Study Eyes Sunscreens Marketed to People With Skin of Color

Sunscreens marketed to individuals with skin of color are generally more expensive than products broadly marketed to consumers, and more than 40% contain a UV blocker that may create a white cast.

Those are among the findings from a study by Michelle Xiong, a medical student at Brown University, Providence, R.I., and Erin M. Warshaw, MD, of the department of dermatology at Park Nicollet/Health Partners Health Services, Minneapolis, which was published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

“There is increasing awareness of the negative effects of ultraviolet (UV) light in individuals with skin of color (SOC), especially in regards to pigmentation disorders induced and/or exacerbated by UV exposure,” the authors wrote. “As a result, there has been a surge in sunscreens marketed to this population. We aimed to characterize cost, marketing claims, and potential allergenic ingredients in sunscreens marketed to individuals with SOC.”

Between December 2021 and October 2022, the researchers used the following search terms on Google: “sunscreen” plus “skin of 36 color,” “dark skin,” “brown skin,” “LatinX skin,” and/or “Black skin.” They extracted price, marketing claims, and ingredients from manufacturers’ websites and used 90 allergens contained in the American Contact Dermatitis Society 2020 Core series to identify potential allergens. Next, they combined cross-reactors/synonyms into allergen categories based on ACDS Contact Allergen Management Plan (CAMP) cross-reactor classification. If multiple ingredients in a sunscreen were represented by a single allergen category, it was counted only once. A similar approach was utilized for marketing categories.

A total of 12 sunscreens were included in the analysis: Absolute Joi, Black Girl Sunscreen, Black Girl Sunscreen Make It Matte, Bolden SPF Brightening Moisturizer, Eleven on the Defense Unrivaled Sun Serum, Kinlo Golden Rays Sunscreen, Live Tinted Hueguard 3-in-1 Mineral Sunscreen, Mele Dew The Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, Mele No Shade Sunscreen Oil, Specific Beauty Active Radiance Day Moi, Unsun Mineral Sunscreen, and Urban Skin Rx Complexion Protection. Their average cost was $19.30 per ounce (range, $6.33-$50.00) and common marketing claims for these products were “no white cast” (91.7%), being free of an ingredient (83.3%), and “moisturizing” (75%).

Of the 12 sunscreens, 7 (58.3%) contained a chemical sunscreen agent, 5 (41.7%) contained a physical UV blocker, and all contained at least one allergen. The average number of allergens per product was 4.7, most commonly fragrance/botanicals (83.3%), tocopherol (83.3%), sodium benzoates/derivatives (58.3%), and sorbitan sesquiolate/derivatives (58.3%).

“Average cost of sunscreens marketed to individuals with SOC was $19.30/oz, much higher than the median price of $3.32/oz reported in a separate study of 65 popular sunscreens,” the study authors wrote. “As many of the sunscreens in our study were sold by smaller businesses, higher prices may be due to higher production costs or a perceived smaller market.”

The authors expressed surprise that five sunscreens marketed to individuals with SOC contained a physical UV blocker which may create a white cast. They contacted the manufacturers of these five sunscreens and confirmed that three used micronized formulations. “While ingested/inhaled nanoparticles of titanium dioxide may cause tissue effects, most studies of topical products show excellent safety,” they wrote.

They also noted that the average of 4.7 allergens per product observed in the analysis was similar to the average of 4.9 seen in a separate study of 52 popular sunscreens. “However, that study only included 34 allergens while this study evaluated 90 allergens,” the authors wrote. “Consumers and providers should be aware sunscreens marketed to individuals with SOC may cause allergic contact dermatitis,” they commented.

“It is interesting to see how costly these products are now compared to store bought and general commercially available sunscreens several years ago,” said Lawrence J. Green, clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington, who was asked to comment on the study. “However, to me that is not surprising as products marketed and targeted to specific populations are often priced at a premium. It wasn’t clear to me how many of these specialized online SOC sunscreens are tinted. I wish the authors had compared the cost of tinted sunscreens in general to nontinted sunscreens because tinted ones are more useful for SOC, because when rubbed in, they can readily match SOC and can also offer protection in the visible light spectrum.”

The authors reported having no financial disclosures; the study had no funding source. Green disclosed that he is a speaker, consultant, or investigator for many pharmaceutical companies.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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