For most natural products retailers, when summer sets in, sunscreen sales spike. And in recent years, heightened awareness of skin cancer has pushed even more people to purchase and use sunscreen. According to Schaumburg, Ill.-based market research firm SPINS, sales of natural sun protection and tanning lotions shot up 25 percent in natural products stores in 2010. Last year's sharp growth, coupled with a few other key factors, suggests that this season, perhaps more than ever, consumers will kick Coppertone out of the cabana in favor of natural, mineral-based blocks. Here's why.
Updated sunscreen monograph
First off, remember the updated sunscreen monograph that the Food and Drug Administration planned to release last October? It was intended to clear up all-too-common consumer misconceptions—such as that SPF 60 lotions stave off sunburn for twice as long as SPF 30s and that SPF measures protection against cancer-causing ultraviolet A rays—bred by misleading label claims. The monograph was supposed to, among other things, implement a four-star UVA-protection rating key, outlaw the term waterproof on sunscreen labels and cap SPF claims at 50 in order to more clearly convey a product’s actual protection capabilities.
Well, eight months have passed and no new monograph has been published (The FDA attributes the delay to the piles of public-response submissions it received, all of which must be reviewed). However, the fact that updates were (and still are) in the pipeline has garnered major media attention since the FDA first proposed them in 2007. This has prompted many people to second-guess their favorite chemical sunscreens’ effectiveness and seek better all-around protection—which often means UVA-blocking zinc oxide and titanium dioxide formulations. At the pool deck last summer, I overheard bikini-clad babes discussing the new-to-them merits of mineral-based blocks, and spied many new moms covering their kiddos in zinc-based concoctions.
EWG's Sunscreen Guide
Another media darling, the Environmental Working Group’s annual Sunscreen Guide, which rates the best and worst sunscreens based on UVA and ultraviolet B protection and safe, natural ingredients, gained serious traction in 2009 and 2010. The 2011 edition was just released.
Last year's list lauded natural brands like Badger, California Baby and SolÃ©o Organics, while plunking Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic and other classic sun "care" brands in its Hall of Shame. Suddenly, people who'd pledged allegiance to Panama Jack in 1987 were contemplating mineral formulations for themselves and their families.
Besides not effectively warding off dangerous UVA rays, conventional sunscreen chemicals have also increasingly come under fire for potential health ramifications. In 2008, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study detected the common sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone (aka benzophenone-3)— which has been linked to allergies, cell damage and even hormone disruption—in the blood of 97 percent of people tested. That same year, Mount Sinai School of Medicine research linked oxybenzone to low birth weights in girls born to mothers exposed to the chemical while pregnant. Public-health watchdog groups like the EWG have been trumpeting these study results and cautioning against chemical sunscreens for years but, yet again, mainstream media has really begun moving the message.
More and better products
Also in mineral sun care’s corner? More products. Natural Products Expo West in March was awash with newly launched sun care lines from established major manufacturers and upstart companies alike, so be sure to check in with your best-selling brands and see which new companies might be worth carrying. Another plus? Better products. Chalky film and cakey feel have long been the primary complaints about mineral blocks, but companies like Badger, Aubrey Organics and Goddess Garden have really stepped up the game, making spreadable, non-ghostly products, even without using nanoparticles. I rubbed several ’screens onto my arms while visiting various companies’ booths and saw nary a white streak, even under the Anaheim Convention Center’s ultrailluminating fluorescent lights.
It looks to be the year of natural sun care, so stock up to get your customers slathering.