JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Summer often means days at the lake, fishing, swimming, boating and playing — outside activities that for the health conscious require slathering on a layer of sunscreen.
But with the recent news that more than 40 percent of sunscreen delivers less protection than labels promise, finding the right product can be a little baffling and time consuming.
The decision might be a little easier for Mountain Empire residents. One brand that consistently came out on top in the testing is made in Northeast Tennessee.
Five types of Blue Lizard Australian sunscreen have been made at Johnson City-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Crown Laboratories for more than a decade.
Walter Thompson, the company’s director of research and development, said Thursday that a number of things set Blue Lizard apart from other brands.
“All Blue Lizard sunscreens are formulated to have an SPF [sun protection factor] of 30+ and contain at least 6 percent zinc oxide,” Thompson said. “Our products are also chemical- and fragrance-free.”
Blue Lizard Regular and Sport varieties provide 80 minutes of water-resistant protection.
Those two brands also have been found to meet the more rigorous Australian test method for water resistance at 240 minutes.
Crown Chief Operating Officer Jack Songster said it’s important for the company to continue to use those high standards when manufacturing its products.
“Blue Lizard originated in Australia, where those standards are high,” Songster said. “Our products are made here in the United States and it’s our commitment to continue to adhere to those strict standards with each batch of sunscreen we make.”
In May, Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group announced that research shows not all sunscreens are up to industry standards.
Over the past year, Consumer Reports researchers tested more than 60 lotions, sprays and sticks with claimed ratings of SPF 30 or higher. The findings, which included sun protection levels and ingredient checks, revealed that 43 percent of the products tested had less protection than claimed.
As a result, Consumer Reports is calling for tougher and more standard guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration.
For Blue Lizard, another thing that sets the brand apart is the patented Smart Bottle packaging, which helps consumers know when to use sunscreen. The white bottles change color, blue for regular sunscreen and pink for babies, when exposed to ultraviolet light.
“Blue Lizard sunscreen is the only brand to have Smart Bottle technology,” said Site Head and General Manager Randy Noonchester. “It’s a visual reminder that your skin is being exposed to UV rays even when you’re not thinking about it, like cloudy days.”
So just how is Blue Lizard sunscreen made?
The process started with a team of lab technicians who develop the formulation. Next, it went through a highly specialized testing phase prior to approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Testing is something that we pride ourselves on,” Thompson said. “The Blue Lizard brand went through a rigorous testing phase to make sure it was safe and accurate.”
Zinc oxide and octinoxate, along with more well-known ingredients like beeswax, are formulated together in steel drums, then put into bottles on an assembly line.
Bottles of the product are shipped to major retailers like Walgreens and Walmart and each phase of the manufacturing process is inspected very carefully, even down to the labels, which are placed on the bottles by hand.
“Our products have really grown through the years,” Noonchester said. “We employ 200 people and our production line will produce 16,000 three ounce tubes of Blue Lizard and 17,500 five ounce bottles in just one day alone.”
Company executives say they’re proud of their growth and Director of Brand Development David Arapakos said the medical industry in East Tennessee has played a big role.
“Our sunscreen started out being only available in the dermatologist’s office, so to see how far we’ve come and the amount of products we create on a daily basis is a true testament,” Arapakos said. “We’re passionate about providing the best product possible.”