Rachel Henderson never thought that the mere act of applying sunscreen would turn her into an entrepreneur. She grew up in New Zealand, where the sun is harsh and skin cancer rates are some of the highest in the world. But her fascination with skin cancer prevention started when she finished her undergraduate degree and started work as a teacher, where she helped roll out some sun protection initiatives for children.
After a move to Australia, she became involved in clinical research for a variety of companies and went back to school to get her master’s degree in public health and international health development. She met her American husband, Doug, while working in Sydney. When Doug’s work changed, they set their sights for a new home in sunny Manhattan Beach with two young children in tow.
Rachel settled into her life as a “stay-at-home mum” in the South Bay, taking her kids to the park, the beach and around town. She remembers one day grabbing her favorite Australian roll-on sunscreen. She held her 1-year-old’s “chubby little hand” while she rolled on the sunscreen with one hand and rubbed it in with the other.
Nearby, people marveled at the ease and speed in which she applied it. Every parent knows what a challenge it can be to rub sunscreen onto a squirming child. It’s always a fight, even when they become older.
Rachel’s goal was to get kids into the habit of putting on sunscreen. She noticed that the ease of a rollable sunscreen empowered young children to do it themselves.
Soon Rachel was being asked by local moms to bring back suitcases full of roll-on sunscreen from Australia. One of these friends was Dr. Ashley Magovern, a renowned dermatologist in the South Bay. Ashley had access to many of the best sunscreens but noticed that her kids wanted to use the roll-on that Rachel had introduced. Both Ashley and Rachel saw a great opportunity, and the two partnered to create Project Sunscreen.
In 2016 Rachel went from full-time mom to becoming an overnight entrepreneur. “Had I known how much work it was, I wouldn’t have done it!” she admits. “I just thought I could create a formulation, slap a label on a bottle and call it a day! I didn’t realize how many hoops there were to go through.”
She explains some of the steps: “We had to do compatibility and stability testing, go through FDA regulations, create a label and a package. We also had to make sure it was safe and worked. We bit off a lot, but the biggest driver for us was compliance. We were different. We wanted to make a really beautiful product that was accessible to all.”
Their sunscreen is designed for children by children. The end result is a range of four fun, colorful bottles: the blue bottle named “all fun and games” with surfboards and bikes; an aqua bottle called “making waves” with orca whales and marine life; a yellow bottle says “here comes the sun” and depicts a beach scene; and a pink one is called “sweet as,” a New Zealand slang term meaning “awesome.”
On the back of each bottle is space for each kid to personalize it with his or her name. They also designed the cap with a clip for a backpack, allowing the user to unscrew the sunscreen from the clip top, use it and screw it back on. This practical feature creates a visible reminder to use sunscreen and also ensures it won’t get lost.
“All of our formulations are exactly the same. We tried to find a balance between everything,” explains Ashley of the ingredients. “We knew that we had to have a physical sunscreen using just zinc and titanium. We also wanted a really clean formula. It doesn’t have any fragrance, propylene glycol, parabens or petrolatum, which is really important. ”
Once the formulation and design of their product was complete, the next step was landing customers. “I never want to just fit in; I want the products to stand out and be appealing,” says Rachel.
For a trade show, she created a huge, billboard-size image of kids on the walk street and attached a kids’ backpack with the sunscreen clipped on. When Rachel showed the buyers a video of the kids who helped create the product, it essentially sold itself.
When major retailer Kroger jumped on board, Project Sunscreen was in 3,000 stores within the first year. Ulta Beauty also picked up an exclusive “festival line” geared toward those attending Coachella.
Rachel designed a cheeky range of sunscreen called SPFU to appeal to teens. She says, “If that [name] gets teens to wear sunscreen, then awesome!”
The company is growing and evolving, and Rachel is grateful to have a great team supporting her. Project Sunscreen is about empowering people to care for themselves easily and naturally, regardless of their age—a cause and a business deserving of support.