rachel’s skin cancer story
Project Sunscreen was born in 2016, when CEO Rachel Henderson, who has a background in public health and education, wanted to create a better sunscreen for her kids. A skin cancer survivor, and now living in sunny California, she saw the need to encourage sun-safety habits and wanted to develop a product that kids will want to use. Having battled skin cancer for much of her adult life, she wanted to make sure her two kids didn't suffer the same fate by ensuring they practiced good sun-safe habits from an early age.
Says Rachel, “When we started Project Sunscreen, we knew we needed to create something easy to apply, that would encourage sun-safety habits, and which would be an effective product that kids will want to use.” So, while the bottles are bright and colorful, and the rollerball application is ‘fun,’ it’s also all for a reason: to ensure our 100% mineral-based sunscreen wasn’t messy or sticky, and that it rubbed into the skin nicely.”
Rachel’s story is a reminder of how strong UVA/UVB can be and why it’s so important to incorporate sunscreen into daily routines.
“I grew up in New Zealand and Australia where sunburns were a frequent occurrence, and sunscreen awareness at the time wasn't a big part of life. In my early 20s, I started noticing small blemishes on my face that would come and go. At first, I thought they were pimples, but sometimes when I brushed against them with my hand, they would start to bleed. I went to see my dermatologist, and they informed me it could be skin cancer! I had a biopsy, and the results confirmed one of the blemishes was a basal cell carcinoma (BCC). I underwent a procedure where they applied a topical lotion and then used a laser to target the abnormal cells. It felt like the side of my face was on fire, and it was excruciating!
After this, I started getting my skin checked regularly, and almost every time, I would have some kind of abnormality removed. I was told by my doctor that there was a high chance that this wouldn't be the last time I would have some form of skin cancer. I felt a complete lack of control over my health. I asked my doctor if there was anything I could do to avoid this, and they informed me that my current condition was a result of much earlier sun exposure. A colossal wakeup call, this news made me realize how crucial it was to be sun safe from a very early age. I started wearing more sunscreen and hats outside, but I was unable to turn back the clock to help fix the damage that had already been done.
When I first moved to California, I developed another blemish on my face. It was such a tiny spot, almost invisible to the eye, but because I knew my skin so well, I insisted on getting a biopsy. As expected, it was a BCC that had reached deeper into my skin than previous ones that I'd had removed. I had Mohs surgery and was lucky to have a great surgeon. I ended up with a large incision from my eye to the end of my nose. The operation was very traumatic because I had to be awake and lie very still. I was able to hear the surgeon cutting and stitching my face without being able to see what was happening. To finally look in the mirror and see the number of stitches required for such a tiny spot (30!) was tough to stomach, and I felt like I wanted to run away and hide, but unfortunately, that was my world now.
I'm fortunate that I've had mainly BCCs, but I know I am high-risk for other types of skin cancers. There's also a genetic component, which is why I'm so protective of my children and make sure they're developing healthy sunscreen habits.
I realized it's essential to use what I have learned to educate others on the importance of sun protection. The whole point of Project Sunscreen is to protect everyone, everywhere, every day—children, teens, and adults alike.
It is essential to increase awareness that even a few sunburns can dramatically increase the chance of getting skin cancer. Kids usually don't want to be sunscreen compliant—I wanted to try to change that by developing a quality formula and pairing it with an aesthetic that kids would find appealing. The addition of a colorful cap topper to attach the product to a bag and the ability to personalize the bottle made for a truly novel product. I want to encourage sunscreen usage by allowing people, especially children, to own the process of sunscreen application.
As the days get longer and the sun shines brighter, it’s important to remember that sunscreen is for everyday use and not just trips to the beach. A routine is easier when you find products you love to use.