May is also Skin Cancer Awareness month, bringing attention to the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and promoting public education about skin cancer prevention. Additionally, it is a great time for cosmetic product developers to focus on strategies for consumer education and engagement.

While there are other, less common types of skin cancer, the three main forms include: 

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) - Basal cells are found in the lowest part of the epidermis. These cells constantly divide and mature to replenish the upper layers that are naturally sloughed off. Cancers that develop from this type of cell are described as basal cell carcinomas and account for about 80% of skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma most often develops on sun exposed areas including the face, head, and neck although it can be found anywhere on the skin. This type of skin cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but can grow into nearby areas if left untreated. BCCs can also recur if not removed completely.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) - SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer and is caused by overproduction of the squamous cells found in the uppermost layers of the epidermis. Squamous cell carcinoma most often occurs on un exposed areas of the skin and are most likely to appear on non-exposed areas of people with darker skin. Squamous cell cancers can usually be removed completely or treated in other ways, although they are more likely than BCCs to invade deeper layers of skin and spread to other parts of the body.
  • Melanoma Melanoma originates in melanocytes which are found in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanocytes are the cells that produce the different types of melanin pigments which give skin its color. Melanomas are most likely to occur on the trunk (chest and back) for men and legs of women. While melanoma accounts for only 1% of all skin cancers, it is the most serious because of its tendency to spread to other organs quickly.

Despite differences in origin, UV exposure is the common risk factor for these forms of skin cancer which are largely preventable with life style changes including limiting sun exposure, wearing sun protective clothing and sunscreens, and completely avoiding the use of tanning beds. The use of sunscreen has been shown to reduce the incidence of SCCs and long-term use plays a role in the prevention of both BCCs and melanoma. 2,3 Furthermore, a study that analyzed data from nearly 1,700 subjects in Australia found that sunscreen use in childhood resulted in a 40% reduction in the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The authors of that particular study note that SPF 8 was common during the earliest time points of the study so they hypothesize that as sunscreen ingredients and formulation science have advanced leading to higher SPFs, there is likely an even greater protective effect today.4 However, there are still challenges in convincing customers to adopt these types of behaviors including widespread and consistent use of sunscreens.

A 2015 study showed that only about 30% of women and 15% of men regularly use sunscreen both on the face and other exposed areas of skin, and that men use sunscreen far less frequently if at all. Typically sunscreen advertising is targeted to women and it has been suggested that, in general, men view sunscreen as "non-masculine, messy, and inconvenient".People of color have a lower risk but often face a poorer prognosis when diagnosed with skin cancers and are less likely to practice any sun protective behaviors. 6, 7 Dissatisfaction with skin feel or appearance of the skin with sunscreen use and affordability are other commonly cited barriers to consistent sunscreen usage across all demographics.These circumstances present significant opportunities for us in the personal care industry to improve ease of use, aesthetics, and messaging around sunscreen use to prevent skin cancers.

Here are some recommendations for sunscreen use to keep paired with unique sunscreen formulations concepts and ingredients to help drive usage. 

  • Sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes before heading outdoors.
  • Sunscreen wears off and should be reapplied every two hours if you stay out in the sun and immediately after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
    • Utilize unique formats that make sunscreen easier to apply and re-apply on the go. This sunscreen stick formulation with SPF50 includes TEGO® SP 13 Sun Up; a smart polymer by Evonik that contributes to even application and enhanced deposition of sunscreen actives that provides a dry, non-greasy skin feel even when using organic UV filters.
  • Apply broad spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of 15 or higher. Don't forget to put a thick layer on all exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back. Sunscreen works best when combined with other sun protective behaviors like wearing hats, UV protective clothing, and seeking shade.
    • Zinc oxide (ZnO) is a popular choice for sunscreen actives because of its broad-spectrum efficacy. However, because it is a bright white crystalline powder it can leave a white cast on skin that consumers find unacceptable, especially when used at higher concentrations to achieve greater SPF levels.
    • ZinClear® XP is a patented and Ecocert-approved ZnO distributed by Lehvoss that enables formulations of mineral-based sunscreen with high SPF (up to 50) and exceptional transparency on the skin. 
  • Use enough sunscreen to cover your entire face and body (avoiding the eyes and mouth). And don't forget about areas that are often forgotten like the lips, back of neck, tops of feet and areas of the head exposed by balding or thinning hair. 
    • Products can be specifically formulated to address these areas of the body like the lips where skin is thinner and more fragile. This lip balm with SPF contains SunBoost ATB by Kobo, which is a blend of natural antioxidant, anti-irritant and anti-inflammatory compounds.
  • Make sure to store sunscreen properly to avoid degradation of performance. Keep containers tightly sealed and out of direct sun. You can even stash sunscreen in a cooler to protect from light and heat when outdoors for long periods.

One of the biggest challenges in formulating sunscreens can be the discrepancies in regulations or lack of definitive rules in some countries, so be sure to review the regulations in the countries and regions in which you plan to market when starting any formulation project. 

1. Reid, C. E.; Rieves, E. S.; Carlson, K., Perceptions of green space usage, abundance, and quality of green space were associated with better mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic among residents of Denver. PloS one 2022, 17 (3), e0263779.

2. Green, A. C.; Williams, G. M.; Logan, V.; Strutton, G. M., Reduced melanoma after regular sunscreen use: randomized trial follow-up. Journal of clinical oncology 2011, 29 (3), 257-263.

3. Van Der Pols, J. C.; Williams, G. M.; Pandeya, N.; Logan, V.; Green, A. C., Prolonged prevention of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin by regular sunscreen use. Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers 2006, 15 (12), 2546-2548.

4. Watts, C. G.; Drummond, M.; Goumas, C.; Schmid, H.; Armstrong, B. K.; Aitken, J. F.; Jenkins, M. A.; Giles, G. G.; Hopper, J. L.; Mann, G. J., Sunscreen use and melanoma risk among young Australian adults. JAMA dermatology 2018, 154 (9), 1001-1009

5. Holman, D. M.; Berkowitz, Z.; Guy Jr, G. P.; Hawkins, N. A.; Saraiya, M.; Watson, M., Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2015, 73 (1), 83-92. e1.

6. Cestari, T.; Buster, K., Photoprotection in specific populations: Children and people of color. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2017, 76 (3), S110-S121.

7. Agbai, O. N.; Buster, K.; Sanchez, M.; Hernandez, C.; Kundu, R. V.; Chiu, M.; Roberts, W. E.; Draelos, Z. D.; Bhushan, R.; Taylor, S. C., Skin cancer and photoprotection in people of color: a review and recommendations for physicians and the public. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2014, 70 (4), 748-762.

8. Weig, E. A.; Tull, R.; Chung, J.; Brown-Joel, Z. O.; Majee, R.; Ferguson, N. N., Assessing factors affecting sunscreen use and barriers to compliance: a cross-sectional survey-based study. Journal of Dermatological Treatment 2019.

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