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Homemade Sunscreens Fail to Prevent Sunburns, Study Finds: What to Tell Your Patients

More parents are relying on social media for recipes for alternatives to store-bought, safety-related products and don’t know they’re risking their child’s health.

As DIY and natural health solutions take off online, more people seek ways to create their own supply of necessary OTC products. In some cases, this might be an effective way to save money, but a new study has found that such DIY health solutions often sacrifice safety. One particular example is especially important this time of year: sunscreen.

The research, from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, looked into Pinterest sunscreen recipes and found that while most provided some sun protection, there was insufficient evidence to prove their effectiveness.

“Many of the recipes listed specific SPF levels up to 50, yet the ingredients in the recipes are not scientifically proven to offer that kind of broad-spectrum coverage,” said Lara McKenzie, Ph.D., principal investigator with the Center for Injury Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in a statement. “Store-bought sunscreen is a better choice because it is regulated by the FDA and must have a proven level of protection against both UVA and UVB rays,” she added.

You may think parents interested in alternative medicine are only a small population, but researchers found that users shared these unsafe sunscreen recipes thousands of times. So it’s crucial that HCPs, especially those in pediatrics and family practice, educate patients about health-related misinformation online. “Parents often believe they’re doing the best thing for their child by making their own products at home,” McKenzie explained. “But if you use a sunscreen that is ineffective, you are taking a risk, and that risk can result in a severe sunburn or skin cancer in the future.”

What to Tell Your Patients

Many parents seek out vegan and organic alternatives to avoid pumping their kids full of sugar and artificial colors and flavors, Mackenzie stated, so when giving recommendations, acknowledge this point while emphasizing these facts:

The FDA Regulates Sunscreen for a Reason

In Mackenzie’s words: “Sunscreen you buy at a store or online retailer is tested and FDA-approved to ensure it protects skin from ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. Its sun protection factor and water/sweat resistance are also tested.”

DIY Products Haven’t Been Tested and May Not Meet the Required Safety Standards

As a result, you’re exposing your child to unnecessary risk for sunburns, which increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer as an adult. UV exposure is most dangerous to people less than 18 years old.

Don’t Believe Online Recipes’ Claims 

Again, it’s highly unlikely the recipe has been adequately and scientifically tested for SPF levels and/or water and sweat resistance.

Remind Them of Sunscreen Use Basics

For example, everyone six months and older should wear sunscreen. Apply it 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours. Buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen (to protect against UVA and UVB rays) with SPF 30 or higher and water-resistance. Be sure to note how long it’s effective in water, usually 40 to 80 minutes.

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