In the past 10 years or so, dozens of new sun products have been battling for shelf space in supermarkets and pharmacies.
According to Charles H. Kline and Co. Inc., a New York market research and consulting firm, retail sales for tanning products, quick tan and after-sun-exposure products, and sunscreens and sunblocks were about $350 million last year (other industry estimates put the figure around $200 million).
Although tan-promoting products are still the biggest sellers, sales of sunscreens and sunblocks are increasing at twice the rate of the rest of the market, a Kline spokesman said, adding that people in the industry attribute this to a greater public awareness of the link between skin cancer and sun exposure.
As defined by the industry, sunscreens have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 5 or higher, while sunblocks have an SPF of 15 or above. Simply stated, SPF is the added amount of time it takes for a person of a given skin type to receive a minimum sunburn with a product. So, theoretically, a fair-skinned person who might normally begin to turn pink after only 10 minutes of exposure to the sun, could stay outside almost 2 1/2 hours when wearing a sunblock with an SPF of 15.
The Food and Drug Administration, working with the industry, is developing a detailed report which will define and regulate sunscreens and sunblocks. The FDA is recommending a standardized scale, which would list products only as SPF 2, 4, 6, 8, or 15, and no higher.
“As I understand it, 15 allows no sun penetration,” said an FDA spokesman. As for the growing crop of products that advertise SPFs as high as 30, he said, “Apparently that’s like having something that’s blacker than black.”
There is, however, some contention about that scale. Dr. Kays Kaidbey, an adjunct associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent a good part of his career investigating sunscreens, respectfully disagreed.
Because a product’s SPF is tested under artificial conditions, the numbers “are a bit on the high side, he said, adding that “a total block does not exist yet.”
So, if “a sunscreen with SPF of 15 is really more like a 10 out in the sun if you really want total protection, why not start with a 25?” Kaidbey said.
For a product to be effective, it must stay on, dermatologists point out. Water-resistant products are becoming very competitive; several companies closely guard formulas that they contend will keep a product effective after as much as 80 minutes of swimming.
Other companies are talking about adding vitamins to their products to compensate for the fact that sunscreens also cut out the vitamin D generated by sunlight. And by putting on a sunscreen, a user can now make himself smell like a banana or coconut or various other types of tropical fruit.
Oddly enough, while researchers have been fretting over ways to make their products invisible, the hot trend for next summer may be a throwback to the old days, when surfers and lifeguards could be identified by the white zinc oxide smeared on their noses. A company called Ambassador Enterprises in Gardena is marketing “reformulated” zinc oxide in 10 bright shades, under the name Zinka, and it seems to be catching on with the under-21 surf crowd.
“It’s definitely happening with the young surf crowd and hard-core beach-goers,” said T.K. Brimer, owner of the Froghouse surf shop in Newport Beach. But he pointed out that although the product is an effective sunblock, surfers are buying it because they like the flamboyant colors and “with absolute disregard for skin cancer.”
Finally, those who really want to be careful about their exposure to the sun might consider this: According to the New York-based Skin Cancer Foundation, blue denim has an SPF of 1700.