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Published September 28, 2020
Published September 28, 2020
Park Street via Unsplash

Sun care has historically been a seasonal category sold primarily through the FDM channel. Fast-forward to this last decade and we have finally seen the category evolve to an integrated part of daily skincare and personal skincare regimes. This behavioral shift has also fueled innovation that has expanded the category beyond sun to include environmental protection against things like pollution, infrared radiation, and blue light. Solésence lives at the intersection where sun care and skincare meet, developing clean hybrid protection products.

A confluence of trend—clean beauty, environmental concerns, and the explosive growth in the skincare category—have forced innovation in the category. Consumers are not willing to sacrifice performance and texture for protection. Solésence has been at the forefront of ingredient technology and formulation innovation, with a laser focus of efficacious mineral-based protection products that deliver a luxurious texture and experiential component while being safe for the environment.

Unlike many categories in the beauty space, sun care is an OTC product that requires expensive third-party testing to be able to claim performance. Solésence built a business model into this category pain point that has created a path to market for brands of any size to launch sun care products by offering a portfolio of market-ready products, customized white-label products, or custom development.

Kevin Cureton, Chief Operating Officer at Solésence, shares a view into the company’s innovative approach that allows them to service companies from start-ups to strategics, and in turn, move the category forward improving skin health across the globe.

Your tagline is “The future of sun care is the future of beauty.” We’ve finally seen sun protection evolve from a seasonal product primarily sold in the FDM channel to integration into daily use skincare and personal care products. We’d love to hear your insight on the shift and any predictions for the future of sun care.

On our end, the shift has been occurring for several years, dating back to more than three years or so ago as it became widely accepted that the primary cause of premature aging was sun damage / UV damage. Once that was accepted and reported broadly, in my point of view, that was when brands started to see sun protection as an important part of their line, particularly if they were focused on improving skin appearance and health. What’s happened more recently is that we now have the ability—through both ingredient technology and formulation know-how—to create products that offer environmental protection but also incorporate a much-improved experiential component. Now that it’s no longer a choice between offering sun care or offering a positive user experience, brands are more accepting of the idea of including sun care in their lines.

Looking toward to the future: Every product worn during the daytime could incorporate some form of environmental protection. And that’s what you’re starting to see across the beauty industry, ranging from, of course, the traditional moisturizers and cc creams, but even into treatment regimens for undereye and lip—these types of products are starting to also include SPF as part of the formulation concept. We see this continuing to evolve into more and more categories and formats.

Another thing we’re starting to see is the concept of layering, and that really, in my opinion, is partly to address some of the deficiencies that occur in the consumer use of sun protection products. Layering ensures that sun protection is evenly spread and applied. Things have changed again because of COVID-19. In some markets, we continue to see users apply multiple products in their daily routine but, our brand partners have observed significant strength of products that combine multiple steps into a single step. In part that’s been driven by the need and desire for more simplicity in the daily regimen.

The protection category has also expanded to include environmental protection against pollution, infrared radiation, and, more recently, blue light. Can you share how you’re seeing these trends evolve from a product development standpoint?

I think it goes back to the point that incorporating all of these features into a single product is becoming more the standard than the exception. The challenge, of course, is going to be continuing to have elegant—even beautiful—products as you’re trying to put all of these technologies into a single formulation. We are seeing a lot of new ingredients that, in part, can help with that. But formulation technology development is critical to enabling products to have the complexity in terms of what they address but the simplicity in terms of how they’re used.

Can you tell us about the Solésence patented Active Stress Defense Technology?

Our Active Stress Defense™ is built upon a philosophy that prevention is better than protection, which is also better than treatment. As the name suggests, it takes an active role in the environmental protection process by intercepting and quenching free radicals before they can become an issue. True prevention is a step up from what we all know as environmental protection. The cornerstone of the technology is an enhanced mineral-based sunscreen active that improves the performance of environmental protection while enhancing the aesthetics and overall experience. The scope of the technology continues to expand to incorporate the enhancement of other key ingredients in addition to zinc oxide.

You have an interesting business in that you are focused on a very specific category of products (mineral-based environmental protection) but you cast a wide net in terms of how you work, offering market-ready products, customized white-label products, and custom product development. Can you share a bit about this strategy?

We are definitely specialized but look towards a beauty industry future that takes skin health seriously—meaning that everyday skincare and even cosmetics are more complexion products, so in that sense, we don’t see mineral-based environmental protection products as super-specific. By being so focused on a single fundamental characteristic of products, it also allows us to invest in developing a broad scope of formats and textures that can make these products fun to use.

