We’ve all heard it time and time again: don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
Thousands of people include this skin protectant in their daily makeup or skincare routine.
It can be an expensive product, however, especially if you’re wearing it every day.
Why is sunblock so expensive, particularly in certain brands?
We’ll go over ten reasons sunscreen is one product you should shell out a little more money for.
Why Is Sunscreen So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)
1. Protects Against Sunburn
Obviously, one of the main purposes of sunscreen is to protect your skin from getting burned.
Spend too long in the sun without skin protection, and you’re sure to feel it the next day.
People with lighter skin will likely notice a bright red tint to any areas of the body that weren’t properly protected.
People with dark skin tones may not see any redness, but the other symptoms of a burn will still be there.
Sunburns are often painful, itchy, and hot.
Severe sunburns can result in blisters and peeling of the skin.
To avoid the unpleasant effects of exposure to the sun’s rays, sunscreen should be worn whenever you plan to be in direct sunlight for more than a few minutes.
Too much exposure over a long period can even result in premature aging of the skin or worse.
How does sunscreen work to prevent burns?
The sun produces UV rays that can be harmful to your health.
Sunscreen acts as a shield against these rays, standing between them and your skin.
The SPF, or sun protection factor, rating of a sunscreen product tells you how well it will protect your skin.
SPF 10 allows 1/10 of these rays to reach your body, while SPF 50 blocks all but 1/50, or 2%, of UV rays.
Sunscreen products with higher SPF ratings will likely cost more than those with lower ratings.
In other words, the better a sunscreen protects you, the more expensive it will be.
While it may feel like a pain to pay more for higher SPF, the pain of an ugly sunburn is even worse.
2. Protects Against Cancer
Even more important than protecting your skin from burns is preventing skin cancer.
The UV rays from the sun damage the DNA in your skin.
Over time, this damage can build up, and cause your cells to start growing out of control.
This leads to skin cancer.
There are two types of UV (ultraviolet) rays that reach Earth.
UVA rays penetrate deeply into your skin, aging it and causing cell damage.
Because these rays don’t damage the surface layers of your skin, they are less likely to lead to a sunburn.
They can, however, still cause cancer.
UVB rays hit the outer layer of skin, burning it and damaging the cells on that layer.
Every time you get a sunburn, your risk of developing skin cancer rises significantly.
Nearly 100,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed every year in the United States.
Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, but it is also the deadliest.
It is more common in men than women, and people with light skin tones are far more likely to develop melanoma than people with darker skin.
People of all genders and races should wear sunscreen to protect themselves, however, since no one is immune.
A good sunscreen will have both UVA and UVB protection since both types of rays are dangerous to your health.
When looking for a quality sunblock, look for the term “broad-spectrum.”
This means it will block both types of rays. Again, a broad-spectrum sunscreen will typically cost you more than one that only blocks UVB light, but it will cost far less than treatment for skin cancer.
3. Hydrates The Skin
The most important factor in choosing a sunscreen is how well it protects against the sun’s rays, but there are other qualities to pay attention to as well.
A good sunscreen will hydrate your skin, rather than dry it out.
This is especially important if you are wearing sunblock every day, as is recommended by the American Dermatology Association.
In order to tell if a sunscreen product is hydrating, you’ll need to look at the ingredients list.
Ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides indicate that the product will help prevent your skin from drying out.
You can also look for moisturizers that contain sunscreen, thereby knocking out two skincare steps with one product.
Your skin type is also an important consideration when it comes to choosing your sunscreen.
If you have sensitive skin, you’ll want a physical sunscreen (also known as mineral sunscreen).
These sunscreens sit on top of your skin, forming a barrier that protects you without causing irritation.
If your skin is oily or prone to acne, look for sunblock products that are labeled non-comedogenic.
This term means that the sunscreen won’t clog your pores, which is what causes acne.
Of course, purchasing a sunscreen product that caters specifically to your skin’s needs will set you back more than a generic sunscreen.
For example, on Neutrogena’s website, SPF 50 “Hydro Boost” sunscreen costs $12.49 for three ounces.
Their SPF 50 mineral sunscreen for sensitive skin costs $12.99 for only 1.4 ounces.
