In the past 10 years, dozens of new sunscreens and tan-promoting products have been battling for shelf space in supermarkets and pharmacies. According to Charles H. Kline & Co. Inc., a New York market research and consulting firm, retail sales for three categories of products--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.
As the industry defines them, sunscreens are products with 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.
The Food and Drug Administration, working with the industry, is currently developing a 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 a spokesman at the FDA. 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."