The ancient Egyptians and the forward-thinking French, as it turns out, didn’t invent every essential beauty product! No, when it comes to sun care, a Swiss mountain climber and a US airman were the first to create shelter from the sun’s burning rays and, as a result, the modern sun care market isn’t much older than Happi itself.
Back in 1938, a Swiss chemistry student named Franz Greiter suffered sunburn while climbing Mount Piz Buin on the Swiss-Austrian border and set out to invent an effective sunscreen. A few years later, in 1944, Airman Benjamin Green, who also happened to be a pharmacist, used a greasy substance called “red vet pet” (red veterinary petrolatum) to protect himself and other soldiers from ultraviolet rays during World War II.
After the war, Green mixed red vet pet with cocoa butter and coconut oil into a product that ultimately became Coppertone suntan cream. Meanwhile, Greiter’s creation, called Gletscher Crème (Glacier Cream), reached the market under the brand Piz Buin, and is still sold today around the world.
Greiter went even further with his sun protection innovations. In 1962, he introduced sun protection factor (SPF), which remains the standard for measuring the effectiveness of sunscreen when applied at an even rate of 2 milligrams per square centimeter.
By the time Happi arrived on the scene in 1964, cocoa butter-based formulas that were richer and more moisturizing than baby oil, became standard in tanning lotions in the US. Around this time, pop culture became heavily influenced by the beach lifestyle that was popularized in song (think tunes such as “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfer Girl”) and film (“The Endless Summer” and “Beach Blanket Bingo”).
Tom Nestor, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Sun & Skin Care Research, LLC, noted that the company considers sun and skin care to be synonomous.
"Our brands have been innovating and delivering added benefits to consumers for decades. No-Ad, with over 50 years in the market, was among the first to leverage Parsol 1789, one of the best FDA approved UVA protectors," he recalled.
Another brand, BullFrog, has been on the market for 30 years and led category innovation in water resistant protection, the gel sunscreen form, and combination protection against insects. Finally, Ocean Potion, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014, delights consumers with its unique fragrance, great skin feel, and long-term consumer education of sun care’s anti-aging benefit, according to Nestor. Competitive brands have made similar claims as regulators try to define the industry.
1978 and Beyond
Storm clouds formed over the sun care industry when the the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on August 25, 1978. The Proposed Rule was made “to establish conditions for the safety, effectiveness and labeling of over-the-counter sunscreen drug products.”
And yet, while the industry submitted comments per FDA’s request, it wasn’t until May 12, 1993, that a Tentative Final Monograph was issued. Nearly two decades later, the first-ever sunscreen Final Rule in the US went into effect on Dec. 17, 2012. But even the long-awaited Rule should not be confused with the illusive Final Monograph, which still has yet to be issued.
While marketers and their suppliers have waited on FDA, they’ve forged ahead with new concepts in sun care protection.
For example, in 1980, Coppertone developed the first UVA/UVB sunscreen, and by 1985 the US market for sun care products had reached $340 million (retail), according to Kline & Co. That year, Schering-Plough (which owned Coppertone at the time) defined the typical “sun active” consumer as:
- Female, 13 to 49 years-old;
- Wants to tan, but carefully, with protection;
- Wants natural moisturizers; and
- Has skin types that require a variety of sun protection factors.
If SPF 15 represented a lot of horsepower back in the mid-1980s, what’s to make of the triple-digit SPF protection that’s become so common since the turn of the century?
An Emphasis on Protection
By the mid-1990s, consumers’ opinion regarding UV exposure was beginning to turn for the better (for industry), as Jim Mackey, a senior vice president with Information Resources Inc., noted: “Clearly, consumers are looking to protect rather than tan.”
That sentiment was evident when the National Weather Forecast Daily UV Index report was extended to include 200 US cities with marketers hoping consumers would apply sunscreen on a regular basis even when they weren’t headed to the beach or pool. No wonder the introduction of Sport formulas was in full swing and forward-thinking formulators at brands such as Lancaster, Guerlain and Clinique were creating makeup with UV protection.
A couple of years into the new Millennium (2003), growing concerns about the dangers of getting too much sun was even more evident as SPF 50 formulas reached mass market shelves and sunless tanner usage became widespread.
