you. It's kind of comforting, like the smell of farts under bed covers.

Xanthan gum is necessary for three reasons: it thickens the lotion so it will not run all over when you try to apply it. It stabilizes the emulsion (keeps the water from separating), and it keeps the zinc oxide suspended in the lotion. Don't be fooled by the small quantity required: you need it.

Ewax is another crucial ingredient. The E stands for emulsifying, and it's purpose is to blend the oil and water into a smooth, stable cream (you might find it under the name "emulsifying wax NF" in online stores. It comes in white, waxy flakes which are easy to measure and melt. It is not considered "all natural" because it is composed of a blend of cetearyl alcohol and polysorbate 60.

Soap Goods supplies all the above ingredients and it might be easiest just to order everything from them, but I found my xanthan gum in the vitamin section of my local Fairway for less (however considering the time spent searching, and the cost of transportation, the savings, if any, are negligible). I would definitely buy the witch hazel from a local pharmacy, and the coconut and sesame oils from a grocery store because they are widely available and heavy to ship.

dessi753 years ago
Is the witch hazel distilled or with the alcohol? Belsey, did you try the lecithin as an emulsifier? Thanks
belsey (author)  dessi753 years ago
The one I used was with alcohol. And no, I did not try it with just lecithin and no wax, member dbarrett squires was going to try that.
freebird8843 years ago
I just have a quick question about the essential oils part. I have an allergy to citronella, so from my understanding of how your instructions are written, I'm able to use instead a mix of pennyroyal and peppermint? Also just to clarify, would the mix be 1/4 peppermint and 1/4 pennyroyal, or a total of 1/4 of the two together?

Thanks for any help!
belsey (author)  freebird8843 years ago
Yes, you understood correctly, you can use different combinations of oils. In terms of the quantity, all the essential oils combined should come to about 1/4 tsp. You could also try mixing in some geranium, which is also supposed to repel insects and smells really great (a rose kind of smell).
Hi Belsey,

I just had one other question. Are both the sesame and neem oil necessary? Or could I just use a full tsp of neem oil or subsitute the sesame oil with jojoba oil?

Thanks for any help again!
belsey (author)  freebird8843 years ago
You can substitute any oil with another -- however keep in mind that these were chosen for a reason. Neem for its bug repellent properties, and sesame because it's supposed to help protect against the sun. Substituting the oils can also change the texture and "feel" of the cream.
Do you think it would be possible to replace the e-wax with lecithin? I have used lecithin in a cream soap before with good results, just not sure how it would react with these ingredients -and don't have a tonne of money to waste testing the theory :-)
Did you end up using the lecithin? And in what form and what quantity if you did?
belsey (author)  dbarrett squires4 years ago
Lecithin is an emulsifier, so it should help keeping the oil and water together, but I've never tried it on its own without ewax or the beeswax and borax combo. It might work... you result would be less thick, and I don't know how stable the emulsion would be -- but I do know that it would make your skin feel incredibly soft. Lecithin does that. Let me know how it turns out!
You should sell this! Do you possibly have an Etsy shop?
belsey (author)  beth_squidginty3 years ago
I do, but I neglect it terribly and nothing's for sale there... I'd hesitate to sell this type of item there anyway, because I like avoiding preservatives and occasionally a batch goes bad much sooner than expected: if I've made it for myself it's no big deal I can just throw it out and start over, but that's not so great if I sold it to someone else... Plus for it to be profitable the cream would have to be expensive, and I'd rather make money by helping others save money rather than take advantage of their lack of knowledge....
kokkonuts3 years ago
Great read really informative. One question though. I would like to use the infused version of the oils you mention or even in a tincture... Since I would be using the ewax anyways it should be fine right?
belsey (author)  kokkonuts3 years ago
You can infuse the oil or make a tincture using the witch hazel -- as long as you keep the proportion of oil and water soluble ingredients close to those given here you should be just fine. The only difference it could make is that it might shorten the shelf life of your cream.
idleFLUX4 years ago
oh man I just tried to post a really long comment but it didn't work -____- anyways, I was just saying that I'm so glad I found your post and had a couple questions!

-I love using Nutiva's organic, unrefined, cold-pressed coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature. Do you think this e-wax and other ingredients all mixed together with this type of oil will keep it emulsified and from clumping together?

-which zinc oxide on soapgoods.com do you use? I searched and found two for sale. one says "zinc oxide usp" and the other has "kodax 911" in the description... o_O

-does the vit. e act as a preservative also?

-as far as using this at the pool/beach, how often when swimming should I reapply? or is there another type of wax or something like lanolin/vegan alternative I could add to it to make it more water..durable?

I plan to make my own version of this for everyday use since I'll be moving to Florida next year with some replacements to the bug oils like lavender and geranium but would still like to have a nice reliable batch for when I go swimming. After researching sunblocks(which is how I stumbled upon your post) I just can't find a good brand ...or one that I can afford for regular use since I go swimming a lot !!! Sorry about all the questions.. :3 you just seem like you know what you're talking about :]
belsey (author)  idleFLUX4 years ago
Yes, ewax will definitely work with your oil. Just replace any oil in my recipe with the same amount of your coconut oil and you're good to go -- though your cream might end up slightly thicker if the temperature is cool (probably not much of an issue for sunscreen).

