Here Comes the Sun. So Watch Out

Not only do today's sun-care products offer better protection from damaging UVA and UVB rays, they're also more innovative

For those seeking sun protection this summer, Peter Thomas Roth has given new meaning to the phrase "take a powder."

"Some people just don't want to put lotion on their faces," says Roth, founder and chief executive officer of Peter Thomas Roth Clinical Skin Care in New York, which recently launched Instant Mineral SPF 30, a powdered sunscreen that comes with a brush applicator. "Women can dust our new sunscreen on over their makeup. People on a boat or playing tennis can just brush it on to protect themselves from UVA and UVB rays."

Roth's offering, which retails for $30 for a 9g bottle, embodies the major trends in the sun-care industry as a whole. In a wide-open market poised for growth, manufacturers have plenty of room to experiment with new sunscreens, sunless tanners, and after-sun moisturizers. And from mass-market brands such as Hawaiian Tropic that cost less than $10 a bottle, to boutique brands such as 3Lab SkinCare, which sells its sunblock exclusively at Barneys for $55 a tube, it's pretty much all about the same two things: adding more protection from UVA rays in sunscreens and improving ease of application for both sunscreens and sunless tanners.

Of course, the thinning of the ozone layer and the resulting need to up the sun protection factor isn't news. The sun-care products industry first began responding to the ozone problem back in the early 1980s by strengthening its products to protect people from the sun's ultraviolet rays the ozone layer could no longer filter out as efficiently. What's driving this wave of innovation in particular is the FDA's announcement last August that it will impose new rules for labeling the protections sunscreens offer.

A New Awareness of UVA Rays

Traditionally, sunscreen makers have had to specify protection from the sun's ultraviolet B rays only, via the SPF rating. "For many years, we thought UVB rays were solely responsible for skin cancers," says Dr. Arielle N.B. Kauvar, a practicing dermatologist and clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. "Now we know that ultraviolet A rays also cause skin cancers. Most premature aging is a sign of UVA exposure." Dermatologists have been worrying about UVA damage since the 1990s, but it's only in the last few years that awareness has spread significantly among consumers.

In response, the sun-care industry is bolstering UVA protection in its products and preparing to indicate its strength via labeling on the bottle. According to Food & Drug Administration spokeswoman Rita Chappelle, the administration is reviewing 20,000 comments sun-care industry players have submitted in regard to the proposal, which would obligate sun-care product manufacturers to rank UVA protection—separately from SPF—probably on a scale of one to four stars. The FDA has announced no date for the final ruling. "[Manufacturers] don't know when it will happen, but it keeps them on their toes," Chappelle says.

In the meantime, the FDA has laid the groundwork for labeling by standardizing the testing procedure to determine the strength of UVA protection. Although many sunscreens already offer some UVA protection, they indicate it only by saying they have "broad spectrum" protection, which means it protects from both UVA and UVB. When the FDA rules go into effect, manufacturers will have to list the strengths of UVA and UVB protection separately on the bottle.

A Growth Industry

Anticipating increased consumer awareness of the premature aging caused by UVA rays, makers of sunless tanners are coming out with new and improved products as well.

Indeed, there seems to be plenty of room for everybody in the sun-care market, which market-research group Euromonitor International defines as comprising sun-protection products (sunscreens and sunblocks), after-sun moisturizers, and self-tanners. U.S. sales totaled $1.46 billion in 2007, according to Euromonitor. Roman Shuster, a research analyst for the firm, believes the market will expand by about 6% in 2008.

And that is by no means the ceiling for growth, according to Shuster, who is based in the firm's U.S. office in Chicago. "I would say 20% to 50% of Americans who need sun protection haven't started using it yet," he says.

The graying of America and global warming also mean growth for the sun-care industry. "The longer people live, the more likely they'll have a problem if they keep sunning themselves. And the ozone problem is getting worse," says Loran Braverman, a Standard & Poor's equity analyst based in New York who covers the household and personal-care products sector. "I don't see why sunscreens wouldn't be on the rise."

Promising New Ingredients

Braverman points to Energizer's (ENR) 2007 acquisition of Playtex, owner of the Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic brands, as a harbinger of industry expansion. "In my opinion, the growth in sun care is one reason Energizer bought Playtex," she says.

What this means for consumers is products with a variety of new benefits, including a faster drying time, a quicker application, the addition of antioxidants, and the need for less frequent reapplication.

Dr. Kauvar sees promise in three new proprietary ingredients that counteract natural light's propensity for breaking down sunscreen over time, degrading its ability to protect the skin from UVA rays. This magic trio consists of Helioplex (in Aveeno and Neutrogena sun-care products), AvoTriplex (Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic), and Mexoryl SX (SkinCeuticals and Anthelios), which has been in use in Europe for years but only recently won FDA approval.

Hands-Free Tanning

As for SPFs, Neutrogena, which, like Aveeno, is owned by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), seems to have taken the prize. Its Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock, which retails for $9.99, has an SPF of 85.

Most sunless tanners also come in sprays to make it easier for users to cover their entire backs and prevent the streaky, uneven appearance that sullied such products' reputations in their earlier incarnations. The Solérra Sunless Tanning Science line now includes loofah mitts infused with sunless tanner so users can slather themselves with no unnatural darkening of the palms.

Ease of application also means faster drying time for Solérra and numerous other sunless tanners and sunscreens. Many say their products dry in seconds rather than minutes, so consumers don't have to wait around before putting their clothes back on or lying on a towel.

And while Shuster reports growth in sunscreen products costing $30 to $40 a bottle, consumers can get equal protection from modestly priced lines such as Coppertone.

"A higher price tag doesn't mean a stronger sunscreen," Dr. Kauvar says. "The important thing is high SPF and broad spectrum coverage."

Click through's slide show for more on the newest sun-care products.

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