Writing in Cosmetics, researchers from Slovenia conducted an exploratory study of consumers’ knowledge and attitudes relating to sunscreens made with the natural polymer lignin – widely generated as an “undervalued by-product” of kraft-pulping operations. The study involved a cross-sectional survey of 230 people from Europe, North America and Asia based on an extensive literature review of bio-based skin care and sunscreens.
“As the consumption of skin care and sunscreen products increases, their environmental and health effects are compelling the development of more environmentally friendly alternatives. Lignin is an abundant and multifunctional natural polymer that can act as a broad-spectrum sunblock, antioxidant, and preservative and is usually a by-product of pulp manufacturing, meaning it can replace and mitigate the impact of several synthetic ingredients in sunscreens,” the researchers wrote.
The aim of the study, therefore, was to get a sense on how such products may be received by consumers in the future, they said.
Low SPF, dark pigmentation and price raise concerns
Findings indicated consumer concerns around the level of SPF protection that could be offered by lignin-based sunscreens, sensory characteristics and final product price.
The main reservations about buying these sunscreens, the researchers said, centred around the fact an SPF value of 10 was considered “too low to meet the needs of most participants”. Most of those surveyed looked to use SPF 15 or higher.
Similarly, the study indicated that sensory characteristics could be a “barrier to the acceptance” because of lignin imparting a brown colour to the formulation. Finally, price played “a key role” in skin care product purchase decisions amongst participants, and therefore could prove important.
“Overall, this work provides the first exploration of the consumers’ perceptions of a lignin-based sunscreen in the context of other bio-based skin care ingredients, and it is the first study to examine lignin from a psychological perspective,” the researchers wrote.
Importantly, what the findings showed was that despite there being intrigue around the idea of a sustainable and healthier sunscreen alternative, “not many people know about lignin”, they said.
Clear ‘opportunities’ for bio-based sunscreen NPD and marketing
Despite this, the researchers said there were clear opportunities for the development and marketing of innovative and bio-based sunscreen prototypes, including lignin-based formulas.
Because a sunscreen based on lignin was unable to achieve a high enough SPF to offer adequate protection from UV rays on its own, they said it could be “more realistic” to create an all-in-one product that provided some coverage and protection from oxidative and sun damage. This could be a product primarily designed for moisturising or anti-ageing, for example, rather than sun protection, they said, or a tinted or bronzing solution in the colour cosmetics category.
There were important learnings raised in the study relating to marketing, they said, notably the need to educate and inform consumers about the ingredient – and other natural ingredients – better.
“Sufficient information about the product is associated with a greater intention to buy it, so efforts should be made to educate the public about lignin and its production,” the researchers said.
Study limitations – representative and validated research needed
Whilst findings from the research provided valuable insight for industry, the researchers said it would be important to conduct wider, more representative consumer studies via validated instruments to take understanding further.
“As this is the first study to measure attitudes towards a lignin-based sunscreen, its scope was mainly exploratory and descriptive, but as the literature on this topic grows, more rigorous statistical methods need to be applied,” they wrote.
Published August 2021, online ahead of print – doi: 10.3390/cosmetics8030078
Title: “An exploratory study of consumers’ knowledge and attitudes about lignin-based sunscreens and bio-based skin care products”
Authors: N. Sajincic, O. Gordobil, A. Simmons and A. Sandak