Spotlight on Suncare

Spotlight on Suncare

Naomi Sleeper
Vice President Continuous Improvement and Strategic Initiatives
Imperial Distributors


With days getting warmer and longer, now is the time to equip stores with a robust suncare program.  Last year’s suncare sales were down by about 15% across all channels due to cancelled vacations and summer camps during the pandemic. As more of the population gets vaccinated and begins to feel comfortable traveling, the suncare category is expected to rebound. Market Watch projects a 4.1% compounded annual growth rate in the category for 2021-2029. With a positive outlook for suncare sales this year, we focus this month on category trends to help make the most of the sunny season.

More sun protection, please: Consumer trends toward higher sun protection factors (SPF 30-70) align with dermatologist recommendations of using sunscreen with SPF 30+. Yet, according to dermatologists, most people apply only 25%-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen needed to get the full benefit of the sun protection factor (SPF) (the recommended amount is one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass). In addition, most people do not reapply sunscreen every two hours as recommended. Given consumer interest in sun protection, educating shoppers about necessary sunscreen application quantity and frequency can encourage higher consumption levels needed to best keep people safe against harmful rays this season.

Skin health: Consumers are concerned about not just the sun protection factor, but also other skin-health effects of sunscreens. Shoppers’ focus on overall skin health contributes to the movement toward natural ingredients (i.e. mineral sunscreens) over traditional chemical ones, as well as demand for ingredient transparency. Growing integration of overall skincare into suncare also means inclusion of broader skin-health ingredients—including antioxidants, prebiotics and probiotics to support the skin barrier—in premium suncare products.

Environmental safety: Millennial and Gen Z consumers are not only concerned about their own health, but also the environment’s. The bleaching effect of chemical ingredients on coral reefs has led to the development and marketing of “reef-safe” and “reef-friendly” (mineral-based) sunscreen alternatives. These suncare options not only are becoming more available, but even are mandatory in certain vacation destinations. According to Nielsen, about 20% of households purchased mineral reef-safe sunscreen in 2020. While growth in this segment of the category has been minimal to date—in part, due to suppressed tourism during the pandemic, as well as low awareness of reef-safety—this segment is expected to mature in upcoming seasons.

Inclusive coverage: Studies have found a significant gap in sunscreen consumption for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) consumers. Lack of attention from the medical community on the effects of sun damage on darker skin has been identified as a primary cause of this “sunscreen gap.” Unavailability of suncare products for diverse skin tones also discourages sunscreen purchases by BIPOC consumers. Many sunscreens, particularly natural varieties, are known to leave a white cast on dark skin. The need for greater inclusivity in suncare is driving product diversity and an increase in sunscreens that work for all skin tones. These sunscreen formulations include micronized zinc, transparent oxides, and blends of pigments for sheer and blendable SPF coverage.

Beyond sunscreen: While sun protection makes up ~89% of the suncare category annually, a complete suncare program includes not just sunscreen but also after-sun, sun tanning and sunless tanning products. According to Mintel GNPD, 58% of millennials think a tan makes them look more attractive. Perhaps not surprisingly, sunless tanning was the only sub-category to post an increase in sales in 2020, with Nielsen data showing a +7% increase over 2019. Given concern about skin health, growth in this sub-category is projected to continue.

Keeping up with suncare trends across the category will help both retailers and consumers stay covered for a healthy spring-summer season.