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Sun Care: To Scent or Not to Scent

By: Nancy C. Hayden
Posted: December 7, 2009, from the December 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

The sun care market has exploded in the past few years, with hundreds of products competing for shelf space. Just take a look at the shelves of your local drug or chain stores. This is all due to the recent awareness of the ravages of the sun on the skin and the link to cancer and aging. Dermatologists have proven the direct correlation between the damaging effects of both UVA and UVB rays and skin cancer, as well as attributing the sun as the catalyst for premature aging and of negative impact on skin texture. The sun protection factor (SPF) is a general tool used by the consumer to choose a sunscreen, but this does not ensure the choice of the most effective product. (See Page 32 for more information on sun care.)

Sun screen formulas have improved dramatically throughout the years, and standard, traditional sunscreen ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are still being incorporated in sun care products, while new ingredients proliferate. When examining some of the classic suntan lotions, there’s a strong memory factor in the fragrances that were used.

Sea & Ski had a clean fresh green lavender citrus floral. Coppertone had a fuller, woodier floral with some amber, and Tropic Tan used the fruity tropical notes of melons and peaches with strong coconut undertones. They became reminiscent fragrances of the beach, and brought back good times of basking and baking in the sun. They were subliminal memories of summertime. These products certainly did not contain the newest sunscreen UVA/UVB absorbers, so fragrance interactions were not a wide concern.

The questions today is should these fragrance types be repeated when called to fragrance a new sun care formula? Many perfumers and chemists polled have not noticed a particular problem in covering base notes of these newer formulas. The sunscreen chemicals do not have the malodors of some of the older formulae, and there is a definite trend away from fragrancing these base formulas because of the interaction between certain UV absorbers and some of the more unstable perfume ingredients. Why add to the problems with fragrance?

Further, in reviewing the ratings of the Environmental Working Group, sunscreens that offer the most protection and highest safety also have the least fragrancing components. Some of the newer products today, such as Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch, have a very mild, nondescript and clean floral fragrance that barely covers some of the chalky base notes of the silica and silicone derivatives—let alone the salicylate and the acrylates. In fact, Neutrogena has a huge number of sun care products available, and many are not fragranced. But, for the most part, new sun care products have stayed with a rather pleasant, nondescript fragrance that is clean and fresh. Those with SPF factors of 30 or above use a minimal amount of fragrance to cover the base notes.