By Jennifer Wirth
Golden-tan bodies were once looked upon as a symbol of youth, vitality and health - not to mention an indication of a life of wealth and leisure.
Then came news of the link between sunburn and skin cancer, and we learned what we thought was healthy - the sun's rays - can kill.
This year alone, 9,800 people will die of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Every year more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.
As a result, anxious consumers wanting to enjoy the outdoors safely have made one of the best defenses against skin cancer - sunscreen - into a moneymaking industry.
Just ask John Wernig, director of operations for Ocean Potion Sun and Skin Care Research Inc. His Cocoa, Fla.-based company, Ocean Potion, started more than 14 years ago with 12 products sold locally.
With 38 tanning, sun-protection and after-sun products, the internationally distributed Ocean Potion name is known the world over.
"Business is great," Wernig said. "The first 10 years, our sales doubled every year."
Since then, sales have increased by at least 30 percent each year. "As the ozone layer deteriorated, the sun-care business became more prevalent in people's lives," Wernig said.
According to Information Resources Inc., the 2003 sun-care industry is a $500 million business, up from $416.3 million in 2002.
In the past five years, sun-care industry growth has averaged 5 percent to 7 percent each year, compared with most other health-and-beauty categories, which typically grow at an annual rate of 2 percent to 3 percent.
"The overall industry just continues to grow," said James Gambino, executive vice president and general manager of Terry Laboratories, which sells processed aloe to companies that make skin products. "The sun doesn't do good things to your skin."
But many people still yearned for the tanned look. So now, another moneymaker has emerged: sunless tanning.
Sunless tanning is achieved through the use of a cream or lotion designed to tint the skin without exposing it to the sun's harmful rays.
Five years ago, Ocean Potion offered just one sunless-tanning product. But, recognizing the new trend, the company this year relaunched its sunless-tanning line with three new products.
"We knew we had to get more aggressive," said Michael Schmidt, president of Ocean Potion.
Many sun-care and skin-care companies, such as Neutrogena and Hawaiian Tropic, heavily market their sunless-tanning products. Each tries to find new and more-convenient ways to package it, from gel to foam to sprays.
One company, EluSun, even offers a soft-gel pill meant to be taken orally. Containing carotene, the pill supposedly works by increasing the pigmentation of the skin's upper layers.
Products that contain a very high SPF, sun-protection factor, also are booming, according to Schmidt.
Recognizing one-third of its sales were spent on products with sun protection above 45 SPF, Hawaiian Tropic recently introduced Ozone SPF 70, which offers what the company claims is the highest SPF protection on the American market.
The growth in this area, Schmidt said, is driven mostly by dermatologists.
"People should put their sunscreen right next to their toothbrush, so they remember to apply it every day," said Dr. Terrence Cronin Jr., a dermatologist in Melbourne, Fla.
And, to be effective, he said, the sunscreen should be waterproof, have a SPF of at least 15 and be reapplied regularly.
"It almost seems to be more effective to appeal to people's vanity and how the sun will age their skin, rather than to talk about skin cancer. People just don't think it will happen to them," Cronin said. "But, the truth is, if you don't have skin cancer, someone you love probably does."
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