The scent of sunscreen and summer

The scent of sunscreen and summer

By Ashley Kowalewski

Piña coladas, flowers, sunshine: One sniff of your favourite sunscreen and you’re transported to a bikini-mandatory mindset.

But how did this iconic association come to be? What has made the scent of coconut and tropical vacations synonymous with SPF and summer?

Coppertone was the first company to put suncare on the map. Benjamin Green, a WWII airman, developed a product to help protect his fellow soldiers from sun exposure. Eventually he added cocoa butter to his formula; from there modern-day suncare was born.

We chatted with Grace Riccardi, Manager Sun Care Research & Development at Hawaiian Tropic in Allendale, NJ, to help us understand the story behind the scent.
“Orange blossom and coconut are the heritage of sun care,” says Riccardi. “For many decades, if it didn’t smell like white flowers, it smelled like coconut.”

And for most of us, those tropical smells—and tastes—translate to memories of vacations past. So even if we’re not in the tropics but merely wishing we were as we lounge poolside on our northern hemisphere lawn chairs, we can imagine being perched on the beach, piña colada in hand.

We relate the smell of coconut to that moment of relaxation, sunshine and play. No wonder it’s a feel-good smell that we can’t get enough of.

Where is the suncare moving? Hawaiin Tropic’s Riccardi tells us that the scent is becoming more experiential with a definite overlap on the trends in the beauty and skincare industries. Many of the latest sunscreens multitask as moisturizers and shimmer or faux-tan products. And fragrance too since new SPF-laced lotions and sprays smell good enough to wear as a summer scent.

The latest from Hawaiian Tropic, its Silk Hydration After Sun Moisturizer, boasts a coconut-papaya scent, leaving you with a fruity-tropical experience long after you’ve left the beach. ($10,


Then there’s Shoppers Drug Mart’s Life Brand Sunscreen Continuous Spray SPF 30 in Coconut Lime. ($12, It tries to put some fun in the SPF ritual.

Citrus is the name of the game for Biotherm. Following up on last year’s lemon-scented Lait Solaire, its newly launched Ultra-Fluid Body Milk Sun Protection opts for the scent of fresh water mixed with sunny orange notes. (Available in SPF 15 and 30, $35,

The new Neutrogena Beach Defense sun care collection also taps the feel-good power of citrus. It’s a great option for those who just aren’t crazy for coconut. (Neutrogena Beach Defense Adult SPF30 Lotion, $15,

And you can’t go wrong with Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Waterproof SPF 30 with its classic, fresh-bright-and-tropical suntan-lotion scent, perfect for sunny summer days spent at the beach. $12,




“In recent years, we have created modernized, fresh versions of the original Hawaiian Tropic scent to fit the brand’s new position,” Riccardi says. And that position? “Indulgence,” says the R&D expert.

For us, all of these coconut, lime, papaya and beach-inspired smells leave us thinking that if the product-development teams can make all of our sun care products smell this good then the entire fresh-air-and-sunshine-loving population would actually reapply the stuff like we’re all supposed to.

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Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.