Brand Spotlight Series: Love, Protection & Sunscreen with Sara Dudley, CEO of The Sunscreen Company
Asgard Beauty X The Sunscreen Company
Hello there and welcome to our Brand Spotlight Series! This time, we get to chat with Sara Dudley, the CEO of The Sunscreen Company.
Here at Asgard Beauty, we are passionate about quality skincare (which is one of the reasons Asgard Beauty exists), and we get especially excited about finding fantastic mineral sunscreens. The Sunscreen Company has three lines under their belt: Cyberderm, which is their first and original line that came into existence by two physician couples, a chemist and a daughter (Sara), who came together to create effective products with minimal, quality ingredients for their dermatology clinic. Next is Natrèceutique, where the western medical world meets natural medicine; and instead of being in conflict with one another, the process is collaborative to create nourishing and effective products that both sides would approve of and use. The third line has been getting a huge amount of attention, it is the newest addition to The Sunscreen Company and has recently launched a few new SPF products. If you haven't guessed, its Ava Isa! Ava Isa is a particularly special product line for Sara, who created Ava Isa as a love letter to her daughter (Ava Isabella). Sara wanted to create something that could not only protect, and encourage people to use sunscreen daily —by creating elegant mineral formulations and packaging, but to make her daughter proud. Let me tell you, the Ava Isa line (especially the Sun-è-Serum Drops SPF 35) are definitely something to be proud of.
With that said, let's jump into the written Q&A with Sara!
The Sunscreen Company used to be called Cyberderm: What prompted the name change?
Cyberderm was the official company name as it was incorporated back in 1995. I always joke that it was the 90’s and so the whole new idea of the internet and all things ‘cyber’ were kind of sexy and interesting. Back then as well, it was typical to include the word derm if it came from a dermatological focus. We officially got the company operational in 2008 and it was intended to provide skincare for my mother’s dermatology clinic in Ottawa. Physician-based skincare and the idea of cosmeceuticals were very trendy and concurrently, you had the luxury type department store skincare brands. Very often, these formulas were very complicated and had 40-50 ingredients in them. Our initial tagline when we started was “Less Chemicals. More Efficacy. Please” and we just had the simple premise of making skincare that was curated and streamlined while focusing on unique and performance-based actives. One of our first formulas included the earliest iteration of our Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 25. People really resonated with the story of sunscreens and how poorly formulated many of the available options were. We realized that there was a lot of interest and demand for aesthetic but safe and effective mineral sunscreens. We focused our company efforts and over the course of many years, we honed our ability to make transparent and aesthetic options using high concentrations of zinc oxide. Finally in 2017, we decided to put our expertise front-row and center and make the official jump to being The Sunscreen Company ™️. We also launched Ava Isa and Natrèceutique at the same time so we put all of our unique lines under the main umbrella of The Sunscreen Company™️.
What was the motivation for putting such an emphasis on sunscreen in the company name?
I had actually completed my MBA while running the company in 2010 and part of what I learned was the importance of communicating your value proposition to the customer. I was so surprised when I went to see if The Sunscreen Company had been trademarked or whether the URL was available and no other company was using them. It’s great because it makes it 100% crystal clear what we do and what we specialize in. The only downside is that sometimes even we forget about the other great skincare that we make. We neglect our other skincare in our marketing and storytelling because our sunscreens pull so much focus. The Sunscreen and Great Skincare Company maybe does not roll of the tongue in the same way.
The Sunscreen Company puts an emphasis on bringing together many different specialties and skincare ideologies: What was the thinking behind creating such an inclusive and collaborative brand?
Our first sales were in a dermatologist office where patients would come in of all skin tones and with all kinds of needs. We would literally test our R&D samples on people as they walked through the door and it’s one thing when you can’t find a skincare or suncare solution for a customer. There is a whole added level of exclusion when you can’t help someone who is your patient as well. There is the physician’s oath about doing no harm and that means being inclusive. We also have a fairly diverse staff so especially with sunscreen, it can be pretty obvious when someone tries it and it’s not transparent on them.
Did trying to incorporate all of these different areas create any challenges while you were growing?
When we first started, we did not realize the depth of regulatory knowledge and pure amount of paperwork that is involved in selling a sunscreen in Canada. It took years for us as a company to develop the wherewithal to master that complexity and it took a lot of time and great expense, which is money that perhaps would have normally been put to a bigger marketing budget. We also had the complexity of having products that were meeting the most stringent green beauty but the Cyberderm line really identified as a clinical skincare brand. We were having some of our products be sold at green beauty stores but the fit for our brand as a whole was not always there. This was part of the justification in creating Ava Isa and Natrèceutique- we wanted lines that were 100% intentional in being part of green/clean beauty. The Cyberderm line has now evolved to meet most clean beauty standards as well so that is an accomplishment as well, especially with each new product launch, but still maintains its clinical focus.
How do you see The Sunscreen Company's brand mission developing into future products or brand lines?
For suncare, we are really set on continuing to push the mission of taking popular skincare benchmarks but making them into sunscreens. For example, we might look at a popular type of Korean gel moisturizer that has a really cult-following and see if we can take the characteristics of what people like about it but then make it a mineral sunscreen. A lot of my emails to our chemist and co-founder involve sharing an example of a skincare product and asking if we can replicate it with our normal concentrations of zinc oxide. In terms of skincare, I’ve been keeping my eye out for actives and formats that really provide deep and intense hydration. I know there are a 100 000 moisturizers in the world but I’m still looking for the one that is the equivalent to rice or oat porridge for the skin- something nourishing and comforting for the skin that does not necessarily have an active component to it.
