How I Went From Making Sunscreen at Home to Starting a Sunscreen Revolution
Nat's Story Began in a 40 Square Meter Apartment and An Outfit Fit For a Scene From Breaking Bad
In 2019, Nat started making sunscreen in her kitchen. Fast forward to 2023 and Seasick Sunscreen is NZ's only plastic free sunscreen made with just 7 naturally-derived ingredients and can be found in over 20 retail stores nationwide, from Paihia to Rakiura. In this blog post, Nat, redhead, self-professed sun worshipper and founder of Seasick Sunscreen Co tells us how she went from making sunscreen at home to starting a sunscreen revolution.
How It Started
Kia ora, I'm Nat. And no, I didn't grow up dreaming of becoming a "sunscreen lady" (what my extended network affectionately calls me). I've always had an affinity with nature and the ocean, having grown up on the coast, spending every summer at the beach and being dragged along to community working bees at our local conservation reserves. So it's no surprise that I ended up studying Zoology and Ecology at University which led to 10 years working in various, and very exciting, roles around the world in conservation including helping to set up a wildlife rescue centre in Laos.
But in 2019, everything changed when I went to Hawaii on a dive trip. It was there that I learnt about the chemical UV filters and long list of harsh ingredients that almost all sunscreens are made with. Coming from a family of eczema sufferers (myself included), it really was an OMG moment, learning that the sunscreen I had been slathering on myself my entire life (and I mean slathering...I burn very easily) had been contributing to painful skin irritations and eczema flare-ups. So when I returned home, I went down to my local eco store to buy myself a new sunscreen. I wanted a sunscreen that had the following features:
The Solution to My Problem Didn't Exist
Wearing sunscreen doesn't have to be a bad experience. Forget that greasy feeling, sunscreen running and stinging your eyes is a thing of the past, there is no need for painful skin irritations! Most conventional sunscreens contain a lot of water (up to 70%) which is why they come in 200 ml+ plastic bottles and you need to use a lot of product to get adequate protection.
Is that too much to ask? I didn’t think so but I found that a sunscreen like this didn't exist, in the shop or online! So I ordered a bunch of ingredients and after doing a fair amount of research, I started cooking it up myself. This is where the breaking bad outfit comes in. I originally used powdered zinc oxide as the ingredient that provides SPF but this can actually be quite toxic in powdered form if it is inhaled. So I put on a suit and face mask and set to work.
How I Created a New Sunscreen Formula
Many, many trials and variations later, I finally had a sample that I was happy with and appeared to do the job in terms of protecting my skin from the sun. I sent the sample away to a lab in Australia to get SPF tested and it was a big FAIL. The recipe I had used was supposed to be SPF 30 but it was only SPF 12! This is how I learnt online DIY sunscreen recipes are not to be trusted and that SPF testing is absolutely essential (even though sunscreens were not regulated in NZ at this time). After going back to the drawing board and searching the world for the best possible non-nano zinc oxide, I struck gold and found what I call my KFC ingredient (i.e top secret).
I stayed up late and got up early before my day job in conservation, designing my own website, branding (see below for then Vs. now product shot), social media pages and labelling all the products. Then I was off to my first market!
The market was a great success however, the high was short-lived as it all came to a grinding halt when I became seriously ill in 2020. After 2 years of health struggles, I was finally diagnosed with and treated for endometriosis, a painful inflammatory disease. After recovering, I decided it was time to take the deep dive and quit my full-time job in conservation so I could focus solely on the business. Goodbye steady income hello "dark night of the soul"...a term used to describe the point in an entrepreneur's journey where absolutely everything seems to go wrong and you realise whatever you are trying to do will be much much harder than anticipated - watch: this problem nearly shut our business.
Of course, while it may appear that I am a one wāhine-band, none of this would be possible without the many helping hands of my friends and whānau behind the scenes and my loyal customers (that's you)! We are now in the process of moving production of the sunscreen from the kitchen (where I currently make all the sunscreen myself in 8 kg batches) to a factory where we will be making 100 kg minimum at a time. To achieve this, we are launching an exciting crowdfunding campaign later this year to reward loyal and new customers. You' also see us at more events than ever before, all summer long.
Why Seasick Sunscreen?
Seasick Sunscreen stands for doing the things you love, while minimising our impact on the environment, so people like you and me don't have to compromise on quality or safety. That's why we use naturally-derived ingredients, sustainable packaging and support ocean conservation through profit donations. I’m also on a mission to become NZ’s first ever reef-safe certified sunscreen! Thank you for being here - Seasick Sunscreen Co wouldn't exist without your support.
Try It For Yourself & Join the Sunscreen Revolution
Just 70g of Seasick Sunscreen is the equivalent to 2x 100ml plastic sunscreen bottles. A little bit of our zero-water formula goes a long way. It's a sunscreen revolution. Are you ready to join us?