Our vision is to enhance people’s lives through healthy skin, so at the heart of that is to make sure that these products are accessible to a wide range of people through a wide range of brands. And therefore, we wanted to provide a path to market whereby a brand of any size would be able to launch a sun care product, so we created the market-ready product line. The market-ready product line also serves as a great foundation for showing larger brands concepts for what can be done with environmental protection products.

Contract manufacturers are a crucial piece in how brands bring products to market and fuel growth but, sometimes, navigating these relationships can be difficult, especially for small brands. Do you have any tips you can share for setting these relationships up for success?

Knowing what you want, why you’re coming to a particular contract manufacturer, and how to translate that into a product development brief is of critical importance when working with a contract manufacturer. The product development brief becomes the single point of truth for what you and your contract manufacturer are attempting to develop together, can help to avoid misunderstandings relative to the expectations between the brand and the contract manufacturer, and establishes the roles and responsibilities of each party.

It’s important for brands to know that they, as much as the contract manufacturer, will set the pace for completing the launch in a timely manner, particularly if they are involved in sourcing the componentry or any other specialized aspects of the formula. We don’t believe over-communication exists, nor do we ever feel like asking the same question more than once is a problem. You need to make sure that the contract manufacturer that you’re working with feels the same way.

What do other contract manufacturers get wrong that Solésence gets right, which sets you apart?

We believe there are never too many questions. Fundamentally, and maybe other contract manufacturers feel this way, we believe that there is no way for us to succeed unless our brand partners succeed. We’re creating a product so that our brand partners can be wildly successful, and, as a result, we’ll be wildly successful, too. We treat each product as if it is our own brand and put in all of the intention that we would as if we were launching it for ourselves. We don’t see our brands as competitors; we use the term “brand partners” to refer to our clients because we mean it.

What are the most common challenges you hear from your clients and how do you help?

Sun care is unique in the OTC space because it requires you to actually test your product to be able to claim the performance, rather than just claim a certain amount of monograph ingredients like with acne products, anti-microbial products, and skin protectant products. So, the challenge of developing a sun care product is that you have to have both the aesthetics and the performance in order to launch a product—and that performance is independently measured to define whether the product is acceptable or not. Our clients come to us—in more than half of the cases—because they haven’t been able to achieve that combination of aesthetics and performance in the products that they are looking to bring to market.

Product texture and skin feel are crucial elements in the development of a successful product launch, yet these attributes have been difficult in the sun care category at large but even more challenging for clean, mineral-based formulations. The texture and skin feel is something Solésence is known for—can you share why your formulas are so different?

I think it goes back to the Active Stress Defense™ Technology, but it also is because our team has a unique combination of scientific depth and artistry that allows them to build beautifully on the Active Stress Defense™ Technology through the range of ingredients that are made available to us through our supplier partners. The artistry associated with building these formulas cannot be understated, and we are building our knowledge and skill set every day.

Diversity and a focus on the needs of multicultural consumers is a global trend in the beauty industry and long overdue. Sun care has historically not focused on these consumers. You’ve created a specific offering to address these needs. When did you launch these products and how are they different?

Our company is diverse, our development team is diverse, which ultimately was part of the reason why these types of products naturally developed early in the launch of our business. While Multi-Cultural Magic was conceptualized for Fitzpatrick 4 and above skin tones, all of our products have been tested across the range from Fitzpatrick 1-5 since our launch in 2016. We often think of diversity as the color of people’s skin, but it also has to do with people’s taste and where they shop, and more recently we’ve been successful in working with clients who not only appear in premium, but also in places like Costco or drugstores. The accessibility of clean beauty sun care products for people of color has been limited until this year and we are keenly focused on helping to address that with our brand partners.

Another trend surfacing in the sun care category is the environmental impact of sunscreen, specifically on our oceans and marine life. Can you share some insight on this topic?

It’s part of the reason why we are a mineral-only developer of sun care products, but it also includes reviewing other ingredients that are included in the formulas to ensure they have a minimal impact on the environment as well. The impact of chemical sunscreens is well known now, but also free radicals are one of the major causes of sunscreen damage to oceans and marine life. One of the important attributes of the Active Stress Defense™ Technology is that it is a free-radical quencher, which essentially means it keeps free radicals from forming in the first place.

What is the perfect brand/client profile for Solésence?

Someone who loves product and is ready to truly engage, not only in the development of a new formula, but its completion and bringing it to life in the market. We look forward to hearing from you!