SN Whole Health: Arms Race

SUNSCREEN MANUFACTURERS ARE BULKING UP on health claims to stand out in a category that's become as crowded as a beach in August. Mainstream brands tout what they've added and natural brands what they haven't. Both approaches make for a sunny sales forecast. According to market research firm Mintel, the sun protection and sunless tanning market has grown 50% since 2005, to $700 million, and is expected

SUNSCREEN MANUFACTURERS ARE BULKING UP on health claims to stand out in a category that's become as crowded as a beach in August. Mainstream brands tout what they've added and natural brands what they haven't.

Both approaches make for a sunny sales forecast. According to market research firm Mintel, the sun protection and sunless tanning market has grown 50% since 2005, to $700 million, and is expected to grow another 37% over the next five years.

Leading the charge are formulas with high SPF counts that promise superior sun protection. Companies have one-upped each other over the past few years, and have now reached triple digits.

“They've definitely kicked up the protection factor,” said Nick Barainca, director of nonfoods at Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev. “You used to see 50 SPF as the highest, then it became 70, and it just keeps going up.”

Sunscreens have become a conduit for all sorts of value-added claims. Aveeno's “Positively Ageless” formula offers protection against wrinkles. Clinique's “SolarSmart” technology advertises protection against UVA and UVB rays. Many sport sunscreens claim they're resistant to water and sweat.

“Sun protection products are becoming multifaceted, adding anti-aging ingredients such as antioxidants and vitamins to keep the skin healthy from within, moisturizers to keep skin soft, and ultra SPF protection to screen out all damaging UV rays,” stated a recent Mintel report.

Here's the rub, though: It could all change soon. The Food and Drug Administration, after more than three decades, is set to release final regulations for the sunscreen industry sometime this year. Among the draft proposals, which were released in 2007, is a rule that would limit companies from developing SPF levels above 50, since the FDA claims anything above that is misleading in the amount of protection it provides. Other proposals would hedge claims like “waterproof” and “sunblock,” and require a rating system for protection against UVA rays.

The FDA has come under fire from consumer health organizations for taking so long to finalize the ruling. Still, many agree that once passed, regulation will rein in many of the health claims in the industry.

“Consumers have a very inflated sense of what sunscreen can do for you, and it really doesn't measure up with the way they use sunscreen,” said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group.

Each year the EWG issues a report on the sunscreen industry that grades hundreds of products, taking into account SPF levels, UVA and UVB protection and questionable chemical ingredients like retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that the National Toxicology Program has linked to skin cancer. Last year, the organization gave a passing score to only 39, or 8%, of the total number evaluated.

“People really have to read between the lines in order to buy and use sunscreen correctly in the United States,” said Lunder.

Some companies have gotten out ahead of the issue by offering natural formulas that market more around what they don't contain than what they do. Barainca said he recently began stocking Burt's Bees “chemical-free” sunscreen and SPF lip balm, which is especially popular with customers who golf and ski, he noted.

“Our shoppers mainly look for the mainstream brands, but we are doing a little bit with the natural and organic lines,” said Barainca.

Eco Logical Skin Care, formerly Soleo Organic, offers its fragrance-, preservative- and nano ingredient-free sunscreen at Whole Foods Market stores. Eco's active ingredient is zinc oxide, a naturally occurring compound that, while effective, is also expensive and “hard to work with,” according to CEO Rick Sample. Still, Eco is focused on improving its supply chain and driving down price to make it more appealing to mainstream retailers. Suggested retail for a 3.5-ounce tube of sunscreen is $16.99, compared with $21.99 for a 2.8-ounce tube last season.

“We're definitely focusing on our supply chain and doing what we can to get our price point to where it can be reasonable,” said Sample.

Despite more people than ever using sunscreen, skin cancer remains the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To drive interest, sun care manufacturers are giving out samples at beaches and other summer hot spots.

Retailers, meanwhile, are crafting displays that cross-merchandize sunscreen with other outdoor products. Scolari's features a beach display every summer, complete with umbrellas, cases of beer and a rolling rack filled with sunscreen.

GOOD ADVICE

  • Watch for news coming out of the Food and Drug Administration, which is set to release final guidelines for the sunscreen industry this year.
  • Take advantage of summer's fun atmosphere. Create a beach- or cookout-themed display complete with sunscreen offerings.
  • Offer roll-on sticks and spray bottle applicators for active customers.
  • Make sure shoppers know how and when to apply sunscreen with helpful signage and department handouts.

Special Delivery

Most consumers squeeze their sunscreen out of a bottle or tube, but that activity might soon be outdated as manufacturers step up production of spray and stick formulas.

Nick Barainca, director of nonfoods and Scolari's Food & Drug, Sparks, Nev., said that the many golfers who shop his stores prefer these hands-off sunscreens because they're quick, portable and won't make them lose their grip.

“When they're in a hurry and they're going to hit the golf course, that's the stuff they want,” he explained.

Active consumers are the target market, as are people who might otherwise scoff at using sunscreen. Biker Blok makes a 45 SPF sunscreen that features an outline of a motorcycle rider on its label. Natural formulas have taken off, too, with companies like Elemental Herbs and Eco Lips offering face sticks and lip balms with SPF protection. Mark Patterson, president of Eco Lips, said his company started off selling to athletes and outdoorsmen, now has shelf space at mainstream retailers like Hy-Vee and Big Y.

“Kids really like it because it doesn't end up all over their hands,” he said.

There's also the sneak-it-in method, with many moisturizing lotions, bug sprays and other skin applications now sporting SPF protection.