Absolutely Natural Celebrates 25 years, Naturally
Google “natural sunscreen” and you’ll be inundated with options. But that wasn’t always the case. Ten years ago, a meager 17% of the sunblock market was considered “natural.” Go back another decade, and all-natural formulations were virtually nonexistent.
Absolutely Natural, a Melbourne company that makes suncare, skincare and spa products, was ahead of the curve, producing its first “Natural Tanning Formula” in 1992.
In the 25 years since, the company has grown into an internationally distributed brand, also supplying private labels to hotels and resorts around the world.
Charley Richards, the company’s founder and CEO, said the concept was inspired by his youngest son, Danny.
In the late 1980s, Richards was living in Maui with his wife, Kelly, and two young sons. During the school year, he taught high school English and coached wrestling. For summer, the family ran a small business renting umbrellas and chairs and selling sunscreen to hotel guests.
“At one point I noticed that when I would put the sunblock we sold on my boys, Danny, who always had fairly sensitive skin, would break out in a rash,” Richards said.
Dismayed by the adverse reaction, Richards started researching. He was troubled to learn the products he stocked were essentially a chemical cocktail of ingredients with potentially harmful side effects.
A majority of sunblocks contain oxybenzone and other chemicals that get absorbed through the skin — something of concern and the subject of ongoing research.
“When I realized what I was selling, it shocked me,” Richards said. “I knew we could do it better, and so I set out on a quest.”
Within a few months, the family bade farewell to island life.
Richards, the son of a factory worker and grocery store clerk, grew up poor in West Virginia. But the family did get away for summer vacations to Daytona Beach. Richards said fond memories of summers on the Florida coast are what drew him back here.
The family fell in love with the beachside community of Indialantic and purchased the first home they looked at.
Then Richards rolled up his sleeves and went to work.
“At the time, there was no Google,” Richards said. “You couldn’t just look up how to make natural sunscreen.”
Research and product development took nearly two years as Richards brought scientists, engineers, physicians and researchers on board.
Eventually, the team settled on a mineral-based mixture of zinc and titanium. This naturally sun-blocking combination sits on top of the skin, rather than being absorbed into it.
The company has grown from a 400 square-foot space to a team of 30 operating in an expansive 33,000-square-foot facility.
When asked what lies ahead for Absolutely Natural: “We’re looking at turning our private label operation into a separate branch of the business,” Richards said. “I’ll retire eventually.”
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