What’s In My Jar: The tech startup on a mission to dispel ‘clunky’ sunscreen labels built on ‘outdated regulations’

By Kacey Culliney contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sunscreen labels worldwide create confusion for consumers - with UVA and UVB circles, SPF+ and 'broad spectrum' just some of the examples they have to navigate, according to What's In My Jar (Getty Images)
Sunscreen labels worldwide create confusion for consumers - with UVA and UVB circles, SPF+ and 'broad spectrum' just some of the examples they have to navigate, according to What's In My Jar (Getty Images)

Related tags: Sunscreen, sunscreen claims, Spf, Uv exposure, UV protection, Beauty apps

Algorithm specialist What’s In My Jar has developed an online tool that recommends sunscreens based on skin type, lifestyle and budget – helping consumers navigate clunky, cryptic and often misleading labels built on outdated regulations, its CEO says.

Launched last month after five months of development, the AI-powered, automated online sunscreen finder tool operated like a skincare assistant; recommending products to consumers through a chat box. Scouting a database of more than 650 sunscreens, covering major brands and white label products across the EU, UK, North America and Asia, the What’s In My Jar 'Sunscreen Finder' tool was free-to-use and completely independent from brands and industry.

Maria Semykoz, co-founder and CEO of What’s In My Jar, said the goal was to dispel confusion for consumers.

“Selecting a sunscreen that is right for you is a surprisingly difficult task for most consumers​. You need to know a lot about the UV filters, product formulations and labelling conventions to make sense of the ingredient labels. We wanted to make this task easy with our Sunscreen Finder,” ​Semykoz said.

“…We want the tool to help consumers across the globe,”​ she told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

‘Clunky and cryptic’ sunscreen labelling

Semykoz said there was a clear need to help consumers select the right sunscreen, worldwide.

“When it comes to global labelling conventions, I wish we could update the meaning of SPF to include both the UVB and UVA protection. The current solution with SPF+ ‘broad spectrum’ and UVA and UVB ‘circles’ is incredibly clunky and cryptic for most consumers,”​ she said.

Maria Semykoz, co-founder and CEO of What’s In My Jar,
Maria Semykoz, co-founder and CEO of What’s In My Jar,

"...The current definition of SPF is a legacy held alive by outdated regulations. We came up with it almost half a century ago, when we thought that UVB was the main ‘offender’ when it comes to the sun’s contribution to skin cancer development and ageing. Now we know that UVA is no less harmful, and it’s time we update the meaning of the ‘Sun Protection Factor’. This name is misleading currently as it says ‘sun’, not just ‘UVB Protection Factor’.”

And she said the market with “the most urgent need to change”​ was the US – the biggest skin care market in the world.

In the US, Semykoz said consumers were unable to access some of the best UV filters – used safely in Europe for decades – because of the way the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approached sunscreen regulation. “It is so much more difficult to buy a sunscreen with proper UVA protection in the US than it is in Europe, Asia or Australia.”

An industry call – ‘please challenge yourself’

Asked what her message to the sunscreen industry worldwide would be, Semykoz said: “If you are producing a sunscreen that only protects from UVB, please challenge yourself, your colleagues – ask why. I don’t think that there is a legitimate excuse to offer consumers a false sense of security in the sun while letting them be exposed to most of the UVA radiation.”

On top of this, she said industry had to become “more inclusive”​ with its sunscreen ranges and products.

“One of the consumer groups that are totally underserved in the current market, both in the US and elsewhere, are people with dark, sensitive skin. Most sunscreens formulated for sensitive skin include non-organic (mineral) filters, which are great, but sadly do not work for darker skin tones.”

It was also difficult to find formulations with organic filters that did not include irritants like fragrances or plant extracts, she said.

Expanding sunscreen database and machine-learning

Semykoz said What’s In My Jar wanted to expand its sunscreen database even further to include more brands and white-label sunscreens, eventually covering all global markets. And it was prepared to work with brands or retailers to “add their products in bulk”, ​she said, though the app remained B2C and independent from industry. 

What's In My Jar Sunscreen Finder is a free-to-use online tool
What's In My Jar Sunscreen Finder is a free-to-use online tool

“Sunscreen Finder, and our website in general, are fully independent from brands and retailers. While we are eager to collaborate with the industry, our algorithm is based on independent assessment of products and formulations, and this is very important to us and to our users,”​ she said.

The company would continue to track the latest labelling laws and ingredient regulations worldwide to ensure it remained relevant, Semykoz said, and it remained “open to suggestions”​ on any additional factors it should consider. Vegan and cruelty-free labels, for example, were two elements in the pipeline that it was looking into, she said.

Semykoz said What’s In My Jar would likely look to partner with investors in the near future, to “speed up”​ the development of such new features.

Related topics: Brand Innovation, Digital, Skin Care

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