Clear it up: Zinc oxide is getting a new-aged formulation makeover

By Ravyn Cullor

- Last updated on GMT

Exhibitors at NYSCC Supplier's Day brought a number of zinc oxide formulations which apply transparently. © Getty Images - Paper Boat Creative
Exhibitors at NYSCC Supplier's Day brought a number of zinc oxide formulations which apply transparently. © Getty Images - Paper Boat Creative

Related tags Sun care UV protection Zinc oxide Sun protection Sunscreen Formulation

Mineral UV filters are hot, but with new-aged cosmetic chemistry, they’re not your grandfather’s sunscreen anymore.

It’s no secret protection from the sun’s harmful radiation is a must in skincare no matter where on the Fitzpatrick scale a consumer falls. With safety questions cropping up around organic and some inorganic filters approved in the US, suppliers and formulators are turning to improve on a classic ingredient, zinc oxide.

At the same time, the size of the sunscreen market has been steadily increasing over the past decade, with a drop in 2020 when many people around the world were stuck inside to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grand View Research​ estimates the suncare market will grow 4% annually between 2021 and 2028, ending the period at a global value of $14.7 billion.

New age of transparent mineral filters

Thibault Moraine, technical commercial manager at zinc oxide supplier Evercare said the white caste zinc oxide has traditionally left on the skin has been the biggest barrier to the growth of the ingredients in the suncare market. 

While the caste isn’t a huge issue for consumers on the lower end of the Fitzpatrick scale, for consumers with darker skin it can be a serious cosmetic barrier to the product. To overcome that, he said the dispersion of the zinc oxide through a formulation is important.

Several suppliers showcased their new zinc oxide suncare formulations at NYSCC which appeared transparent on the skin once applied. 

Supplier BASF brought a liquid zinc oxide dispersion comprised of 75% zinc oxide. Cliff Milow, group leader for suncare at BASF said that means formulators can use less of the ingredient in their products, achieving a 50 SPF product with 25% zinc oxide in the formulation.

“Our role as a whole is to try to move inclusive beauty forward, and suddenly there's a big space, especially in zinc oxide, which has been a challenge in the past,”​ said Hannah Cwienkala, marketing manager for sun and skincare at BASF.

Moraine also said formulators can get creative with their use of zinc oxide, like mixing it with organic or chemical UV filters and using it in tinted formulations to overcome the caste.

Safety and positioning benefits

Outside of new, high-dispersion formulations, exhibitors also touched on the safety and positioning benefits of leaning further into a more inclusive suncare market.

DSM, which also showcased a mineral formulation with a clear application, has made suncare one of its central positioning pillars, participating heavily in suncare education and charity work, including sponsoring Destination Healthy Skin for the second year.

“For us, as an ingredient and solution provider in beauty and personal care, the value for us is really the spirit of collaboration,”​ said Stephen Wood, senior director of personal care and aroma at DSM North America. “This type of venue allows us to work with industry associations, such as Skin Cancer Foundation, but also potentially shone a light on a positive effort.”

On top of positioning, Moraine said zinc oxide is possibly the only UV filter approved in the US at this time that doesn’t have serious safety questions around it. 

While the research is not yet conclusive, many chemical filters have been banned in places like Hawaii for fear it is harming marine life and mineral filter titanium dioxide is under scrutiny in Europe.

“Zinc oxide is the only filter that's kind of left alone where nobody bothers us,”​ he said.

While building up SPF with zinc oxide can be a challenge, he said new formulations and SPF boosters can help brands overcome that in their products. He added that Evercare offers formulation assistance to clients to help overcome any challenges.

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