If you have sensitive skin, you’ll likely have to pay more to avoid irritation.
This is also true for those who are prone to getting acne.
Their “Break-out Free” lotion sells for $15.99 for three ounces.
If you are planning on spending the day at the beach or pool, it’s also important to find a sunblock that won’t wash off in the water.
This is also crucial if you plan on doing an outside activity that will make you sweat.
You don’t want your sunscreen to wear off mid-run.
Therefore, you should keep an eye out for sunscreen labels that claim their product is “water-resistant.”
A Water-resistant sunblock will usually have an ingredient list that includes Acrylates or Octylacrylamide Copolymer.
These are waterproofing polymers that will prevent your sunscreen from being washed away quickly.
However, it’s generally not necessary to look at the ingredients list for these polymers.
The product label will usually let you know whether the sunblock is water-resistant or not.
Water-resistance is monitored by the FDA. Before 2011, some sunscreens claimed to be fully waterproof, while others just claimed water resistance.
The FDA claimed that this was misleading, however, since all sunscreens will wash off eventually.
Now, there are guidelines and regulations for which products can claim to be water-resistant.
To advertise as water-resistant, a sunblock must maintain its SPF rating after two 20-minute sessions of water activity.
To be “very water-resistant,” the sunscreen must maintain its SPF rating for four 20-minute sessions.
Typically, very water-resistant products are better at resisting sweat as well.
Sunscreens labeled as “sport” products, or those developed specifically for demanding physical activities usually have more water-resistant ingredients and are therefore the most likely to withstand sweat and water.
Because water-resistant sunblock must meet certain requirements, you will likely find that they cost more than products that do not have that label.
5. Complex Ingredients
Sunscreens are full of unpronounceable ingredients, most of which aren’t actually active in protecting your skin.
Many of them are simply there to contribute to the color, consistency, or other aspects of the sunblock.
While it’s true that the active ingredients—the ones that block UV rays—are the most important, oftentimes, the most expensive sunscreens on the market are expensive because of their inactive ingredients.
Most sunblock products have a fairly similar formula for protecting your skin.
The inactive ingredients, on the other hand, are often different depending on how the company wants its sunscreen to look, feel, and smell.
For example, some sunscreens include ingredients that create a fragrant lotion.
This may make the sunblock feel more luxurious, but it can also lead to allergic reactions in sensitive skin.
Cheaper sunblocks may feel goopy or oily on your skin, while more expensive lotions will have a nicer-feeling texture and consistency.
Sunscreen products with cheaper ingredients may be sticky or smelly.
This is all due to the inactive ingredients in the lotion.
Expensive sunscreen products have often been tested and perfected to create the most pleasant-to-use lotion possible.
They will, however, usually block the sun just as effectively as a less expensive product.
Of course, as already stated, the most important aspect of sunblock is how well it protects your skin from the sun.
If consistency isn’t very important to you, a cheaper sunscreen will do the trick.
However, the price of a sunscreen product is usually a reflection of the complexity of its ingredients.
Developing any new product, especially one that will be applied to the human body, requires years of research.
This is especially true of sunscreens because they are so crucial to our health.
For decades, scientists have studied the effects of the sun’s rays on our skin.
Companies use that research to develop the most effective products possible to protect us.
The first effective sunscreen ever created was made in 1938 by a climber who was burned while summiting a peak in the Alps.
In 1944, a pharmacist and World War II airman began using a petroleum product to protect himself and his fellow soldiers from sunburn.
That “sunscreen” product was heavy and unpleasant, according to the New York Times in that era.
Over the years, new ingredients like cocoa butter and coconut oil were added to improve the smell and texture of the lotion.
It was not until 1962 when scientific research led to the first sunscreen with SPF.
In 1978, the FDA first recognized that exposure to UV rays could lead to cancer.
Scientists continue to research the ingredients in sunscreen to create better, safer products.
Within the last five years, the FDA has come out with new information on the safety of certain ingredients in sunblock.
They stated that three ingredients used in sunscreens, (homosalate, avobenzone, and oxybenzone), could be harmful to our health.
As new information comes to light, the FDA releases new guidelines for which ingredients in what amounts can be used in sunscreen products.
