It’s probably not an overstatement to say every small business entrepreneur’s dream is to have a retailer like Walgreens approach them to put their product on its shelves without ever having to make a single cold call or knock on any doors. It’s just not how things normally work.
But when you’ve created an innovative line of products that carve out a new market within a multi-billion dollar industry, sometimes Walgreens comes to you. That’s exactly what happened to Shontay Lundy and her company, Black Girl Sunscreen, according to a press release.
Lundy created Black Girl Sunscreen in 2016 after being disappointed by a total absence of sun care products for dark-skinned people like her. At the time, the only sun protection option Black women had was sunscreen that wasn’t formulated for melanated skin and left behind a visible white residue. With that as their only option, many Black women simply chose not to use sunscreen at all, leaving their skin vulnerable to sun damage, because although the melanin in darker skin protects against certain UV rays, people of color are still susceptible to skin cancer, hyperpigmentation, sunspots and premature wrinkles.
Available in 30 SPF for women and SPF 50 for kids, and infused with natural ingredients like avocado, jojoba, cacao, carrot juice, and sunflower oil, Black Girl Sunscreen was the first sunscreen specifically formulated for women of color, drying completely clear while protecting dark skin without leaving behind a white-cast. The product quickly took off.
“Black Girl Sunscreen has been very fortunate that we haven’t had to go to any retailer to ask if we can be in their stores,” says Lundy.
“We got into Walgreens by doing the work, proving ourselves, and having a community believe in a product that honors their skin, a product they never had access to before.”
Walgreens took notice of Lundy’s business and tracked its progress before approaching her.
“Black Girl Sunscreen brought this breakthrough innovation to market and they’ve known since Day One exactly who their customer is,” says Emily Curtiss, Walgreens associate category manager for sun care.
“It’s been great to see them — both as a minority- and a woman-owned business — rise so quickly. We just loved them and had to have them with Walgreens.”
In just a few years Black Girl Sunscreen had created a category built on making sun protection available to all. But the company’s mission extends beyond simply selling products.
“Our intention when we launched was to serve as an alternative to give consumers a choice to say, ‘Hey, I want to use this brand because their products work for my skin complexion and because I believe in their philosophy,’” says Lundy.
That philosophy is rooted in educating women with melanated skin about the risks of sun exposure and the risks of not protecting their skin when they’re outside. It also brings a higher purpose. It’s a core element of Lundy’s company and drives everything they do.
The importance of sun care education
The five-year melanoma survival rate for Black people in the U.S. is 71%, compared to 93% for white people, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. So, while there are fewer instances of skin cancer among Black people, the mortality rate is significantly higher. Lundy points to two factors involved in that gap: a learned resistance to using sunscreen because in the past those with melanated skin couldn’t find a product created for their unique needs, and the mistaken belief among many people with dark skin that they are immune from sun damage, including skin cancer.
“We knew from our research that people with darker skin tones weren’t using sunscreen because there was no product on the market specifically tailored to them,” says Curtiss.
“So Shontay came up with this amazing product, but it’s more than that. She and her company are shouting from the rooftops, ‘It doesn’t matter your skin color, wear sunscreen!’ Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., so they want everybody to be protected. That philosophy is a perfect fit with Walgreens purpose to create more joyful lives through better health.”
Lundy’s mission is to change the narrative around sun safety by empowering women of color with knowledge about how to better care for their skin, and the implications to their health if they don’t. That starts with education.
“We want to be more than ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!,’” she says.
“Our brand is also about the ‘Why? Why? Why?.’ That happens through direct conversations with customers and potential customers, and now that we’ve grown and have a larger voice, we’re also able to have those conversations through our marketing and digital platforms, which allow us to reach more people with our message.”
“Add to that the validation our retail partners provide,” Lundy continues.
“Being in Walgreens stores is a critical element to educating our customers because they’re a trusted healthcare brand in thousands of locations where our customers shop, with healthcare professionals in-store to consult with questions. That endorsement is really valuable.”
Sun care education also appeals to Walgreens, which aims to be every consumer’s skin health destination.
“One of the things we’re looking to grow is the education piece, making sure customers who come into our stores know exactly why it’s important to wear sunscreen and take care of their skin,” says Curtiss.
“Our partnership with Shontay and Black Girl Sunscreen pairs us with a brand that has the same objectives, and we think that when combined we can be a positive force for women of color.”
After years of being forced to lag behind those with lighter pigmentation when it came to caring for their skin in the sun, women with melanated skin finally have a product they can embrace. And with a dedicated push from Black Girl Sunscreen and Walgreens to educate them, the opportunity for healthier skin for women of color is higher than it’s ever been.
“Black Girl Sunscreen brings a beautiful sense of representation to Walgreens,” says Curtiss.
“They not only bring in new customers who wouldn’t have ever walked down the sunscreen aisle previously, they really add to that value of skin health that we want everybody to take seriously.”