Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer Sun-Days, or How to Make Homemade Sunscreen

Our magnolia trees are in bloom.
This afternoon I am taking a little break to work on my blog because I have need of sedentary activity today. Why? Well, every muscle in  my body hurts, that's why! This weekend we competed in the neighborhood Amazing Race. Jerry and I placed 2nd in our group and our two older children won 1st Place. After the race we had a neighborhood pool party that went on all evening. I spent about two hours swimming my littlest child around in his inner tube. Right now he is quite scared of the water so I have to pry his little fingers off my arms to get him to float free in the water, even when he uses a float. I didn't feel bad on Saturday, but on Sunday my screaming muscles made it quite evident I had overdone it.
We skipped church because I was lying around, sore, in my pajamas reading the paper all morning. I felt guilty about that, though, so I got up and spent another two hours weeding the patio and sweeping it and working in the garden. I am trying to landscape the patio so that it looks like an Italian or French courtyard. Next weekend I will pick up some flower boxes my dad made for the fence and when I get them installed I will take some photos for you.
After the yard work was finished we decided to take our kayaks out on the lake. Jerry and our teenager can just drop down into the kayaks from the dock without falling out, but I of course flipped mine over and beat my head on the side of the dock. There are rocks all around the shore in our marina, and there's no canoe launch. So I have to be hoisted in and out of the water in my kayak on the boat lift like some behemoth. It's quite humiliating. Once in the water I'm fairly good at the sport. I spent a lot of time in canoes as a child and I find the kayak not much different. Today I can really tell I need to do some more strength training, though, because my arms are on fire! But for now I'm sitting down and writing for a bit. I am so bruised from our activities and from moving furniture and stuff I look like I've been cage fighting!
The warm summer weather we are used to has finally arrived, so it's time to wear sunscreen. Several years ago I read a very disturbing article in National Geographic about sunscreen actually causing skin cancer. According to a scientist who studies nanoparticles, titanium dioxide, a key ingredient in even "natural" and "organic" type sunscreens, behaves differently at the nano- level when it's absorbed in the skin and can cause cancer. It's widely known commercial sunscreens are also full of hormone disrupting agents and sketchy chemical preservatives.
I have a horrible time keeping my vitamin D levels normal, so I only wear sunscreen if I am going to be out for a long time, except on my d├ęcolletage, which has begun to look the worse for wear due to sun damage. My mother has had skin cancer twice, so I try to protect myself with clothing. I do wear hats and big sunglasses to shield my face, and I garden in one of my husband's old button-down shirts. A lot of the "hippie" natural health books and articles I read have recently contained articles about how melatonin production (i.e. tanning) can actually protect your skin from skin cancer, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. 
When we visited the Dominican Republic absolutely everyone we talked to about sunscreen mentioned they use just pure coconut oil. I have not been brave enough to try that, but our teenager got burned while at marching band camp recently to the point he had a rash. I coated him liberally with coconut oil. The next morning the burn and rash were gone and he had a tan. That's pretty remarkable because he never tans! I make sure to use coconut oil in all my sunscreen recipes. You want to avoid citrus oils when making sunscreen, as it has recently been shown to cause sunburns. That's not surprising if you think about it; as early as the Middle Ages lemon juice mixed with olive oil was used as a beauty treatment. Italian women would apply the mixture to their hair and sit out in the sun, wearing an open-crown hat to expose the hair while shielding the face. In this way they intensified the sunlight to bleach their hair golden.
Ingredients for making sunscreen.
 I have the "dark" variety of Scandinavian skin (which really just looks yellow) so I can tan easily and don't burn much. My Chinese children are both very dark-skinned and don't ever burn one bit. They do turn brown as acorns; in China, where skin-bleaching cosmetics are the main focus of practically every ad you see, I'm sure I'd be considered a terrible mother for letting my daughter get so tan, but I think her skin is gorgeous. It's absolutely flawless. My oldest son, however, got his father's milk-pale Scottish complexion and absolutely must wear sunscreen. I really worry about using commercial sunscreen on a teenage boy. Even sunscreens marketed for children are full of nasty chemicals. So, last summer I started experimenting with homemade sunscreens. Pinterest is a treasure trove of recipes, some better than others. After a lot of trial and error I finally came up with two good mixtures, and I will share them with you here.
Waterproof Homemade Sunscreen
Waterproof Sunscreen
1/4 cup coconut oil
5 TBSP zinc oxide (don't inhale powdered zinc oxide; wear a mask)
1-2 TBSP beeswax
 essential oil, optional for scent ( I use lavender or coconut)
2-3 capsules Vitamin E, pierced and squeezed into the sunscreen (or use drops)
Coconut oil can be found next to the shortening and olive oil in the baking aisle of most supermarkets. Zinc Oxide and beeswax are available on Amazon.
Set up a double boiler, or set one pot atop a smaller pot filled about 1/3 of the way with water, over medium-high heat. Make sure you do not use the pot or any utensils for food after making sunscreen with it. Melt the beeswax with the coconut oil. I use beeswax pellets for faster melting. Once melted, remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the zinc until smooth. Stir in the Vitamin E and the essential oil. Place the sunscreen into a container.