“The sun care industry is changing insomuch as SPFs are getting higher; there is a realism that the only ‘safe’ way to get a tanned-looking appearance is to use indoor tanning products,” Robert Dodwell, VP-R&D, Breeze Products told Happi.
Today, the quest for more effective protection continues, but marketers have teamed up with packaging suppliers to introduce spray formats that provide more uniform coverage. Formulas too, have changed with more skin-caring ingredients that are aesthetically-pleasing as well; because, as everyone has come to realize, if the consumer doesn’t like applying UV protection, she’s not going to use it. And while the recommendation to apply a shot-glass amount of sunscreen every couple of hours still goes unheeded, a wide range of formulation innovations over the years has made UV protection more acceptable to consumers.
Dr. Curt Cole, VP-R&D, Johnson & Johnson, has followed the sun care industry for decades. In fact, he wryly notes that much of his career has been following the FDA and the elusive Final Sunscreen Monograph. As a long-time expert, then, his views carry substantial weight. And what does Cole think have been the biggest innovations in sun care over the years? He lists three:
- Water proofing polymers/agents. They provide long-lasting protection when needed the most—at the beach, and under conditions of high perspiration;
- High absorbance UVA filters. Primarily avobenzone, and photostabilized avobenzone, they provide meaningful protection across the whole spectrum, and prevent high levels of UVA radiation; and
- Low visibility inorganic filters (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide). Both provide protection for sensitive skin in an aesthetically acceptable manner.
In the area of raw materials, Shaath included the introduction of avobenzone (1996), zinc oxide (1998) and Mexoryl SX (2006) as Category I ingredients, as well as the introduction of new UVA and broad-spectrum ingredients in Europe.
In terms of the formulations themselves, he pointed to the dramatic growth of the sun care industry (a $2.5 billion global market), as well as the controversial proliferation of ultra high (100+) SPF products, natural sunscreen claims which he labeled mostly false and unsupported, and claims of high energy visible (HEV) and infrared protection (IR).
Changes to testing, too, have been dramatic, but here, much work remains, according to Shaath.
“There is still no decision on eight European filters already in the TEA process,” he told Happi. “Harmonized SPF testing worldwide has not been completed and finalizing broad spectrum protection is not adequate. And although the issuance of the Final Rule was effective June 14, 2013, the Final Monograph has not yet been completed.”
Despite all the advances in protection, UV-related health problems not only persist, they are growing.
“There’s been a dramatic growth of skin cancer worldwide, particularly in the US,” he observed. “Today, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US.”
The good news for industry, Shaath pointed out, is Dr. Adele Green’s 2011 study, which reported that the proper application of sunscreen is very likely to significantly decrease the risk of UV radiation-induced melanoma. A more recent study, conducted by Dr. Elke Hackers in 2013, revealed that properly applied sunscreen can prevent skin cancer.
Yet, despite the proven benefits of sunscreen, social media and consumer groups continue to dominate the conversation about UV protection, he said.
“The internet buzz has some positives, but mostly negatives that sunscreens promote skin cancer and prevent vitamin D formation,” Shaath told Happi.
Other negatives include disparaging reports about oxybenzone and nanoparticles, as well as non-government organizations such The Environmental Working Group and Friends of the Earth imposing their standards on the industry.
Despite the threats from outside the industry, Nestor of Sun & Skin Care Research, is confident more good things are in store for the segment.
"We’ve seen the evolution of the sun care category and believe it is poised to be even more dynamic and vital to skin health and beauty in the next 50 years than the prior 50, across all price tiers," he told Happi. "Consumers will no longer have to compromise health for beauty, no matter the price point. As the FDA approves more ingredients we will see innovation that delivers greater protection with improved aesthetics. Beauty shoppers will no longer have to trust only beauty brands for their facial sun care needs. Anti-aging claims from sunscreens will increase but the consumer will also be more discriminating about which products they believe will truly deliver. It’s an opportunity for the consumer, manufacturer and retailer."
To sum up about sun protection, it’s clear that there’s been lots of good news, some bad news and many issues that are still making news. If one were to forecast the sun care market’s fortune for the next 50 years, it would surely be sunny, with a few scattered clouds.