Sunscreen Formulation

In the beauty and skincare industry, creating sunscreen products consumers love to use is a delicate blend of art and science. Dive into how we approach the intricate process of formulating SPF products that meet consumer expectations for efficacy, aesthetics, and sensory appeal.

May 21, 2024

6 mins read

Jake Hicks , Senior Chemist, THG LABS

As awareness of the dangers of UV exposure grows, so does the demand for sunscreens that not only protect effectively but also provide an enjoyable user experience. Successfully achieving this requires an in-depth knowledge of chemistry, skin biology, and the trends driving consumer preferences.

In focusing on innovative, safe, and consumer-friendly formulations, as a leading UK product developer and manufacturer, we can positively impact the lives and wellbeing of consumers by encouraging more consistent sunscreen use. In this article, we explore all the factors that our specialist Suncare Development Team, Product, Packaging and Regulatory Teams consider when creating SPF products for the brands we work with. 

Understanding UV Protection

Sunscreen products are designed to protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation. This includes UVB rays, which cause sunburn and play a significant role in developing skin cancer, and UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin and are primarily responsible for premature aging. A well-formulated sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection against both types of UV rays.

Key Ingredients in Sunscreen Formulation

Formulating an effective sunscreen involves a delicate balance of various ingredients:

UV Filters:
These are the active components that absorb, reflect, or scatter sunlight. Examples include organic compounds such as Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane and Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate for UVA protection, and inorganic compounds like zinc oxide for broad-spectrum protection.

The list of UV filters that are approved for use varies significantly by region. For example, the U.S. FDA has approved only a limited number of UV filters compared to the broader list recognised in the EU and Asia-Pacific regions. Keeping up-to-speed with these differences, as well as horizon scanning for further updates, is crucial for formulating products that are compliant in your target markets.

Emollients and Moisturisers:
To ensure the product feels good on the skin, ingredients like glycerin, aloe vera, and silicones are added. The correct blend of emollients must be chosen to effectively solubilise organic sunscreens.

Ingredients such as vitamin E and green tea extract are used to combat oxidative stress caused by UV exposure.

To prolong shelf life and prevent microbial growth, safe and effective preservatives are essential. 

Challenges in Sunscreen Formulation

We believe that the best sunscreen is the one that people actually want to wear. Our focus is on creating products that not only protect but also provide additional skin benefits to encourage routine application. Whether it's a moisturiser with SPF or a water-resistant beach wear sunscreen, our products are designed to fit seamlessly into everyday life.

Manufacturing suncare that consumers are eager to use daily presents several formulation challenges that need to be factored in:

Universal Aesthetic Appeal:
The look, feel, and scent of sunscreen products are crucial. One of the most pressing issues in sunscreen formulation is developing products that are truly inclusive, especially when it comes to leaving no white cast, so formulas have an invisible finish that complements the whole range of skin tones while providing robust UV protection.

Enhanced Spreadability and Absorption:
Today’s consumers prefer products that are lightweight, non-greasy, and blend seamlessly into the skin. Our suncare research and development team focuses on the rheology of sunscreens—how they flow and spread on the skin. Optimising these properties means the formula can be applied more evenly across the skin, enhancing user satisfaction and ensuring effective coverage.

UV filters, particularly organic compounds, can degrade in sunlight. Formulating a product that remains stable and effective during exposure is crucial.

Safety and Sensitivity:
Ensuring that the sunscreen is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic is important, especially for consumers with sensitive skin.

Regulatory Compliance:
Sunscreen products are regulated differently around the world, classified variably as cosmetics, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, or even therapeutic goods, depending on the jurisdiction. For more info on this specific topic, you can read more here.

Innovations in Sunscreen Formulation

To enhance consumer appeal, many brands are turning to innovative approaches:

This technology encases UV filters in a protective coating, to address skin irritation and increasing the stability of the formulation.

Multi-Functional Products:
Consumers appreciate products that combine sun protection with other skin benefits like anti-aging properties or tinted moisturisers with subtle pigments.

Key Packaging Considerations

Componentry is crucial in the sunscreens not only for ensuring the stability and efficacy of the product but also for enhancing user experience and meeting the environmental goals of brands and their consumers.

Protection and Stability

Sunscreen formulations are sensitive to light and air, which can degrade the active ingredients, reducing the product's effectiveness and shelf life. Key considerations include:

  • Opaque or UV-protective packaging: To protect ingredients from UV light degradation, sunscreens should be housed in opaque containers or materials that block UV rays.
  • Airless pumps: These can prevent air from entering the container, maintaining the integrity of the formulation and extending its shelf life.

User Experience

The packaging should not only protect the product but also provide convenience and ease of use, both of these significantly impact consumer satisfaction.

  • Application method: Sprays, sticks, and pump dispensers offer ease of use and can help with even application over large areas of the body.
  • Portability: Robust componentry that doesn’t leak is essential for user convenience. Consider travel-size options to suit beach-bags, gym bags, handbags etc.

Environmental Impact

Now consumers are more environmentally conscious, there’s a growing preference for products that reflect sustainability in every aspect, including packaging.

As with any product, particularly on-the-go consumables, it is crucial to minimise the amount of material used and choose materials for componentry that, post-use, are most likely to be recycled into useful products.

Regulatory Compliance and Safety

Packaging must comply with regulatory requirements, which ensure that it is safe and does not contaminate the product.

Regulations might dictate specific labelling requirements for sunscreen packaging to ensure consumer safety and information.


THG LABS are committed to pushing the boundaries of what sunscreen can be, ensuring our products meet the highest standards of protection and comfort. Our in-house testing lab is equipped with Labsphere’s UV-2000 Ultraviolet Transmittance Analyzer, a game-changing piece of equipment that gives our chemists and cosmetic scientists real-time insights to fine-tune formulations with pinpoint accuracy. It ensures the SPF products we create are optimised for performance efficacy and user experience.

This efficiency is a win-win for us and our clients, allowing us to bring innovative products to market at a pace that matches the speed of consumer demands.

For more insights into sunscreen formulation or to learn more how we can layer SPF products into your brand’s skincare range, contact our experts at