Chemistry Lesson |

Chemistry Lesson: How SPF is Made

how sunscreen is made

Ever wonder how sunscreen is made? A lot of people don’t realize that sunscreen is literally a science. In order for SPF to even be considered SPF, it has to be made in a lab. With chemists. And a whole lot of other science-y stuff we’ll get into. So, in this new franchise called Chemistry Lesson, we’ll be “geeking out” on some of the more scientific subtleties having to do with sunscreen, starting with a pretty baseline topic: its anatomy.

Today we’ll be telling you all about the anatomy of sunscreen – meaning all of the ingredients that actually make SPF SPF. We’ll also be telling you a little bit about our secret recipe in particular. So, let’s get to it! 

The main ingredients

Generally speaking, any sunscreen lotion is always made up of a combination of the following: 

  • Sunscreen actives (26%): These are the ingredients that provide UV protection and they can be either chemical (organic) or mineral (inorganic) in nature. In each formula, we need to make sure that the sunscreen actives we include are stabilized to work together. For example, in Unseen Sunscreen, we work hard to ensure that the avobenzone is stabilized and effective while also providing a completely invisible finish.
  • Liquids (54%): These typically come in the form of water or oils.
  • Functional ingredients (8%): The other ingredients that serve a distinct purpose when it comes to the nature of the formula itself. They’re things like emulsifiers, film formers, preservatives or pigments.
  • Skin-protecting or skin-nourishing ingredients (12%): These ingredients are kind of like little cherries on top for your skin – they could work to hydrate or brighten it, or even protect it from things other than the sun (blue light, pollution, etc.).
how is sunscreen made

While the above pie chart is a guesstimation of the percentages of the different types of ingredients in an SPF formula, the exact amount of each of the main ingredients above can vary – and so can the ingredients themselves. Which brings us to our next point…

Supergoop!’s secret SPF formula:

We may be biased, but here at Supergoop!, we like to think of our approach to SPF anatomy as something that’s a little bit more special.

When we consider our secret formula, there are a few important factors that come into play. At the highest level, we consider three things: 1) each of our formulas has to contain clean ingredients, 2) they have to feel good on your skin when it comes to texture and 3) they need to be highly innovative.

But we also take things to a whole other level, because we like to consider the following things too before we start cooking things up in the lab. Before we formulate anything, we ask ourselves about the following things, and the answers will always impact which ingredients we use and why.

  • A person’s lifestyle: We like to think about when, where and how a person will be wearing the SPF that we make – and we vary our different recipes accordingly. For instance, if someone is going to be wearing our SPF every single day, then we’ll take different things into consideration than we would if someone is going to be wearing it for special occasions, like going on a run or hanging out at the beach. There are other little nuances that fall into this lifestyle bucket too – like seasons (winter vs. summer) or locations (urban vs. suburban).
  • Skin tone: We want to make SPF that works on a wide array of skin tones, so we always take this into consideration. (There’s a limit to how well 100% mineral formulas can work on deep skin tones – more on that in future Chemistry Lessons! – so we’ll typically steer clear of those if we’re looking to cater to that audience.)
  • Skin type & concerns: We also like to consider a range of skin types when we put together our ingredients: oily, sensitive, normal or combination and dry skin. For instance, someone with oily skin may want a product that’s more mattifying, while someone with dry skin will probably want something that’s super hydrating. 
  • Use case: We like to ask ourselves, will this formula be the primary way a person applies SPF onto his or her skin, or will it be the secondary way they apply it (i.e. will they use it more to reapply SPF throughout the day?).
  • A special scenario: This one doesn’t come up all the time, but when we know we need to deliver a certain type of product (like an SPF for your scalp) that totally impacts our recipe. 

When we take everything listed here into consideration, it means that we’re forced to make extra special decisions when it comes to SPF ingredients…which, in short, is what sets our sunscreen apart from all the other formulas out there. 

Stay tuned for more chemistry lessons – and if you have a question about how sunscreen is made, then just leave it – or your comments – below!