Homemade sunscreens could sacrifice safety

Study finds DIY products might not be safe

By Melanie Lawson - The Morning Show anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Social media platforms have opened up a whole new way for seeking health information, including homemade recipes pinned on online tools like Pintrest.

Dr. Julie Merten, an associate professor of public health at the University of North Florida, has a new study she led that examines how homemade sunscreens were portrayed on Pintrest and whether people should be using organic sunscreen products that aren’t regulated.

The study, released Tuesday in the Health Communication Journal, found that nearly all 95% of pins or bookmarks for homemade sunscreen positively portrayed the effectiveness of homemade sunscreens. Most  -- 68% -- recommended recipes for homemade sunscreens that offered insufficient UV radiation protection.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) claims were made in a third of pins with a range of SPF 2 to 50, which is concerning to Merten because the ingredients recommended in homemade sunscreen pins offer minimal scientifically proven broad-spectrum protection from UV radiation yet are widely shared and promoted as safe alternatives to commercial sunscreens on Pinterest.

Social media and other online tools have changed the way people seek and share health information. Recent consumer interest in natural, organic and ethically made personal-care products has led to an increase of shared recipes for homemade goods including sunscreen.

“Just because you make it yourself or something is labeled as natural, organic, non-toxic or has fewer ingredients, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safer,” said Merten, principal investigator and lead author of the study.

In fact, the SFP of the recipes reviewed in Merten’s study can’t be confirmed or tested when you make your own sunscreen. Some of the ingredients do offer some inherent protections but not to the level of commercially available sunscreens.

The best sunscreen is one that can be regularly applied and stay on the skin without causing irritation or other side effects, according to Merten, a noted public health expert.

“When it comes to protecting your skin, use a commercially available, FDA-approved sunscreen,” she said. “Resist the urge to DIY when it comes to sunscreen. Readers can use the internet for recipes for food; not for products intended to protect them.”

According to Merten, commercial mineral-based sunscreens like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are great alternatives that provide broadband UV protection. She says that the internet, specifically social media, can be a great and dangerous source of information.

“Images will be widely shared because they have a pretty picture or a catchy headline, however, the information can be completely misleading," Merten said.

As a result of this study, Merten suggests the public should seek sources like healthcare organizations and government agency websites such as the Centers for Disease Control to verify ideas from social media.

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