Natural Foods Merchandiser

Customers and sales glow with sunless tanners

No one can deny the allure of sun-kissed skin, of that glow that comes from being outside beneath the sun's rays. Unfortunately, those rays are also one of the main causes of cancer in the United States—a fact that for many outweighs the appeal of tanning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States…. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays appears to be the most important environmental factor in developing skin cancer." What's more, sun damage can also cause aesthetic maladies of the skin. "It has long been known that exposure to UV rays causes premature aging," says the American Academy of Dermatology.

And sunning yourself indoors is no better. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, a known carcinogen. And, according to the AAD, "Research has shown a connection between indoor tanning and melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and the second most common cancer among women aged 20 [to] 29. More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year, and it is estimated that there will be 111,900 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States."

The fact remains, however, that Americans prefer the aesthetic of bronzed skin. A survey conducted by the AAD found that 69 percent of male and 61 percent of female respondents thought people look better with a tan, and 60 percent of men and 54 percent of women said that a tan gave them a "healthy" appearance.

The obvious option, therefore, is self-tanning products, which come in cream, gel or spray-on form and allow the consumer to achieve the desired look without baking in the sun. Almost all sunless tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone, which reacts with the outer layer of skin to darken its color. The color doesn't wash off, but fades after a few days once the skin cells begin to slough off. The only sunless tanning products that don't contain DHA are considered bronzers, and wash off with soap and water.

A natural foods shopper will likely question the integrity of these products—it seems improbable for a substance that actually changes the color of the skin to be safe or pure. But DHA is a monosaccharide sugar compound approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a safe cosmetic ingredient. In fact, tanning in the sun is a much higher-risk activity than using self-tanning products. "While suntans also start fading after a few days, the harm done to the skin is permanent. Getting a suntan breaks down the DNA in skin cells, but using self-tanners causes no such damage. At worst, sunless tanning products present a minimal risk of irritant or allergic reactions," according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

However—and this is where you, the naturals retailer, come in—there are benefits to using natural versions of self-tanning products as opposed to conventional. Natural sunless tanning products tend to contain more organic ingredients and fewer chemicals and questionable preservatives like parabens. They use other natural coloring agents to enhance the efficacy of the DHA, which in turn require the manufacturer to use less of it.

Alba Botanica's tanning lotion, for instance, uses no parabens, artificial colors, animal-derived ingredients or animal testing. Furthermore, besides DHA, the product contains another ingredient, "erythrulose, which is derived from beets and has a similar action to DHA, to effectively?tint the topmost layer of skin?a natural golden color," says Laura Genoway, director of marketing and communications at Petaluma, Calif.-based Avalon Natural Products, Alba's parent company. Unlike conventional products that may contain harsh or drying ingredients, Alba's lotion base contains "natural, beneficial ingredients such as soothing, organic aloe, moisturizing shea butter and antioxidant-rich green tea," says Genoway.

Another deterrent to using conventional self-tanners is the odor of the DHA, which is often overwhelming and harsh. Because naturals companies try to incorporate other coloring agents into their formulas, they use less DHA and therefore, create products that emit less of this offensive scent. For instance, Kiss My Face's tanner contains DHA, but "the main source for color in this product is walnut shell extract, which gives a nice golden-brown tone. We also include mango nut oil for moisturizing properties, and both of these natural scents help to override the odor of the DHA," says Mia DiFrancesco-Licata, brand manager for Gardiner, N.Y.-based Kiss My Face.

Just as chemical-laden odors aren't har?monious with the frozen-daiquiri and island-filled dreams of bronzed bodies, neither is a streaked tan. But naturals shoppers can find a streak-free tan in a can in your store's aisles. Nature's Gate's tanner, which is paraben-free and contains certified organic ingredients, also has "squalene, an ingredient derived from olive oil that prepares the skin so that the color goes on very smoothly. The product also uses caramel, not only as its main coloring agent, but also to prevent streaking and to provide a pleasant scent," says Casi Hudson, director of marketing for Chatsworth, Calif.-based Nature's Gate. The company also includes in its sun-care line a bronzing cream that washes off with soap and water at the end of the day. "The bronzer provides consumers with less of a commitment to tanning since it washes off, plus it's a great triple-action product—it acts as a moisturizer, a coloring agent and a cosmetic," Hudson says.

Besides the many benefits self-tanners provide for consumers, these products can also benefit your store. "The good thing about self-tanners is that unlike sunscreen, they're not seasonal. People are buying them throughout the year to maintain color year-round," Hudson says. While some companies have been enjoying an increase in sales for their self-tanning products—Alba Botanica's self tanner's sales rose 15.5 percent over the previous year, according to Genoway—sunless tanning products have been enduring a roller coaster ride of profitability. According to the latest full-year ACNielsen Strategic Planner, sales of self-tanners peaked at $84.1 million in 2005, but then fell to $66.6 million in 2006.

Laura Setzfand, director of marketing for Culver City, Calif.-based Zia Natural Skin?care, attributes the category's erratic sales to consumers' growing awareness of the fact that sun exposure damages skin. That said, consumers are still interested in finding a healthy way to "take away the glare of winter-white skin," according to Setzfand, who says Zia's self-tanning product is the company's second-best selling item in its sun-care line.

"Retailers can initiate interest in this category simply by educating customers about the fact that self tanners are not harmful; that they are, in fact, much safer than natural tanning. It's helpful to merchandise self-tanners next to SPF products, so consumers learn to associate them," says Setzfand. Once your consumers begin to make the connection between healthy skin and sunless tanners, your sales figures will be glowing right along with them.

Christine Spehar is a Boulder, Colo.-based freelance writer.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 4/p.28,30

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