Are chemical sunscreens and insect repellent really “protecting” you?

If you are going for a hike on a nice hot day, how will you protect your skin against sunburn and mosquito bites? Will you buy a random chemical sunscreen and insect repellent from a nearby drug store? Or will you wear a long-sleeved UV protective shirt under the sun? How about applying natural sunscreen and bug-off stick made by yourself?

In search for natural alternatives to outdoor skincare products, 15 participants joined a DIY workshop for natural sun sunscreen and mosquito repellent stick organized by Oilysis on April 13. All participants brought home a can of physical sunscreen cream and a stick of mosquito repellent, all made from natural ingredients which bring no harm to our skin.

The handmade natural skincare products are cruelty-free, fragrance-free and paraben-free, causing fewer skin irritations, posing no severe impacts on the environment and on lives of innocent animals. Also, since the user is in control of all the ingredients, you can know exactly what is applied onto your skin by using a crafted customised product.


Participants enjoying their time at the DIY workshop with the tutor and organisers. (Photo: Kelly Yip)

Sunscreens are essential for preventing sunburn and reducing the risk of having certain kinds of skin cancer. There are two main types of sunscreen actives, chemical UV absorbers and physical UV filters.

Active ingredients of chemical sunscreens work inside the skin around 20 minutes after application. They absorb UV radiation and change them to heat in order to prevent penetration of skin damage. However, as these ingredients are absorbed into our body, some chemical sunscreens were found to cause allergic reactions and even hormone disruption.

Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, remain on the surface of our skin. UV filters like Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are used to reflect, scatter and block UV radiation from reaching the skin. They are less likely to cause a reaction on the skin, making them a good choice for young children and people with sensitive skin. Most sunscreens available in the market are chemical sunscreens or use a mix of both chemical and physical actives. Pure physical sunscreens are seldom found.

Participants mixing natural ingredients together to make their own sunscreen and mosquito repellent stick. (Photo: Christy Yeung)

In the workshop, participants were taught to make their own physical sunscreen with only a few ingredients, including Zinc Oxide (10g), coconut oil (40ml), beeswax (5g) and lavender essential oil (12 drops) and carrot seed essential oil (3 drops). The steps are simple: mix and melt the beeswax and coconut oil in a beaker with a warm water bath and then add in Zinc Oxide and essential oils. Pour the liquid mixture into a container and let cool.

“Stop applying harmful chemicals onto your skin,” said Maggie Tong, tutor of the DIY workshop. “There are natural alternatives that serve the same purpose as nasty chemicals.”

Workshop tutor, Maggie Tong, speaking to the participants. (Photo: Christy Yeung)

DEET is commonly found in the ready-to-use mosquito repellents. Although DEET is very effective in providing lasting protection against mosquitoes, some studies have found that prolonged exposure to DEET may cause skin irritation, dizziness and even diffuse brain cell death. Natural mosquito repellent stick makes use of the natural scents of lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, myrtle, citronella and lavandin to keep bugs away – a much safer alternative to DEET.

Mosquito repellent sticks were also made with coconut oil (8ml) and beeswax (7g) along with sheabutter (5g) and an essential oil that contains lemongrass, rosemary, tea tree, myrtle, citronella and lavandin (10 drops). All ingredients except essential oil are heated and melted with stirring in hot water bath. Drops of essential oil are added when the mixture is removed from heat. The repellent stick is ready to use once it is cooled and solidified in a container of your choice.

Kelly (right) and her friend with the natural skincare product they made. (Photo: Christy Yeung)

“I have been looking for natural alternatives for my sensitive skin. I don’t want to take medicine for my skin reaction and natural skincare products are probably the only solution,” said Kelly Yip, a participant of the workshop. “Now, I know better how to choose skincare products that are good for my skin.”

Summer is approaching, get yourself ready for sun and mosquito protection – in a natural way.

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