Eco-friendly sunscreens: shining a light on the challenges and opportunities

By Lucy Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

Eco-friendly sunscreens: shining a light on the challenges and opportunities

Related tags Skin care Sunscreen Ultraviolet

Although naturals is a dominant trend for beauty, its fellow trend of eco-friendly, sustainable cosmetics is seeing rising consumer enthusiasm too: sunscreens are a key segment where this looks set to play out.

Recently, research analyst from Euromonitor International, Joanna Chan, put forward the firm’s prediction that ethical skin care would be one of the four leading trends​ for the industry in the coming period.

According to the firm’s survey, when asked how much more would they be willing to pay for a product which is environmentally or ethically conscious, around three quarters of the youngest age group (15 - 29) said at least a little more, with many saying somewhat or a lot more

Cosmetics Design sat down with Allard Marx, founder of Aethic skin care and co-creator of the aquatrail measuring system for marine pollution (in a similar vein to the carbon footprint measure for greenhouse gas emissions), to hear his take on demand for eco-friendly sunscreens.

Media interest and popular campaigns

According to Marx, global media interest and grassroots campaigning is leading the rise in demand for ethical consumer products, particularly for sunscreens - one of the key segments under scrutiny.

“People are growing more concerned about the state of the ocean and the damage caused to coral and phytoplankton by sunscreens,"​ he explains.

“More media around the world have picked up this story and campaigns like Coral is Moral​ are helping it to gain momentum."

Marx’s brand, Aethic, is one offering what he believes is an eco-friendly sunscreen alternative, in its Sôvée products.

Toxicity and marine stress

Marx outlines the various ways in which sunscreens currently harm the marine environment, noting that on top of toxicity, personal care product ingredients can cause viral epidemics in the water that are deathly to coral.

“Sunscreens are a very real immediate example of the direct personal damage we do. They go from our skin directly into the water and just one small molecule is enough to trigger an underwater epidemic.

“Others ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, coupled with sunlight, stress phytoplankton,” Marx explains.

Naturals are ‘irrelevant’

Perhaps most strikingly, the skin care formulator asserts that natural ingredients are not necessarily the answer, and brands need to be wary of ‘green-washing’ the issue.

"So-called natural, organic or mineral ingredients are not really the point. Any ingredient, whatever its origin may be, needs to be compatible with the environment it inhabits.

“In this context, biodegradable is quite irrelevant. Something may degrade and still do untold damage!”

Science behind claims

As the segment grows and develops, Marx suggests that eco-friendly and similar terms will need backing up to remain trusted and relevant.

“As for 'eco-friendly', it sounds nice enough but these claims need to be underpinned with scientific evidence. The consumer deserves no less,”​ he concludes.

Allard Marx will be speaking in the second session of the European edition of the Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in October,​ dealing with the environmental impact of the industry.

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