Sunscreen companies must change their formulas to comply with the guidelines.
Changing recipes costs money, which expense is then passed on to consumers.
7. Development And Production
One of the most expensive steps in getting a product from the idea board to store shelves is the actual manufacturing of the product.
During this step, companies use materials, machinery, and human labor that all cost money.
In the case of sunscreen, production includes making the packaging as well as the lotion itself.
To make sunscreen, large quantities of water must first be purified.
This is done using a process called reverse osmosis.
During this process, water is forced through a barrier known as a semipermeable membrane.
Salt and other impurities cannot get through this barrier, so the water is clean after it passes through.
Once the water is purified, the other ingredients of the sunscreen are added.
Typically, these ingredients are purchased from outside sources.
This is one major cost to the sunscreen company during production.
The formula for the sunscreen must be followed exactly.
If something goes awry, that batch must be thrown out, costing the company even more money.
After mixing, the sunscreen is cooled while waiting to be packaged.
Depending on what kind of bottle or tube a sunscreen product comes in, the process of making the packaging can differ.
Many companies purchase packaging from an outside source, which is another massive expense during the manufacturing process.
Usually, the sunscreen comes in some kind of plastic bottle.
These are usually made using the “blow-molding” method.
This method involves heating plastic up to soften it, then pouring it into a bottle-shaped mold.
Air is blown into the mold to force the plastic into the sides of the mold.
The plastic is then cooled so it hardens into the shape of a bottle.
Throughout these processes, machines and human labor are utilized.
Maintaining the machines costs money, as does compensation for workers.
These costs are passed on to consumers.
The concept of supply and demand plays a major role in determining the price of various products.
Supply refers to how much of a product is available, while demand is how many people are willing to purchase a product.
When supply is low, but demand is high, prices will go up.
When a product is easily accessible or is not in high demand, prices are lowered to try and entice people to buy more of it.
Sunscreen is a necessity for human health, meaning demand is quite high.
This is especially true in very sunny locales.
Companies know this and feel comfortable charging high prices for it because they know people will still buy it.
Demand for suncare products has also risen significantly in recent years because people have become more aware of the dangers of sun exposure.
Sunscreen is one of the fastest-growing skincare products.
As people become more and more educated about the necessity of wearing sunscreen, demand will continue to rise.
Sunscreen companies may, therefore, take it upon themselves to raise prices even higher.
During the height of the pandemic, when people were staying inside more often than not, demand for sunscreen fell significantly.
As countries begin to open back up and travel becomes common again, demand for sunblock products will likely rise sharply.
The price of every product on store shelves is partly determined by branding.
Branding includes how the company markets its products, how many advertisements it runs, and what the packaging of the product looks like.
High-end brands may pay more for fancier packaging or celebrity endorsements in order to market themselves as a luxury product.
Brands with big names, such as Coppertone or Banana Boat, pay to have recognizable packaging and advertisements.
Store brands often do not advertise or spend much on branding at all.
They rely on other products to do the advertising for them.
Then, when customers are standing in front of the shelf, they may see that the store brand is essentially the same as the name brand, but with a significantly lower price.
If you are purchasing name-brand sunscreen, expect to pay more than you would for no-name products.
It is sometimes true that name brands offer more variety in their product lines. Often, however, the differences between store brands and name brands are negligible.
If you need a specific kind of sunscreen, such as mineral sunscreen or oil-free lotion, you may be forced to purchase a name brand.
If you just need the basics, though, you can likely save a good chunk of change by purchasing a store brand.
10. Location and Timing
If you’ve ever gone swimming and forgotten your sunscreen, chances are you’ve had to purchase some from a beachfront store or similar location.
Prices on sunscreen at beaches, pools, and other places where people are likely to need it are often higher than at grocery stores.
This is also due to supply and demand.
Owners of poolside shops know that customers who forgot to bring sunscreen are more likely to buy sunblock from them at higher prices, due to necessity.
To save money, purchase some sunscreen from your local grocery store and keep it in your pool bag.
Timing is also crucial.
You are likely to pay more money for sunscreen if you wait until summer is already in full swing because demand is higher during that time.
If you stock up in the winter and save it for summertime, you’ll likely save yourself both money and headaches.