Sunscreen is big business, merging skin care, health care, and cosmetics to affect the daily lives of millions of people of all ages, all around the world. Some of the most advanced research in the world is happening in sun protection. 

If you haven’t bought sunscreen for a few years, you’re in for a pretty big surprise. Once simply a beach and pool accessory, sunscreen has become big business and is now a leading product in the cosmetics industry. We are seeing a wave of innovation and new technologies that merge consumer’s needs for health, beauty, and concern for the environment. Every day we are seeing new technologies that advance the art of sun protection. This isn’t your grandmother’s sunscreen.

In the early 2000s, major public health campaigns began educating people on the importance of daily sun protection. This led to a major increase in public interest in sunscreens, but also raised a lot of issues: sunscreens at the time were cumbersome and unpleasant to use. Sensing an opportunity, the cosmetics and skin care industry began to respond to these complaints with wave after wave of innovation. 

Problem A: Sunscreen is actually bad for the skin 

Widespread sunscreen adoption led to a number of studies that showed that common sunscreen ingredients, while protecting from UV damage, may lead to a number of other skin problems, particularly when they penetrate the skin. 

Innovation A: Non-penetrating sunscreen 

Among other solutions, researchers have developed sunblock using bioadhesive nanoparticles that do not penetrate the skin. These nanoparticles provide water-resistant sun protection without the accompanying DNA damage to skin cells. 

Problem B: Sunscreen washes off in water

Although people are more likely to use sunscreen in aquatic environments, like pools, beaches, and rivers, or on hot days when they are more likely to sweat, many sunscreens quickly lose their protection in precisely these environments. 

Innovation B: Ongoing

Research into the hydrophilic/lipophilic balance of sunscreens has been going on for decades, with Neutrogena pioneering aliphatic waxes and hydrophobic silicones in the 1990s, and L’Oreal more recently researching oil and water repelling emulsifiers from polyperfluoroethoxymethoxy difluoroethyl PEG phosphate, along with hydrophobically-modified emulsifiers from inulin lauryl carbamate. There are now a wide range of ever-more-effective water-resistant sunscreens available. 

Problem C: Sunscreen is harmful to ocean habitats

With increasing use of sunscreen, particularly in ocean and river habitats, came increasing attention to the harmful effects some of these compounds have on marine environments and animal life. Today’s consumers want eco-friendly products. 

Innovation C: Nanotechnology

A variety of nanoparticles have been found to provide effective UV protection without harmful effects on the environment. Biosynthesis of nanoparticles from plants, fungi, bacteria, and algae are a promising new avenue for eco-friendly sunscreens. 

Problem D: Sunscreen needs to be layered with other daily skincare products

Many people use a number daily skincare products, including moisturizers, cosmetics, shaving lotions, etc. Daily sunscreen use needs to integrate into these existing regimens without requiring a lot of additional effort from consumers. Sunscreen effectiveness can also be impeded or enhanced by the use of other skincare products, so cosmetics companies need to make sun protection that is integrated into a comprehensive skin health regimen. 

Innovation D: Merging of sun protection into other skin care products

Today, sun protection is a common ingredient in cosmetics and moisturizers intended for daily use. It is also an increasing part of other skin care products, like Iguana’s sunscreen + insect repellent. The latest trend in cosmetics is providing sun protection products that also act as a makeup primer, as recently developed by L’Oreal, which helps consumers use sunscreen more appropriately with other products.    

Sunscreen is a rapidly expanding field, worth about $8.5 billion in 2020, and anticipated to reach over $10 billion by 2024. It’s also a diverse industry, affecting outdoor and sports equipment, cosmetics and skin care, and medical and health care. As such, we can expect decades more of research, innovation, and improvements on this daily essential.