If you don't have a double boiler, use a large pot atop a smaller one filled 1/3 with water.
 I prefer pure Vitamin E drops if I can find them, because when I poke a hole in the capsules and try to squeeze them into the sunscreen the liquid goes all over my fingers. If you are super-human, as many other bloggers appear to be, then go ahead and squeeze your sunscreen into a squeeze bottle using a funnel or a plastic bag with a hole cut in the corner. If you are clumsy and messy like me, just forget the squeeze bottle and use a screw-top jar, like an old body butter container. Most pools only allow plastic containers, so don't use a glass jar. You can also just take your favorite lotion and mix zinc oxide into it, but good luck getting it back into the original bottle! I see bloggers blithely filling bottle with sunscreen all the time but I just can't manage it. Here's what happens when I try to put sunscreen into a small-neck bottle, using a funnel or a bag tube.
I can't ever get the sunscreen into a bottle, like the blue one, so I use a screw-top, wide-mouth tub.
 Note of caution: this sunscreen is waterproof because of the beeswax, meaning it doesn't wash off well at all. If you get it all over your hands it takes forever to get off, and you can see from my sunscreen pot, it is nearly impossible to wash off the dishes you use, so keep them separate from food receptacles. Wear a mask to prevent breathing in the powdered zinc oxide. Some bloggers recommend wearing gloves because the zinc oxide supposedly contains nano-particles. Well, actually everything contains nano-particles; the nano-level is a sublevel of matter, and your skin is still going to absorb sunscreen at the nano-level after you mix the powder into the carrier oil, but if you want to wear gloves go right ahead. Keep in mind I majored in art and writing, although I read a lot on various subjects.
A lot of sunscreen recipes follow this formula but add water or tea and aloe vera gel. I have never been able to get the water to mix with the oils. Thus the popular saying, "Oil and water don't mix." We used this recipe all last summer and no one got burned. I have no idea what SPF level it might be, but according to other bloggers, 5 tsp zinc oxide to 1 cup liquid is 20 SPF. This contains 5 tablespoons or zinc, so it's well beyond that, and it doesn't wash off. Water actually beads up on your skin for quite a while after you apply this. If you are as old as I and you can remember the Hawaian Tropic Girl giving way to old chalky sunscreens, then this will remind you of those days, because it does leave a pale film on your skin and you will look less tanned. My spray sunscreen recipe will not leave you looking pale, but it is not waterproof, so you will need to re-apply it often, and it has a lower SPF.
Homemade Spray Sunscreen
Spray Sunscreen
1/4 Cup coconut oil
5 tsp zinc oxide
3 TBSP pure aloe vera juice or gel
1 cup green tea, brewed ( I prefer Lipton Green Tea Superfruit with passionfruit and coconut)
essential oils
2-3 capsules Vitamin E (squeezed out) or about 1/4 tsp drops
Melt the coconut oil over low heat. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the zinc oxide. Add the remaining ingredients. Pour into a spray bottle using a funnel and shake the bottle to mix before applying. This is quite runny. To apply, spray into your palm and rub over your face and body using your hands.
 Again, I have no idea what SPF this is. To be safe I recommend applying the spray after sweating or swimming and every two hours.
In other news, I haven't done much lately except work in the yard and clean the endlessly messy house. I did go to Ikea and spend all my birthday money on a rug and pillow and the turquoise rolling cart on which I placed my magnolia blossom in the first photo. I wish I could get one of these carts for every room in the house! I have been moving it all over, placing the newspaper in it and vases and plates on it. My youngest wraps his plush piglet in a blanket and puts it to bed in the cart and then rolls it from room to room.
This reminds me of a story my mother tells. In California she was good friends with a German lady named "Ing" (Ingrid). Ing was very young, having gotten pregnant and subsequently married while visiting her American boyfriend. Ing lost a bunch of blood during the delivery, but the hospital sent her home anyway, and she was evidently a mess. My mom says she would sit around crying all the time and talking about how her dog was more fun than the baby. She had terrible headaches as well. The baby, a girl, was very cute, with black curly hair and a round face and big dimples, but Ing didn't seem interested in her. One day, however, Ing walked into the nursery and discovered her baby wasn't breathing. Luckily, the baby had just stopped breathing and was easily revived with no harm done. After that, though, Ing laid her in a rolling cart and pulled her from room to room all day and there was no more talk about the dog being more fun than the baby!
I wish I could transmit the scent of this magnolia blossom through the screen! It's a heavenly smell, about 3 parts lemon to two parts narcissus. It's such a clean smell, like soap, but somehow more lyrical. The cart will probably move to my office eventually, as I originally meant it to hold paints and art supplies, but for now I want it down where I can see it every day.
I have been gaining weight lately, which is pretty disgusting given my increased activity level. I guess since I still can't run on my foot I'm just not burning as many calories. So, Jerry and I are trying a diet where you eat only whey protein and fruits, nuts, and vegetables all day and then have one regular meal at night. It's supposed to make you as skinny as in high school. I hope we can manage it without killing each other! I will let you know how it goes.

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