With the beauty industry rapidly launching new products every minute— it’s sometimes hard to imagine what it looks like behind the scenes to create skincare products and especially sunscreens.
When it comes to creating a product in Canada, could you give our readers an idea of what a typical product development looks like? How long does it take? What are the hardest parts about developing a new product?
Typically, two years from conception to launch is a good timeline. That amount of time allows us to really do our homework on the best ingredients for what we want and then do multiple rounds of iterations of samples. We can get feedback from our inner circle but then distribute samples to a larger group as well. Meanwhile we can work on stability and packaging at the same time. It’s challenging when you are a company our size to scale up. We work with samples of raw materials and packaging as long as we can but at some point you have to commit and then purchase the minimum order. Once that is done, you have a short time before you go from a small pilot batch to the larger one. That jump in size of production means that you have to make refinements along the way and quickly. It means we also really do take customer feedback very seriously and incorporate it quickly because seeing how the product is used in the market gives us valuable insights.
All of your sunscreens are mineral based which comes with a unique set of challenges. Did you find developing mineral sunscreens to be more challenging to create than your other products?
We’ve developed a short hand when it comes to mineral sunscreen formulation at this stage. We can therefore do things that are really innovative in shorter periods of time because we have a long history of work that we are piggy backing from. For instance, we know how to get a fully transparent formula. It’s still a complex process though for each development because we are continually adding in other requirements like ingredient restrictions, the unique format of the product, maximizing the UVA performance, keeping an eye on costs and now packaging sustainability. Plus we just added the complexity of colours with our most recent launch of our lip balms. I personally love colour cosmetics but it’s not one that we had handled as a company before. Fortunately, our chemist and partner has lots of experience having done colour matching for some of the biggest cosmetic companies in the world. He is also a visual artist so he has a natural affinity for it.
What kind of testing does a product have to go through in order to claim to have a transparent application on it?
There is no official testing that is need for transparency claims. We literally walk around rubbing samples on as many people with as many different skin tones as we can find. Our co-founder and my father Dr. Dudley is Jamaican of South Asian descent so we try everything on him but lots of other people as well. Certain formulas will be more transparent then others. Our Ava Isa Sun-è-Serum SPF 35 and our Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 30 are 100% transparent on all skin tones. Our Simply Zinc Ultra and Simply Zinc Lite are slightly less so (but still very good) but they include Titanium Dioxide for added protection, which is beneficial for people with pigmentation issues or a history of skin cancer. Our goal is to not necessarily make a single product that is perfect for everyone but to have a product within our lines that can meet someone’s needs. So if we say that a specific product is not ideal for someone then we want and need to be able to suggest an alternative for them within our product lines.
The Ava Isa Ava Isa Sun-è-Serum Drops SPF 35 is a beautiful and innovative product – people love a good, transparent and easy to apply mineral SPF!
Can you give us a sneak peek at any future products in this line? We are working on a dry oil crème as a sunscreen. We’ve been working on that for that past 10 months and are just finessing the formula now. We’re not sure when it might launch but our hope is to have great formulas in the pipeline ready-to-go for when the world returns to a little more normalcy. We will also probably add colours to the lip balms as well if they go well. I’m currently researching the perfect nude colour as we did a poll on our Instagram and people overwhelming voted for adding a nude into the mix.
Is there any chatter of a body sunscreen being developed?
We have a formula that we are working on and developing but that will always be a tough format for us. We know people would love to have a body sunscreen from us that has the same aesthetics and ease of use as our facial sunscreens. The question is how do we deliver this while providing it at a reasonable cost. We use really high concentrations of zinc oxide, which makes our bulk quite expensive. We also use fairly high priced and specialized inactive ingredients to deliver the type of aesthetics that people expect from us. We’re still trying to strike a balance between accessibility while meeting our standards for a formula. We’ve definitely heard the feedback though that people would like this from us.
You’ve just launched the Ava Isa Sun Lip Sun Whip SPF 15:
What do you think people will enjoy most about The Sunscreen Company’s first lip product?
It was really hard to find products in this category when we were doing our research. There are very few mineral lip balms with the same kind of adequate concentration of zinc oxide that are then fun and pretty to use. I always remind people that first and foremost they are sunscreens. Secondly, they are lip balms. Having said that, they are very nourishing and healing with their high concentration of shea butter (22%) and zinc oxide (20%). I actually wear the Clear Sunshine at night and I have not had to deal with cracked lips all winter. I also just love that we have colours. They’re fun to market and showcase on Instagram. Finally, we have something to show other than products that are meant to be invisible on the skin. My 5-year-old daughter, who the line is named after, is very happy that we have tinted lip balms and they are currently all variations of pink. She has voted for lip jewellery as our next product launch but I’m not sure how we would turn that into a sunscreen. If you see bedazzled lips on our feed, then you’ll know why.
A huge thank you to Sara for taking the time to answer all our burning questions and a big thank you to our readers, followers and loyal customers here at Asgard Beauty! Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter and follower us on Facebook and Instagram, where we will be posting more questions and info about The Sunscreen Company and their products from our video interview with Sara.
Until next time.
Much love to all our Asgardians!