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The First Principles Of Sunscreen For Brands That Want To Add It To Their Assortments

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Sunscreen increasingly isn’t just a summertime staple—and that’s not the only way the product is changing.

During the most recent installment of Beauty Independent’s In Conversation webinar series last Wednesday, sun protection experts shared their thoughts on how the category is shifting and what emerging brands should know if they’re interested in entering it. Here are six basics those experts—Kevin Cureton, COO at Solésence, Tracy Kline, senior VP of merchandising and supply chain at Bluemercury, and Vanessa Motley Coleman is VP of digital at Kinlò—covered about sunscreen creation.


Active ingredients

Sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter drug regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Currently, the agency is actively reviewing sunscreen ingredients. It has deemed a mere two sun protection ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—generally safe and effective. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are called “mineral” or “physical” sunscreen ingredients. The FDA hasn’t concluded whether a dozen other sun protection ingredients, including octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, homosalate and avobenzone, are safe and effective. At the moment, those sunscreen ingredients—typically referred to as “chemical”—are being used in sunscreen products on the American market.

“Generally, the different types of sunscreen actives are safe, even some of the chemical actives are safe,” said Cureton. “The issue, of course, is that you don’t want things that are supposed to be applied to your skin to be absorbed into your body, and that’s really where you get some of the concern with the chemical sunscreen actives that are on the market today.” He added, “The important thing that we see about utilizing mineral versus chemical is that they don’t absorb through your skin. I think this is one of the key drivers for the growth of mineral products on the marketplace.”



Kline pointed out that the variety of available sunscreens has ballooned as consumers and brands become attuned to the value of sun protection. She said, “We now know that SPF is an essential part of our well-being. 90% of your signs of aging come from the sun…With that education, of course, comes demand, and there’s been a huge explosion of innovation about how to incorporate SPF into your routine. We’re at the tip of the iceberg right now.”

Kline has noticed SPF popping in facial moisturizers, lip balms, scalp sprays, body products, eyeshadows, supplements and more. She’s noticed an increase of SPF products designed for a broad range of skin tones, too. “We at Bluemercury have seen this category grow three times last year and two times 2019—huge growth from 2019,” said Kline. “And that really is attributed to the client’s education around it and, of course, the innovation.”

As the category expands, Kline said she’d like to see greater innovation in body products with SPF. She also envisions SPF products offering amplified wellness and skincare benefits such as drainage for puffy skin. “There’s so much space to deliver there,” said Kline. “I know we’ve seen the body category has exploded, and I think there’s so much room for brands to deliver in that space because I don’t think anyone really owns the [sun care] body space overall quite yet.”



Kinlò is a forthcoming brand from professional tennis player Naomi Osaka that Motley Coleman says is “not just a beauty product, it’s about a public health need.” Billed as a functional skincare for melanated skin, Kinlò will launch on Sept. 7 with active sunscreen Golden Rays.

“There is such a lack of awareness, specifically in communities of color, around the need for sunscreen on a daily basis,” said Motley Coleman. “One of the statistics that I heard early on in this development process is that Black Americans have the three times higher mortality rate than white Americans when it comes to skin cancer, and that’s because the awareness is just not there.” She continued, “That’s really at the core of the product that we’re building…understanding that there is a pain point in communities of color when it comes to having awareness around sunscreen.”

Although sun care formulas with consumers of color in mind have mounted, they remain limited. “Any of us who have melanin in their skin have had that experience where you’re putting on a sunscreen, and you look at yourself in the mirror, and you look like you’ve got this gray look on your skin,” she said. “You don’t want to wear that every day. And, so, in thinking about how to create a product that is actually suitable for everyday wear, our focus was really: ‘How do we create a mineral sunscreen that does go on without that white cast, that does have a smooth finish to it, and that is a product someone can wear on a daily basis?’”

Kinlò’s goal is to be a “completely inclusive” product line, according to Motley Coleman. She said, “We’ve really turned the product development on its head by putting communities of color at the center of the development versus as an afterthought.” As a buyer, Kline said Kinlò is at “the tippy top” of what she’s looking for in SPF products. “It’s really about offering products for different skin tones,” she stressed. “That has to be No. 1.”



For brands wanting to work with Solésence to develop a sun care product or infuse sun care ingredients into an existing product, Cureton disclosed the minimum order quantity is 2,500 units. “It’s a relatively modest entry point for a brand that’s serious about getting into skincare business. It gets them in relatively easily,” he said, “The numbers go up substantially from there.”

Cureton elaborated that mineral sunscreens are pricier to produce than chemical sunscreens. He explained, “That’s largely because there’s still so many more chemical sunscreen formulas sold in the world.” Still, Cureton described the price difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens as mild to moderate. “It’s not an extreme difference,” he noted.


Manufacturing partners

Motley Coleman emphasized perfecting a sunscreen isn’t easy. “The biggest difference when developing an SPF product in comparison to other products is everything that goes into the development process, and the fact that it can take years to really land on a product that you feel amazing about and that meets all the needs and requirements of the industry,” she said.

Sunscreens require testing. “It’s one of the few beauty products that you actually have to test to be able to make specific claims,” said Cureton. “It has to be able to perform in order to be able be marketed.” Motley Coleman highlighted that selecting a good partner for sunscreen development is “huge.” Kinlò is a Solésence client. Motley Coleman underscored that it’s crucial for a brand to partner with a company “able to come to the table not just executing what it is that you want them to execute on, but [a company that is] able to actually iterate with you and understand what your end goal is.”



Kline said the average consumer will spend more on a traditional facial product than a sunscreen. “Look at what people spend now on not just moisturizers, but serums and Botox and all the other things,” she noted. “As long as [the product] is delivering what it’s saying it’s delivering, I think you could probably get a little bit more.”
Body products should be priced accessibly, somewhere under $20, per Kline. “But the formulation needs to be clean,” she said. “And it needs to last a bit little longer than formulas are lasting now.”

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