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Sunscreen market 2022: breaking up with petrochemicals and white cast of minerals

Written in collaboration with Heather Grant

Photo by: Kaffe Bueno

The sunscreen market 2022: tackling unattractive ingredients and the dreaded ‘white-cast’

As consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the skin damage, skin cancer, and premature ageing effect of the sun, sun care is on the rise. But between the talk of toxic chemicals and the pesky ‘white cast’ effect, it’s clear the sunscreen market needs more options.

In this article, we’ll go through the pros and cons of chemical and mineral sunscreens and introduce you to how natural actives upcycled from coffee grounds can benefit sunscreen manufacturers and consumers alike.


  • The sunscreen market

  • Chemical sunscreen: pros and cons

  • Mineral sunscreen: pros and cons

  • Kaffe Bueno: Find beauty in coffee

The sunscreen market

Sunscreen has always been a non-negotiable in skincare regimens, but the ‘wear SPF every day’ mantra has gained momentum in recent years. From 2019 to 2021, sunscreen saw the biggest increase in Google searches across the skincare category. As well as the need to protect against skin cancer and damage, more mundane skincare concerns are driving the sun care products market, such as preventing premature skin aging, and reducing hyperpigmentation.

However, the most significant change in consumer habits is the growing concern about which type of sunscreen to use. There are chemical (or synthetic) sunscreens, which absorb UV rays, and mineral (or physical) sunscreens, which reflect them. Dr. Josh Zeicher, an Associate Professor and the Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sia Hospital in New York, says

Photo by: Kaffe Bueno

The biggest trend in skincare over the past year has been the huge growth in the popularity of mineral sunscreens…Consumers are aware now more than ever of what they are putting into their bodies and onto their skin, which is my guess on why people are shifting to what they perceive to be a more natural option.

Much like the rest of the personal care and wellness industry, consumers are turning to natural options for safety and sustainability.

Another top concern is inclusivity. According to a Cosmopolitan Poll, 1 in 3 Black Women never wear sunscreen, although Black patients have a lower survival rate of skin cancer. This is likely due to the ‘sunscreen gap’: the exclusion of darker skin tones in dermatological research causing the widespread myth that darker skin doesn’t need sun protection.

Dr. Meena Singh, from the Kansas Medical Clinic, notes that dermatological knowledge of darker skin is growing.

There has been an enhanced focus on sun protection within the academic dermatology realm, as well as increasing specialized knowledge about treating skin of colour.

Some manufacturers are acting on this, for example, L’Oreal has created a tinted sunscreen for skin photo-types 5 and 6 on the Fitzpatrick scale. But most are slow to catch up. Mineral sunscreens usually create a ‘white cast’ on the skin, leaving darker skin tones looking ‘ashy’ and ‘greyish’.

So, what’s the best option?

Chemical Sunscreen: pros and cons

Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge. They absorb UV rays, so your skin doesn’t. For manufacturers, they’re easier to formulate into a moisturiser-like texture. For consumers, they’re light, easy to apply, and blend into the skin without leaving a white cast.

Aesthetically speaking, chemical sunscreens are a great choice. When you look at human and environmental health, they’re not so great. There’s a lot of research emerging about the toxicity of the main ingredients in chemical sunscreens, for example:

  • Avobenzone breaks down and causes the generation of free radicals within the skin, which damages cells.

  • Octinoxate is linked to endocrine disruption and reproductive toxicity. It’s been detected in breast milk, urine, and blood.

  • Oxybenzone is also linked to endocrine disruption, as well as organ system toxicity and photoallergies (when an allergic response is triggered by exposure to light)

  • Homosalate is linked to hormone disruption.

As you can see, they’re not things you want to be rubbing into your skin.

These toxic chemicals are also extremely hazardous to coral reefs, bleaching them and causing deformities. Oxybenzone and Octinoxate have even been banned in Hawaii to protect its oceans. When you think about the number of people on the beach coating themselves in sunscreen and running into the sea, it’s no wonder.

As with anything in nature, if we harm it, it harms us. By damaging the coral reefs, we damage the world's ecosystem, and so the oceans and coastlines suffer, and the existence of fish is threatened. In turn, there’d be less oxygen in the world, medical breakthroughs in the oceans would stop, and fisherman and coastal workers would take a massive financial hit. It would be pretty disastrous, to say the least.

What’s the alternative?

Photo by: Zir Yu

Mineral sunscreen: pros and cons

Like a shield, mineral sunscreens block and reflect UV rays. The way they work doesn’t make them significantly worse or better than their chemical equivalents; their main selling point is that they’re non-toxic.

Mineral UV filters, namely titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, don’t enter your endocrine system and bloodstream, and they don’t harm coral reefs. By protecting the ocean's ecosystem, they better support world oxygen levels and maintain the income of fishermen and coastal workers.

But there’s a downside to mineral sunscreens too.

Both zinc oxide and titanium oxide are thick and white and don’t blend into the skin as easily as their chemical counterparts. For people prone to acne, the heavy layer on top of the skin can cause breakouts.

Photo by: Marlon Alves

It also causes the dreaded ‘white cast effect’, where sunscreen leaves a visible white, or ‘ashy’, layer on the skin. As this effect is particularly visible for darker skin tones, mineral sunscreens aren’t the most inclusive. Brands are addressing this issue, for example, L’Oreal’s line of tinted sunscreens for dark skin phototypes 5 and 6, but more work must be done.

And the problems aren’t just skin deep. Mineral UV filters – especially titanium dioxide – are highly photocatalytic. This means unwanted chemicals are produced when they come into contact with UV rays, from sunlight or blue light. Research has found that this can be prevented by coating the particles in a protective material that increases UV protection and reduces the mineral’s photo-reactivity.

That’s why we’ve created natural ingredients to combat the cons of chemical and mineral sunscreen.

Kaffe Bueno: Find Beauty in Coffee

Consumers and manufacturers are trying to find eco-friendly and health-promoting compounds, that prevent UVA, UVB, and UVC damage. Our new generation of ingredients can support this positive change in the sunscreen market. By upcycling coffee grounds, we’ve created two natural active ingredients that can be used to create effective sunscreen or SPF-boosted skincare products, without the need for toxic chemicals NOR the dreaded white cast.

Ka-ZuN is an upcycled coffee-derived polyphenolic extract, which coats a molecule of zinc oxide. This results in higher SPF compared to using Zinc Oxide alone, reduced photocatalytic activity, and no white cast effect. KA-ZuN™ provides a broad spectrum sun protection within the UVA, UVB, and UVC wavelengths.

KAFFAGE™ is also an upcycled amphiphilic phenolic fibre derived from coffee, with UVA, UVB, and UVC absorbance, making it an SPF-booster. Its natural hues help mimic skin tones in formulations while leaving no trace thanks to its fast and easy skin absorption. Data can be provided if requested.

Both are reef safe and much easier to work with from a formulation perspective. Contrived from coffee by-products, they have a natural brown hue that can be refined into several tones.

Photo by: Kaffe Bueno

KAFFAGE™ and KA-ZuN™, and thus coffee, allow for a guilt-free experience of using sun-boosting and sun-protecting ingredients. Who knew derivatives of the drink that gets you up and out of the house in the morning, would become the ultimate solution for the sunscreen market?


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