Introducing: The State of SPF

July 29, 2022

Market Conditions

A magical feature of the modern beauty economy is its knack for solving problems that you’ve come to accept as routine. Face wash stinging your eyes? Drying acne medication? Stubborn ingrown hairs? Not to worry. There now exist gentle surfectants, spiked patches, and nuanced acid blends for your concerns (respectively!).

As one may suspect—seasonally speaking—sun care is the latest industry cause. American beauty brands have taken on the once-opaque category to demonstrate that their Sun Protection Factor (SPF) products can deliver convenient, cost-effective, and comfortable sun protection.

As the beauty industry sunsets the traditional, beach-y, zinc-y, goop-y SPFs[1] from decades past, it builds a new vision of sun care: what sun protection means as an act, a lifestyle…all thanks to consumer demand.

This new wave of sun care “truthing” (at times, similar in form and feeling to sociopolitical internet PSAs) is couched in beauty’s overall movement towards focusing on consumer advocacy. Dermatologists are using catchphrases like “practice safe sun”,[2] while beauty colleagues display picket-esque signs emblazoned with “WEAR SPF”.[3] This mindset is infusing all categories of beauty, and their ancillary demographics. Given the relationship of sun care products to climate change, sustainable production, and skin health education, SPF has become intensely relevant, since the aforementioned factors all greatly influence contemporary consumer behavior.

Galvanizing this movement is East Asian self-care principles and products, greatly influencing American beauty consumers over the past decade. K- and J-beauty deep dives, on investigative skincare blogs of the 2010s,[4] led to today’s Tik Tok and Instagram influencers schooling their followers (at a breakneck speed) on the technicalities of SPF formulation.[5,6]
Explainers on how the United States has slowed the evolution of domestically-produced SPFs—and how their imported counterparts are more efficacious—point to overarching cultural differences in sun care between the United States and other parts of the world.[7] Markets like Korea, Japan, and Australia, where sun care is integral into daily routines, tend to offer more ergonomic sun care formulas.

Our series The State of SPF evaluates what the sun care market looks like right now in the United States, and envisions its future. Before we dive into predictions, we established a baseline: what consumers want. We believe that these desires directly inform what SPFs are being produced in today’s beauty economy, and the changes that are to come over the next few years.

Read on to learn about the common themes influencing sunscreen creation and consumption in America.

SPF Consumer Rubric:
5 Key Factors To Evaluate When Browsing


1. UV Filter Preference

Sustainability requirements aside, people have a set of conditions which require them to lean a certain way when evaluating the UV filter ingredients within a sunscreen formula.
Generally, those who lean toward physical filters tend to have sensitive skin, which requires them to approach chemical filters with caution: Is this product causing irritation? Am I itchy, bumpy, or raw after using this product? Those leaning towards chemical filters are typically trying to avoid a white cast: Does this make me look dusty or ashy? Does my skin color look “true” in various lighting scenarios?

Aerosol sprays pose an additional risk to be managed, since bottles using pressurized aerosol technology tend to use propellant ingredients, which should not be directly inhaled.[8]

Takeaway
After recent controversies with ingredients in sunscreen affecting it’s overall protection rating and potentially being linked to causing cancer, people are getting granular with what they will and won’t allow within their chosen SPF products.

Example
Brands are offering multiple SPF SKUs which directly address consumer UV filter preferences. In step with Tatcha, Supergoop! and Krave Beauty, Cocokind released two types of sunscreen, satisfying their community's request for both mineral-only and hybrid (mineral and chemical) UV filter options. Both the Daily SPF and Silk SPF retail for $25, with a Lip SPF set to join the lineup next month.[9,10,11,12]


2. Cost-Efficacy

As one can expect, with a product that is advised to be used multiple times per day, users run into questions of financial sustainability and value delivered over time. Consumers will do the math, figuring out how often they need to repurchase the product, if they need to buy it in bulk, and how many applications they get in a single unit.

Takeaway
In our present economy, new worries have surfaced: Is repurchasing easy? Is the product sold out? What are the shipping costs? Inflation increases?

Example
Kinship specifically designed their hero SPF to be affordable for Gen Z consumers who apply SPF liberally.[13]

3. Elegant Formula

Most sunscreen-wearers are concerned with the initial application and textural experience of sun care products, in addition to how it wears over time. Aside from skin-feel, the finish is critical: whether or not it has a white cast, grease, or residue of any kind. Additional gating factors to a seamless application experience are eye stinging and drying time.

Consumers are also demanding more functionality, beyond the obvious value proposition of sun protection: Since I have to wear this daily, and be constantly reapplying, can it serve another purpose? Like retaining hydration, strengthening the skin barrier, treating acne or hyperpigmentation?

Takeaway
Fundamentally, consumers are most likely to keep revisiting products that they actually like to use. Whether that’s because of the results or the application experience (or both), it’s safe to say that the latter is a significant factor in repurchasing a product. People are very sensitive to texture, and the “ick” factor of a product. The ideal SPF formula is synced with typical skincare routines—not the other way around.

Example
Pharrell’s latest launch is a sunscreen set designed to function as a comfortable, hydrating skincare product, checking the aforementioned finish and texture consumer concerns. The intention, emphasized by the latest round of press from Humanrace, is to create a highly usable product that encourages an effortless, daily habit.[14,15]


4. Plays Well With Others

Within one’s day-to-day beauty routine, a new SPF product needs to be compatible with holy grail items. When layering over a new SPF, consumers are wary of pilling makeup, or makeup wearing off oddly over extended periods of time.[16]

Takeaway
No ones wants to throw away time already invested in shopping and product testing, upending a carefully curated routine. For many, it may not be worth it to change foundational skin makeup products (which are already difficult to shop for and select), in exchange for the perfect SPF.

