The development trends of sunscreen products in China

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Urbanization has improved people’s living standard and changed their lifestyle so that the demand for skin care products by Chinese consumers is constantly increasing. In recent years, more attention has been paid to sunscreen products, with their market share gradually increasing. Due to the skin types, geographical, cultural and consumption habit differences, Chinese consumers have different product perceptions and needs compared with those in Western markets.

"In terms of consumption habits, European consumers normally prefer to use sunscreen more on sunny days or on beach during holidays in order to prevent skin sunburn which potentially results in skin cancer, while most Chinese consumers apply sunscreen as a daily skin care product,” said Dr. Xia Juntao, Head of Development & Application Technology, Personal Care, BASF Asia Pacific. “The cause is that most European and American consumers have the Caucasian skin (type I), which is prone to sunburn and not easy to be tanning; Asian consumers, including Chinese consumers (skin type II & III – prone to both sunburn and tanning), regard sunscreen more as a skin care product with tanning prevention for skin whitening efficacy as well as prevention of skin prematurely photo aging."

This difference in consumer demand ultimately leads to the result that cosmetics companies tend to develop most of daily skincare product lines with UV filters for Asian market. Today, UV filters are usually added to many skin care formulas in Asian market, such as BB cream, makeup primer, day cream and even lipstick.

At present, the expectations of Chinese consumers on sunscreen products are reflected in the following five aspects in terms of market trends:

  • More effective and improved sun protection (Higher SPF and UVA protection);
  • Long-term sun protection, reduced frequency of sunscreen re-application in the day;
  • A lighter, less-greasy sensory experience;
  • Easy-to-use format: besides traditional sunscreen, there are also sun sprays, transparent sunscreen sticks, essence and sun gels.
  • Multi-functional sunscreen products, such as anti-pollution, moisturizing and anti-aging claims in addition to sun protection.

Aside from effective and long-term protection, the rest three are related to user experience. These are precisely the sunscreen R&D directions for upstream ingredient suppliers.

The core of a sunscreen product is UV protection. However a right formulation will be the key vehicle to deliver the protection and consumer user experience. As early as in the 1920s, scientists in Australia found the correlation between sun exposure and skin cancer. After that, scientists in many countries began to develop various formula for sun protection. For a long time, they had been studying sunscreen products and constantly striving to improve the Sun Protection Factor (SPF).



As traditional sunscreen products were preferred to be water and sweat-resistant due to being used at beach, formula experts usually dissolve UV filters into the oil phase. According to Dr. Xia, in the past, sunscreen products introduced by cosmetics companies usually used either "oil-in-water" or "water-in-oil" formulation technology. Using the traditional water-in-oil formulation technology, UV filters are dissolved into external oil phase so that an oil film containing the UV filter can quickly form on the skin after its application. The sunscreen effect can be sustained but consumer feels greasy on skin. The oil-in-water formulation technology can deliver a light skin feel but the UV filters in oil film that truly protects the skin from the sun can't be quickly formed and kept continuously or homogeneously, thus impacting on the UV protection effect.

Ingredient suppliers that developed UV filters and cosmetics companies that developed sunscreen products often had to make a compromise between effective sun protection and a light skinfeel. BASF is well aware of this challenge and deeply understand the key to the problem. As Chinese consumers' pursuit of a light skin feel has gradually become a mainstream trend, BASF is dedicated to take up this technical challenge and create a better technical solution, resolving the conflict between effective sun protection and a light skinfeel.

In 2001, after about 10 years of R&D efforts, BASF launched Tinosorb® S, the world's first effective broad-spectrum UV filter with excellent photostability. It made unprecedented technological breakthroughs in both effective broad-spectrum protection from UVA/UVB and photostability. Like most other oil soluble UV filters, its incorporation in oil phase limited the application of Tinosorb® S to contribute to an aqua-like sensory.

In 2017, BASF launched Tinosorb® S Lite Aqua, an upgraded version of Tinosorb® S, which was improved by using a patented encapsulating technology. The innovative technology enables Tinosorb® S UV filter can be dispersed in water phases, thus significantly reducing the oil used to dissolve UV filters, delivering a more refreshing formula. In addition, Tinosorb® S Lite Aqua helps the sunscreen formula to form an even waterproof film on the skin surface, thus offering consumers longer and more effective water- and sweat-resistance.

