In Australia, sunscreen is an essential part of everyone’s skincare regime. As a simple way to reduce your risk of skin cancer, almost all of us will apply sunscreen multiple times per day during the year.
For skincare and beauty brands, including a sunscreen offering in your product range just makes sense—but what actually goes into these products?
As consumers become increasingly more aware and concerned about the ingredients they apply to their skin each day, and as a sunscreen brand, it’s integral that you not only understand how sunscreens are made but also what ingredients are going into the products you are selling.
While the raw materials used in sunscreens will vary between formulations and whether the sunscreen is a chemical- or mineral-based sunscreen, in this article, we’ll provide you with an overview of the most common raw ingredients you can expect to find in most sunscreen products.
Raw Materials Commonly Used in Sunscreen
Sunscreens are generally made using a combination of ingredients including solvents, oils, waxes, emulsifiers, humectants and UV filters.
Let’s take a closer look at what each of these ingredients are.
Solvents are ingredients which are used to dissolve and disperse other substances (raw materials) to form a homogenous and stable mixture.
The specific solvents used in sunscreen can vary depending on the individual formulation, and they are typically chosen to be compatible with other ingredients and to meet certain performance and safety criteria. The choice of solvent can affect the sunscreen’s texture, feel on the skin and overall performance.
Common solvents used in sunscreen formulations include:
- alcohol (e.g. ethanol, isopropyl alcohol)
- propylene glycol
- glycol ethers (e.g. butoxyethanol)
- fatty alcohols (e.g. cetyl alcohol)
Oils are organic compounds that are typically liquids at room temperature, but can also include substances that are semi-liquid or even solid under certain conditions.
Sunscreens typically include oils for several reasons, such as enhancing product texture, providing hydration and offering additional benefits like antioxidant protection. While oils can be beneficial in sunscreens by providing hydration and other skin-friendly properties, the specific combination of oils in a sunscreen can vary widely from one product to another.
Some common types of oils you might find in sunscreen include:
- mineral oils
- silicone oils (dimethicone, cyclomethicone)
- coconut oil
- avocado oil
- jojoba oil
- olive oil
- sunflower oil
- grapeseed oil
Wax is a complex organic compound that is typically solid at room temperature and becomes liquid when heated.
Sunscreens often contain waxes to improve their level of water resistance by creating a protective film or barrier that prevents the sunscreen from being washed away or broken down when it comes into contact with water or sweat.
Waxes can also enhance the stability and spreadability of the sunscreen. Waxes are often used as the base material in stick sunscreen formulations which require a more solid consistency, making them ideal for use on the lips and nose.
Some examples of waxes commonly used in sunscreen include:
- candelilla wax
- carnauba wax
Emulsifiers are substances used to stabilise and facilitate the mixing of two or more immiscible substances, such as oil and water.
These substances have molecules with both hydrophilic (water-attracting) and lipophilic (oil-attracting) properties, which allow them to draw oil and water together and prevent them from separating to produce a consistent and even texture.
Some examples of emulsifiers commonly used in sunscreen include:
- cetearyl alcohol
- peg-100 stearate
- glyceryl stearate
- cetearyl glucoside
Humectants are substances or ingredients commonly used in skincare and cosmetic products, as well as in various other applications, such as food and pharmaceuticals.
Their primary function in sunscreen is to attract and retain moisture and keep the skin hydrated and supple. Humectants work by absorbing water from the environment or the underlying layers of the skin, effectively increasing the water content of the product or material to which they are applied.
They are typically non-greasy and improve the texture of the sunscreen, making it more pleasant and comfortable to apply to the skin.
Some examples of humectants commonly used in sunscreen include:
- glycerin (glycerol)
- hyaluronic acid
- butylene glycol
- propylene glycol
UV filters are the active ingredients in sunscreen that are responsible for absorbing or reflecting UV radiation.
UV filters are classified as either chemical or physical/mineral. While chemical filters work to absorb UV radiation and transform it into harmless heat, mineral filters work by creating a physical barrier on the surface of the skin that reflects and scatters UV radiation.
Broad-spectrum sunscreen formulations often contain a combination of active ingredients to provide broader protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Some common UV filters included in sunscreen include:
- octyl salicylate
- butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
- zinc oxide
- titanium dioxide
Perfect the Formulation for Your Sunscreen
As you’ve just seen, sunscreen formulations contain a variety of ingredients that each perform different functions to produce a finished product that is safe, effective and pleasant to use.
Finding the optimal combination and balance of ingredients that will produce a sunscreen that not only works but is also marketable is a complex process that requires extensive knowledge of chemistry, safety and compliance regulations and consumer preferences.
At Wild Child, we make the process of developing a new sunscreen product simple.
Our team of expert chemists have more than 30 years of experience developing sunscreen, skincare and cosmetic formulations and can work with you to either select a product from our range of ready-to-manufacture formulations or create your own custom sunscreen formulation from scratch.