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Our battle with alcohol when formulating LifeJacket

Technical

Posted on 06/05/20

If you go online to try and find a conclusive view on whether alcohol within skincare formulations is a good or bad thing, you’ll quickly get pretty confused because there is no clear consensus.

What do the ‘experts’ think?

In my own personal survey of thirty online skincare-expert-blogs, the balance of opinion seems to be that alcohol within skincare products is not cool. The most common reason being that it dries the skin. Allegedly.

From the same thirty blogs I read, almost all of them seem to be based on (read: plagiarising) a well-known female skincare spokesperson.

But I’m not going to get into this cat fight. I have my own personal views that alcohol use in skincare is totally misrepresented and that’s all I’ll say.

Instead, I thought I might share our experience and considerations when it came to using alcohol in certain LifeJacket skincare products.

The LifeJacket logic

Our mission is to arrest the increase of male skin cancer across Europe.

In several countries across Europe and the rest of the world, men are almost 2x more likely than women to die from the disease.

Accordingly, we make products specifically for men. Products that men will want to use and therefore, products that might encourage better skin protection behaviour.

As we travelled to laboratories across Germany and the UK, the brief for our skincare formulations was simple:

  • It cannot feel greasy
  • It must be light
  • It must rub in easily (‘one swipe’ was our goal)

Going back to our reason for being, it was imperative for us to create something men would use. Putting another sun cream into the marketplace was not going to change behaviour, even if the branding was more overtly masculine than everything else on the high street.

The alcohol conundrum

To achieve our goal and deliver on the brief, it quickly became apparent that we had to have a chemical sunscreen instead of the only alternative: a physical sunscreen.

Physical sunscreens are those heavy, white, paint-like sun creams you often see sportsmen wear. This did not fit the brief.

Also read: The low down on chemical vs. physical sunscreen

In order to achieve the light, non greasy and ‘one-swipe’ aspects of the brief, we knew alcohol would have to play a part. Alcohol provides that quick-drying and anti-grease feel once you’ve rubbed something onto your skin.

For us, even if alcohol does have drying effects on the skin, we felt it was more important that men protected their skin when outside. After all, dry skin feels like something that can be more easily addressed than melanoma.

The formulation challenge

The greatest challenge (and the reason it took us nearly three years) is that sun filters are extremely oily in nature.

A sun protection formulation is like a pie made up of three parts.

You have the oily sun filters, which we called the ‘filter stack’.

You have the alcohol which creates the skin feel we wanted.

Finally, you have all the other ingredients necessary to bind everything together and make sure the sun filters work.

Above all, we’re in the game of skin protection and the filters must be bullet proof and must pass all the necessary tests.

The higher the sun protection factor, the more the filter stack made up of the formulation, or the ‘pie’.

This causes a double hit to the skin feel: (1) more filters = more oils and, (2) more filters = less space for alcohol which contributes to that non-greasy feel.

So our SPF 30 gel feels ever so slightly lighter than our SPF 50+ gel.

In my opinion, our SPF 50+ gel is ground-breaking and still the best feeling product on the market. But this slight difference is the price you have to pay for ultra sun protection. Unfortunately, we were limited by science and the current chemical technology.

However, like I say, across the range, I have never felt anything better and believe me when I say I’ve tried a lot of sunscreen products.

Daily moisturiser

In a nod towards some skincare experts, we decided to make our daily moisturiser without alcohol.

For us, daily skin protection is the most important behavioural change we hope to instil in men. Research shows that regular daily use of an SPF 15 (or higher) sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50%. So, not only can daily skin protection help prevent cancer but it is the ultimate anti-ageing product. After all, the sun is almost entirely responsible for skin-ageing and wrinkles.

So, for a moisturising product that we would like men to use daily, it felt reasonable to create the grease-free and lightweight feel by other means.

And that was our journey…

Nearly three years of formulating alongside some of the world’s best formulation chemists.

Nearly three years of back and forth.

Nearly three years of trial and error.

And all compressed into one short blog post! At least now you understand the decisions we took.

We really hope you love our products as much as we do and that they make you feel fresh, safe and young.

If you haven’t tried them yet, please do.

Stay safe.

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