In June 2016, China’s Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) implemented its Requirement for Sunscreen Labelling Regulation (No. 107 of 2016), revising the labelling requirements for the rating systems of Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and Protection Grade of UVA (PA). Effective from December 2016 onwards, the new regulations uplift the max. SPF claim from SPF 30+ to SPF 50+ and uplift PA+++ to PA++++ for PA equal or higher than 16.

"Taking reference from the respective labeling regulations of the European Union and Japan, the new Chinese rating system posed challenges for cosmetic producers in China but also brings a round of technology upgrade to the market," said Dr. Xia. “BASF have been proactively approaching the customers for formulation upgrade before regulations were issued. By leveraging its comprehensive technological expertise and extensive knowledge of global regulations, we helped our customers optimize the formulations to meet the new regulatory requirements in a short time. In addition, we also supported our customers in adding further beauty benefits to satisfy the hyper-segmented and sophisticated consumer needs."


Moreover, with consumption upgrade, Chinese consumers are paying more attention to cosmetic ingredients. The new generation of consumers will carefully read the ingredients list when choosing cosmetic product and are also concerned about the source of these ingredients and their impact on the environment. Therefore, cosmetics manufacturers are required to choose more effective UV filters and more advanced formulation technology to ensure enhancement of a product's sun protection In addition, cosmetics manufacturers must guarantee the reliability of sunscreen performance claims of cosmetics according to the laws and regulations, and obtain relevant testing data from qualified testing institutions by using the standard test methods accepted by Chinese  laws and regulations.

Since 2016, BASF launched "360° Sun Protection", which focuses on topics such as how to choose photostable broad-spectrum UV filters, how to optimize the mix of UV filters, how to make full use of film formation technology and sunscreen particle scattering technology, and BASF's comprehensive and thorough knowhow of sunscreen formula design in order to address the value beyond high protection efficiency to a Hydra-Light sensory experience. This market concept provides timely professional technical guidance and support for China's upgrading cosmetics market.

Today the common use of sunscreen products in the Chinese market is mainly for the protection of skin from UV radiation, that is, UVA and UVB. But research1 has found that visible light in the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet range may also cause skin damage. They are visible light with wavelengths between 400 and 800 nm and infrared spectrum with longer wavelengths. The most well-known are blue and infrared lights produced by electronic screens, which also promote the production of free radicals in the skin, accelerating skin aging.

According to Dr. Xia, cosmetics for protection against long-wavelength UVA I and visible spectrum light radiation have been available in the European market. These products mainly provide more comprehensive free radical protection for consumers by preventing the formation of free radicals due to long-wavelength UVA I and high-energy visible light radiation, thus offering skin more comprehensive protection.

In addition, in the American market, to address consumers' concerns that the use of sunscreen products can cause difficulties in the synthesis of vitamin D and affect the absorption of calcium, some cosmetics brands have launched special sunscreen products that help consumers to protect their skin from UV radiation while maintaining normal vitamin D synthesis in skin. UVB in the sunlight reacts with the 7-DHC protein in the skin and converts it into vitamin D3, the precursor of vitamin D. From a technical perspective, these products, in fact, provide a more optimized and balanced combination of UVA and UVB protection. Thus, the skin can produce more vitamin precursors while securing sufficient sun protection.


With a more segmented, diversified and mature sunscreen market forming across the world, the young Chinese consumers has realized the presence of a variety of sunscreen products through social media, travels and overseas shopping. With the rising of consumers' sun protection awareness and knowledge, as well as the improvement of laws and regulations, the R&D and innovation of sunscreen products in China's local market will become more mature.

From the initial prevention of sunburn and tanning, to the protection of skin from harmful radiation with broader wavelengths such as infrared and blue lights, and then to comprehensive free radical protection, perhaps instead of traditional sun protection technology we should begin to think about how to help consumers with effective "radiation spectrum management". This will be a long-term technical development direction for sunscreen products.

Zastrow et.el., The missing link – light induced (280-1600nm) free radicals formation in human skin, Skin Pharmacol Physiol, 2009, 22:31-44

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