USP stands for "United State Pharmacopeia" and the Soapgoods website isn't very clear about differentiating which is which -- USP 1 is the finest mesh (which I have been avoiding, perhaps out of paranoia) USP 2 is the coarsest (probably the one Soapgoods simply call zinc oxide) and USP 3 is in between. I would suggest emailing them and finding out which is which, then ordering the regular zinc and not the micronized kind.

Yes Vitamin E acts as a preservative, because it is a very strong anti oxidant -- this means it helps prevent oil from turning rancid, although it will not prevent bacterium from growing.

I do have another recipe for sunscreen which is almost completely water proof (to take it off at the end of the day you practically need to scrub yourself will a brillo pad) but I have not had the chance to post it yet. Go to my website, sign up for my (very infrequent) newsletter, and that will give me just the motivation I need to write another newsletter with that very timely recipe...
nbullock4 years ago
i'm not crazy about the smell of neem..... could i leave it out and just use the other essential oils?? thank you so much for this post!!!
belsey (author)  nbullock4 years ago
Of course -- but mixed with these other scents, in my view, it's not so bad. Omitting the Neem will probably make it a weaker and less durable insect repellent, but if avoiding bugs is your primary motive for making the cream then you should probably go for a commercial repellent with more potent chemicals.
You can use Z-Cote Zinc Oxide Translucent zinc oxide which provides maximum UV protection but without the extra whitening typical of zinc. I get it at tkbtrading.com
Here's the manufacturer's brochure on Z-Cote:

Here's the tkbtrading page.

It appears that Z-Cote is exactly the new nano zinc that you cautioned against on the previous page.

According to this: answers.google.com  The average pore size is 50 microns, which is much larger than the .2 micron Z-Cote or the .12 micron sized regular zinc oxide (this is the size of the product Soap Goods sells as well (pdf) )

According to this dermatology website, the micronized particles like Z-Cote can be potentially hazardous, but they also say that micronized particles coated with Dimethicone help to alleviate some of these risks.  On that same TKB site, they offer HP1 Z-Cote which is exactly that, coated with Dimethicone, for not much more money.

OK, that's enough research for now.  Anyone want to chime in?
belsey (author)  teeps5 years ago
 Thanks for contributing your research!
sfromer belsey4 years ago
I'm a bit scared off by all the comments about how dangerous the powdered form of zinc oxide is. Can you substitute a 40% zinc oxide cream (the highest I've ever seen at a drug store) for the powdered zinc oxide, and in what proportion? I'd love to make a sunscreen without the bug repellent...
belsey (author)  sfromer4 years ago
I'm a little confused by your question: a 40% zinc oxide cream has zinc oxide powder in it, at a proportion of 40 parts per 100 (by weight). The comments here are about micronized particles -- zinc oxide made tiny to avoid the whitening effect when you cover yourself with it (this type is sometimes called nano particles). Just buy regular zinc oxide and there's nothing to worry about, it is safe and soothing to the skin (it is the active ingredient used in calamine lotion). As to the insect repellent feature, the general concern is to avoid mixing chemicals like Deet with sun creams designed to be absorbed. This is not applicable to this cream, which is a mild insect repellent based on mixing traditional essential oils -- you might want to omit the essential oils if you don't like the smell, but it is certainly not a health concern.
sfromer belsey4 years ago
I know the 40% zo cream could be used as is, but it would be a horrible mess; I'm wondering to make a commensurate sunblock as the one you'd talked about, if I could mix some of the zo cream with a moisturizer base to come up with an easy sunsafe solution that was spreadable (albeit a little white). Just not sure how to translate the dry zo with the 40% cream...
belsey (author)  sfromer4 years ago
That's easy enough: take 40 grams of zo powder and mix with 60 grams of your moisturizer -- and you've got a 40% cream. The texture will depend, obviously, on your choice of cream, but with that amount of zinc it will probably be fairly thick regardless of what you use. Also, over time the zinc might settle to the bottom -- that's why I use xantham gum, to keep it suspended in the emulsion.
teeps teeps5 years ago
Whoops, forgot the link to the dermatology site.  Seems like a dense site overall, with plenty of other areas of research represented, including some info on supplementation at the bottom of the page linked above.  There's also some interesting info on various other ingredients that companies add to their mixtures such as Niacin and Green Tea.  There's even an article called, "How to Be a Skin Care Failure", which includes a long rant against "natural" product manufacturers.

Have you ever heard of adding Green Tea in this form to a DIY skin care product?

This blurb implies that other forms of zinc are good for the skin, but that zinc oxide is the only one not actually absorbed.  I wonder if adding an alternate form of zinc would make a good addition to a formula.

Lutein, anyone?

I don't want it to seem like I am plugging this site, there's just a boat load of info there that I have been wading through for a few hours now.  I realize that a lot of this goes into creating much more than simple sun screen :) 
belsey (author)  teeps5 years ago
 Oh thanks a lot... Now a few more hours of my life are about to go down the drain as I check out all your links! :)
teeps belsey5 years ago
I am eager to hear your conclusions.  It's a real rabbit hole, this skin care topic. 
belsey (author)  mobilediesel6 years ago
Thanks for the suggestion! I'll check it out when I need new supplies.
EaglesNest6 years ago
What is "ewax"?