Example
Tatcha’s Silk sunscreen was formulated in collaboration with a makeup artist (responsible for Meghan Markle’s wedding glam) to ensure that it layers seamlessly under makeup and wears well throughout the day.[17,18]

5. Re-Application Ease

This is the epitome of on-the-go beauty. In order for reapplication to be remotely feasible, the product needs to be designed for touch-ups: fundamentally portable, palms and fingers not necessary.[19,8]

Takeaway
Ideally, consumers can sustain using the product as instructed, post-purchase. It needs the ability to become a long-term staple.

Example
In line with Japan’s ubiquitous, longstanding stick sunscreen trend, Shiseido Clear Sunscreen stick SPF 50+ (a classic) remains a top-rated solid SPF formula from MUAs, beauty consumers, and athletes.[18]


These are the main factors we’ve observed in today’s climate, but, of course, new news is surfacing every day. Any other trends you’re noticing? Get in touch via Instagram or Twitter.


Sources

1. Pai, Deanna. “What Does SPF Actually Mean?” The GLOW Edit™ by Glow Recipe, 23 February 2022, https://blog.glowrecipe.com/what-does-spf-actually-mean/.

2. “Looking Forward with Dr. Loretta.” Dewy Dudes. Apple Podcasts, 26 February, 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/37-looking-forward-with-dr-loretta/id1462113486?i=1000510816853.

3. “Just casually standing outside of our office like 🗣☀️ Inspired by @dudettewithsign & @dudewithsign 💜.“ Cocokind. Instagram, 11 June 2022, https://www.instagram.com/p/Ceq9dVErUtq/?hl=en.

4. Cactus, Cat. “A Year of Surprises & The End of the K-Beauty Decade.” Snow White And The Asian Pear, 31 December 2019, http://www.snowwhiteandtheasianpear.com/2019/12/a-year-of-surprises-end-of-k-beauty.html.

5. Palermino, Charlotte. “Why I don’t use many US SPFs.” @charlotteparler, Instagram, 15 February 2022, https://www.instagram.com/p/CaBc0kVlC3R/?hl=en.

6. Chemist Confessions. “#sunscreenPSA: Avobenzone Spotlight | THE Chemical UVA filter available in the US.” @chemistconfessions, Instagram, 3 June 2021, https://www.instagram.com/p/CPqpnEWp6sn/?hl=en.

7. “When did sunscreen become a personality trait?” r/BeautyGuruChatter, Reddit, July 2022, https://www.reddit.com/r/BeautyGuruChatter/comments/vmr8zt/when_did_sunscreen_become_a_personality_trait/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf.

8. Wong, Michelle. “How to Reapply Sunscreen Over Makeup (With Video).” Lab Muffin Beauty Science, 1 August 2020, https://labmuffin.com/how-to-reapply-sunscreen-over-makeup-with-video/.

9. “SPF + Body Care.” Tatcha, https://www.tatcha.com/category/spf-body-care/.

10. “The best sunscreen for face with skincare & SPF benefits.” Supergoop!, https://supergoop.com/collections/face.

11. “☀️SPF Series☀️| Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen.” @kravebeauty, Instagram, 18 April 2022, https://www.instagram.com/reel/Ccf5GXwFXOi/.

12. “search results: spf.” Cocokind, https://www.cocokind.com/search?type=product&q=spf&options%5Bprefix%5D=last.

13. “Kinship’s Alison Haljun and Christin Powell: ‘A lot of people told us not to do Gen Z.’” The Glossy Beauty Podcast, Apple Podcasts, 30 December 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/br/podcast/kinships-alison-haljun-and-christin-powell-a-lot/id1441018579?i=1000546472760.

14. “Ozone SPF 30 Protection Set.” Humanrace, https://www.humanrace.com/product/spf-face-body-moisturizer-set.

15. Munce, Garrett. “Be Like Pharrell. Wear Sunscreen.” Esquire, 16 June 2022, https://www.esquire.com/style/grooming/a40309390/pharrell-williams-humanrace-sunscreen/.

16. “What sunscreen do you wear and how often do you reapply it? If you wear makeup, how do you go about reapplication?” r/tretinoin, Reddit, June 2019, https://www.reddit.com/r/tretinoin/comments/b6l7l9what_sunscreen_do_you_wear_and_how_often_do_you/.

17. Amber. “Korean Sunscreen Is Royal Wedding Approved.” The GLOW Edit™ by Glow Recipe, 24 May 2018, https://blog.glowrecipe.com/korean-sunscreen-is-royal-wedding-approved/

18. Lieberman, Maryam. “The Best Face Sunscreens for Summer, According to Top Makeup Artists.” W Magazine, 31 May 2022, https://www.wmagazine.com/beauty/best-face-sunscreen-summer-2022-makeup-artists-recommended.

19. “[MISC] Hate the feeling of sunscreen? Try Asian sunscreens.” r/SkincareAddiction, June 2022, Reddit, https://www.reddit.com/r/SkincareAddiction/comments/vd72uw/misc_hate_the_feeling_of_sunscreen_try_asian/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf.


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