The Story Behind Viral Indie Beauty Brand Black Girl Sunscreen
In three days earlier this month, Refinery29, Teen Vogue and Marie Claire published articles about Black Girl Sunscreen that picked up on praise a Reddit commenter with the handle Khaleesidee heaped on the brand’s moisturizing, lightweight SPF 30 formula.
Shontay Lundy, founder of Black Girl Sunscreen, was as surprised as anyone by the media blitz. At barely older than six months, her company doesn’t have the wherewithal to hire a big-time public relations firm to chase beauty editors, and she had no prior connection to the complimentary Reddit reviewer. However, Lundy suggests Black Girl Sunscreen is a hot topic because it addresses a topic often ignored: sun protection for women of color.
“The sun doesn’t discriminate between complexions,” she says. “We are susceptible to melanoma, sun damage and sun burns. In my opinion, we haven’t been educated because of an old-school mentality. Parents would tell their children, ‘You’re black. You don’t need sunscreen. Use shea butter.’ Shea butter doesn’t protect against UVA or UVB rays. We need sunscreen, and we haven’t been represented at all in the market. It’s extremely underwhelming.”
With women of color not a priority for most sunscreen makers, Lundy, an avid hiker, yoga enthusiast and beach goer who’s careful about skin maintenance, couldn’t find sunscreens that performed up to her standards before releasing her own in October. The residue prevailing sunscreens left on her skin made her hesitant to slather them on if she was venturing out in public.
“Cosmetics are supposed to make you look good and feel good and sunscreen, as a cosmetic, has that mission, too. If there are chalky, purple or gray remnants, no woman is going to feel good about that,” says Lundy. “I wanted a sunscreen with the consistency of a moisturizer. It couldn’t be sticky so you’d feel like you’d have to wash your hands after applying it.”
“The sun doesn’t discriminate between complexions. We are susceptible to melanoma, sun damage and sun burns. In my opinion, we haven’t been educated because of an old-school mentality. Parents would tell their children, ‘You’re black. You don’t need sunscreen. Use shea butter.’ Shea butter doesn’t protect against UVA or UVB rays.”
Black Girl Sunscreen is busy spreading its message through the press and various partnerships such as a forthcoming tie-in with Black Girls RUN!. Lundy emphasizes education is paramount, with good reason. African-Americans employ sunscreens at much lower rates than their white counterparts. One survey revealed 63% of African-Americans reported they’d never used sunscreen. While incidences of skin cancer are fewer among women of color than Caucasian women, women of color have graver prognoses when they’re diagnosed with the disease.
“People are starting to take notice within the black community,” says Lundy, adding, “I am my customer. I have a diverse group of friends, and they’ve been able to get products to protect their skin, and we haven’t been able to because of the simple fact that we look silly, like a ghost. No one wants to look like that.”
Black Girl Sunscreen’s tube packaging is black and gold, and Lundy chose the colors to signify strength and luxury. The sunscreen is priced at $18.99 for a 3-oz. size. “Compared to competitors with boutique sunscreen lines, we are at a low price point. We have competitors that charge $32.99 for two or three ounces,” says Lundy. “I didn’t want to price myself out of the market. Customers do shop with price at the forefront.”
Because sun protection is a new concept for many women of color, Lundy shied away from taking huge bets on retail distribution early on and has relied primarily on e-commerce to sell Black Girl Sunscreen. It’s available digitally on it website as well as BLK + GRN and WeBuyBlack. Black Girl Sunscreen has branched out beyond virtual environments to select beauty supply stores, subscription beauty boxes and salons.
“Cosmetics are supposed to make you look good and feel good and sunscreen, as a cosmetic, has that mission, too. If there are chalky, purple or gray remnants, no woman is going to feel good about that. I wanted a sunscreen with the consistency of a moisturizer.”
Lundy envisions Black Girl Sunscreen making headway at retailers the likes of Macy’s, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s. She would consider creating a less expensive option for drugstores and grocery chains. Lundy is also considering expanding Black Girl Sunscreen’s product portfolio with kids’ and men’s offerings.
For its first year in operation, Lundy sought not to tether Black Girl Sunscreen to a strict revenue goal. “We are doing great, but I didn’t go into this with any expectations,” she says. “This is a product that’s not MAC or Revlon. We have to be visible. We want to let as many people know about us as possible.”
The Reddit commenter-fueled media exposure has certainly helped raise awareness about Black Girl Sunscreen. “When you’re in publications with large followings, it validates your legitimacy,” says Lundy. “Even though we’re an upstart, we are making a splash.”
[Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on May 25, 2018. It has been reposted on July 4 for the ‘official’ start of summer.]