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A Case for Chemicals, According to a Sunscreen Guru

By Joie Goh


“At any time, I am wearing at least eight different sunscreen products,” admits Holly Thaggard, found and CEO of Supergoop!, a 10-year-old skincare brand fully dedicated to UV protection. Elegant and ever cheerful, she rattles off a list of products she uses from her arsenal – amongst others, there’s a UV-infused lip balm, a light-as-air body sunscreen that’s dispensed as a fluffy mousse, and a minty-fresh makeup setting mist boasting SPF 50 protection – all from her award-winning US-based brand that’s now available locally at Sephora.

Her reason for her militant defense against the sun isn’t vanity, although she does claim that sun protection is the best anti-ageing product one should invest in. Instead, the former third-grade school teacher cited her close friend’s diagnosis of melanoma at 29, a shockingly-young age for an otherwise healthy woman, as well as her personal experience witnessing children playing outdoors without a lick of sun protection, as the main reasons for tackling early prevention of skin cancer by creating products that are both effective and wearable, as well as healthy and free of parabens and synthetic fragrances.

However, despite the popular literature that mineral sunscreens are the best sun protection option for all, Thaggard disagrees. “Actually, depending of the time of the day and the type of sport and activity (you’re participating in) as well as your skin type, there’s a reason for owning both a good chemical and having a good mineral sunscreen,” she says.

“Maria Sharapova is a co-owner with me, and being the #2 tennis player in the world, she has to compete at high levels and a mineral formula won’t work for her because it traps heat in the body.” She further explains that because mineral sunscreens contain particles that form a layer over the skin to repel UV rays, it actually blocks pores and prevents sweat and body heat from escaping naturally.

“When I started this company almost 10 years ago, all I saw were mineral formulas that were heavy and changed the colour of your skin, or chemical ones carelessly formulated with oxybenzone, parabens and propylene glycol – there wasn’t anything that was using the best of chemical sunscreens,” she adds. “So what I’ve set out to do is to offer consumers both options, and make the mineral formulas feel and look good, and the chemical formulas very cognizant of the ingredient choices. For people who are highly active and competing in sports or just out running and biking, (a purely mineral sunscreen) is not ideal. What they need is a chemical sunscreen that doesn’t have all the dangerous chemicals.”

Supergoop!Holly Thaggard, co-owner of Supergoop!.
Holly Thaggard, co-owner of Supergoop!.

Thaggard gracefully dismisses the concern that all chemical sunscreens are evil, although she concedes that oxybenzone, a common chemical sunscreen, “is a possible carcinogen, and it’s also a very well-known allergen. From a formulation standpoint, it’s an inexpensive ingredient that definitely protects and has no difference in efficacy (from other benzone-based ingredients), so it’s widely found in drugstore sunscreens, despite the research.” However, since it’s her personal mission to teach healthy habits like daily sunscreen application, she steers clear of controversial ingredients, instead opting for a safer alternative in her formulas.

Her chemical of choice: avobenzone, which is found in all of Supergoop!’s chemical-based sunscreens. Rated a 2 on the Environmental Working Group’s website (the lower the rating, the safer and less toxic the ingredient), avobenzone is absorbed into the skin and converts UV rays into a harmless energy that dissipates, protecting the skin cells from damage. “Most people don’t realize that chemical sunscreens have a very wide range of protection against UVA, UVB and infrared rays,” she says. “It’s harder to get a high broad spectrum out of a mineral formula.”


Chemical sunscreens also have an added benefit: they come in a wide variety of textures and finishes for different uses. For example, spray-on and mist sunscreens have recently gained popularity as a lazy person’s alternative to cream and lotion sunscreens, although Thaggard advises against using them as one’s sole source of sun protection.

“Mist sunscreens are really meant for reapplying (sun protection),” says Thaggard. “It’s meant for the afternoon when you have a full face of makeup on and you don’t want to mess it all up. There’s nothing that can really replace that first application of the day where you can really apply generously and get a nice coat before your makeup.”

As SPF efficacy degrades as time passes, Thaggard suggests using a mist throughout the day to boost sun protection, keeping it “alive and going strong”. “Besides, there’s always that chance where you miss areas, or you lose some of it in the air and it doesn’t land directly on your skin!” she adds.


Supergoop! is available here and at Sephora.