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Consumers show interest in lignin-based ingredients for sustainable skincare

The use of skin and sun care products is growing exponentially, so greener alternatives to petroleum-based cosmetic products are highly sought after. Lignocellulosic biomass derived from wood has  shown great potential as a renewable material, especially lignin, which makes up nearly 30 percent of lignocellulose.

Lignin is an abundant natural substance that can be found  worldwide in trees and plants and is usually a by-product left over after the manufacturing of pulp and paper. It has a lot of beneficial properties that can be  useful in skincare — it can act as a broad-spectrum sun-blocker (meaning that it can protect from both UVA and UVB rays), an antioxidant and a preservative due to its antimicrobial nature. Using  lignin as  an active bio-based ingredient to replace  synthetic ingredients in skincare products could decrease  toxic accumulations and harmful effects on our health and environment in an economic way.

However, lignin has intense dark pigmentation, and  products that contain it will have a light brown colour, in contrast to the  more cosmetically elegant white creams. Additionally, on its own, lignin can only reach a sun protective factor (SPF)  of 10.  Researchers are still working on an efficient, safe and sustainable way to increase lignin’s SPF and performance in terms of color.

As these limitations can  affect the adoption of a lignin-based sunscreen by future users, InnoRenew CoE turned to a more human-centric perspective and asked potential consumers about their views on the issue. With a survey made for this study, they explored the knowledge and attitudes of 230 consumers towards lignin-based sunscreen, their motives and barriers to purchase  and how the ingredient relates to their environmental and health consciousness. Participants were also asked about their sunscreen habits,  familiarity with the environmental and health impacts of skincare,  perceptions of bio-based ingredients in general and  skincare product purchasing decisions.

Results of the study showed that those who are more familiar with environmental issues have a positive attitude towards bio-based ingredients, are accustomed to purchasing more environmentally friendly skincare and are likelier to be interested in a lignin-based product. While people seem intrigued by the idea of a natural, sustainable and healthier sunscreen alternative, not many know about lignin, and many are worried about the lower SPF such a product would offer. Because organic is perceived as luxurious, some respondents are concerned about its price, while others are apprehensive about its pigmentation. Detailed information about the study results can read the researchers’ open access paper published in Cosmetics.

Results of the study. Image: Nežka Sajinčič

These findings have implications for the development and marketing of an innovative and sustainable bio-based sunscreen prototype. In addition to a positive attitude toward the environment and bio-based ingredients in general, sufficient information about the product is associated with a greater intention to buy it, so efforts should be made to educate the public about lignin and its production. Several concerns and opportunities that consumers view as significant in a lignin-based sunscreen were identified, which can inform ways to design a product that promotes healthier sun-related behaviors in a more targeted and sustainable manner. At this point, a sunscreen based on lignin alone cannot achieve a high enough SPF to offer adequate protection from UV rays on its own . For this reason, it is more realistic to create an all-in-one product that provides some coverage, moisture and protection from oxidative and sun damage.

Nežka Sajinčič,
assistant researcher at InnoRenew CoE