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The White Folks Zinc Trap

October 6, 2019

Are you white?

Are you thinking of (or have you) made a zinc based sunscreen?

If so, please, for the love of GOD don’t promote it as non-whitening, non-ghosting or greying if you haven’t shown it on skin tones other than white.

To get a really high SPF it’s important to use a sunscreen (attenuation) grade of Zinc, typically these come as either nano or micronised particles sold pre-dispersed or as powders.  Nano particles are super tiny (primary particle size of less than 100 microns and often around 10 microns) and can often give much higher SPF levels per % added (if formulated correctly). These are the least likely to give streaking or a greyish tinge on darker toned skin, especially when the particles are at the smaller end of the scale and have maintained a fine dispersion within the finished product.  However,  there’s a significant minority section of the natural sunscreen market that are anti-nano due to perceived health and/or environmental concerns and/or just a generalised non-specific fear.

On the other hand we have micro particles which are much bigger than nano and typically have primary particle sizes of between 100-200 microns.   It’s this type of Zinc that you would use in products claiming COSMOS/ ECOCERT certification, including up to certified organic.  That is not because the zinc comes from a different or special source but because those standards typically have taken up the position of not supporting nano particles at this time, most likely because of the vocal minority fear around the subject which so far looks to be at least largely unfounded.

In order to give you a visual reference I’ve shared this below. This comes from a down-loadable PDF from a company called KOBO who produce some really great quality pigment dispersions, particles and sunscreen actives.  As you can see, anything from 60nm upwards is looking pretty visible on both skin tones but that grey tint is much more noticeable and harder to disguise on darker skin and this can become a huge issue.

Kobo Data

Here is another screen shot showing some details of the grades that fall into the micro category for natural or organic certifications.

Non Nano

Sometimes I feel that I’m still part of an industry that has a whitewashed mentality to life and that bothers me.   When I look at this example I’m struck by the fact that we now have a hierarchical of ‘best, better, best-ist’ that disadvantages anyone who doesn’t have white skin.  Best is zinc (apparently), better are zinc formulations that are somewhat natural and the best-ist of all are zinc formulations that are certified organic.  So, the top of the tree are products that get their SPF rating through micronised rather than nano-sized zinc particles, particles that are likely to leave dark skins a weird shade of blue/grey…

But there is something that we can do about this and this is why I’m sharing.

As I said in the beginning, brand owners please take the time to test and demonstrate your product honestly on a range of skin colours throughout the R&D process and as part of your marketing strategy.   Doing this should help formulators both recognise any potential problems as they arise and work towards making better sunscreens via making finer dispersions.  While it is much easier to formulate a clear-zinc with the smaller particulate zinc it is possible to make a fairly decent product with micronised zinc given the right skill set, equipment and testing.

I hope that is helpful and look forward to seeing us covering diversity better as we move forward with our sunscreen developing, making, testing and selling!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Amit Shah permalink
    October 12, 2019 7:26 pm

    Is zinc oxide (non-nano) sunscreen useful for asin skin?

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      October 12, 2019 7:34 pm

      Well yes it’s fine in terms of protection but most will leave a grayish layer on the skin while nano is likely to go on clear. I’d suggest sampling first to see how they go for you.

  2. Amit Shah permalink
    October 12, 2019 8:02 pm

    Asean skin

  3. Nicole permalink
    October 15, 2019 6:28 pm

    Do you suggest or know of a sunscreen that is nano-zinc? I have dark olive skin and have been searching for a long time.

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