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Skin Stories with Dr Julian Sass

Skin Stories with Dr Julian Sass

Introducing the first in our series of interviews with darker skin experts.First up, we sat down with skincare influencer, sunscreen specialist and head of Head of Research and Development, Dr Julian Sass to talk all things skincare. From avoiding white cast, to finding products that work for your skin, it was a privilege to chat to Julian, a fountain of knowledge on products for darker skin.

Over to Julian…

Hi Guys, I’m Dr. Julian Sass, a passionate content creator on Instagram where I demystify sunscreens and delve deep into the science of ingredients and their roles in cosmetic formulations. I manage a comprehensive sunscreen database, comprising over 450 reviews, specifically spotlighting their efficacy on darker skin tones.Beyond my digital presence, I wear another hat as the Head of R&D at Matter of Fact, a clinical skincare brand based in the US.

Tell us a little bit about your journey. How did you get into R&D and the cosmetic industry? Where did your passion begin?

My journey into the world of R&D and the cosmetic industry began rather serendipitously through the content I was sharing online. I've always been fascinated by the intricate details of ingredients. Drawing from my foundation in biology and statistics—both honed during my Ph.D. studies —I started delving into ingredient information from suppliers. I took to Instagram to share these insights, transforming complex scientific data into digestible content for a broader audience.

It was through this unique blend of passion and knowledge-sharing that my current company discovered me. They were impressed not just with the depth of my understanding, but also with my ability to communicate complex scientific concepts in a relatable manner. Initially brought onboard as a consultant, I transitioned to a full-time role shortly after. The journey since then has been nothing short of exhilarating. Apart from expanding my knowledge base, I've also delved into formulating products, which adds another exciting layer to my professional journey in this industry.

It’s a shocking statistic that only 3% of board dermatologists are black. There has been a lack of education on the very real skin issues of people with darker skin tones, including skin cancer. How do you think we can educate ourselves, each other and our community better?

This statistic is not just shocking, it's deeply concerning. The skin is the largest organ in our bodies, and how it manifests diseases, conditions, or even reactions can vary significantly between light and dark skin tones. The low representation of black dermatologists not only signifies a gap in representation but also potentially a gap in understanding and addressing the unique dermatological needs of people of color.

Addressing this requires advocating for enhanced medical curriculum and continuous learning for dermatologists, as well as consumers doing their own learning through accounts like @brownskinmatters, which displays what different conditions look like on darker skin tones.

You are our go-to for sunscreen reviews, results and recommendations. Why sunscreen and where did your interest begin?

My fascination with sunscreen was born from sheer frustration during my graduate school days. Early on, I grasped the essential role of daily sunscreen application—it's our primary shield against numerous skin challenges. Yet, discovering a formula that complements darker skin tones without causing irritation proved difficult. This challenge prompted me to delve deeper into sunscreen formulations and share my findings on Instagram, and the journey has been both enlightening and rewarding ever since.

For those that don’t know, tell us about white cast. What it is and how can we avoid it?

"White cast" refers to the ashy or purplish sheen that some sunscreens leave on the skin. It's caused by certain white powders in the sunscreen which remain suspended in the formula rather than dissolving. Often, these powders are sunscreen filters, but they can also be ingredients intended to reduce greasiness. A higher concentration or larger size of these powders can intensify the white cast. Common culprits include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol, tris-biphenyl triazine, silica, perlite, and polymethylsilsesquioxane. To avoid the white cast, it's helpful to opt for sunscreens that don't list these ingredients in their formulation.

What’s the difference between mineral protection and chemical protection?

The distinction between mineral and chemical sunscreens isn't as stark as some myths suggest. Both types primarily function by absorbing UV rays and converting them into a negligible amount of heat. While mineral filters (and a few chemical ones) do reflect a minor portion of UV, typically less than 10%, their primary action is still absorption. Despite the myriad of myths out there, all sunscreens essentially work similarly in protecting our skin, irrespective of the filters they use.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned about protecting your skin from the sun?

The paramount lesson I've learned about sun protection is this: consistent daily use of sunscreen is the cornerstone of skin health, irrespective of your skin tone or concern. UV rays can lead to a myriad of both cosmetic and medical issues, and daily sunscreen application — it's our best defence against them.

We all saw the AOC post about US sunscreen formulation being out of date. What are some of the ingredients we should look for when purchasing a good sunscreen?

While individual ingredients can be informative, the overall formulation and its efficacy are paramount. Prioritize sunscreens with a minimum SPF of 30, ideally leaning towards SPF 50+. The texture, be it a lightweight gel or a rich cream, should also align with your personal preferences to ensure you will use it every day. Additionally, look for the UVA circle logo (in Europe) or the PA++++ rating (in Asia) to ensure comprehensive protection against both aging and burning UV rays.

What are some of the ingredients we should avoid?

When choosing sunscreens, it's often more about what to prioritize rather than strictly what to avoid. Certain ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can cause a white cast on darker skin tones, but they are not harmful. Always be informed about ingredients if you have allergies, but if you are using a product created by a reputable brand, all the ingredients have been proven to be safe on skin.

What are some of your favourite sunscreen brands and why?

Several sunscreen brands have captured my attention over time. Eucerin stands out for its versatility, offering sunscreens with finishes ranging from matte to dewy, ensuring there's something for everyone. La Roche-Posay and Supergoop have consistently impressed in the sun care realm with their innovative formulations. Additionally, M2 offers a remarkable sunscreen that not only blends flawlessly into all skin tones but also boasts an exquisite finish.

What should phototypes 4,5 and 6 be looking for in a sunscreen?

For individuals with phototypes 4, 5, and 6, "chemical" sunscreens tend to be more suitable, primarily because of their superior feel and finish on the skin. Most importantly, they typically avoid the issue of white cast. Another crucial component to consider is iron oxides, which can defend against visible sunlight contributing to persistent hyperpigmentation. Thus, tinted sunscreens, which align with your skin tone, can be highly beneficial. If not in sunscreens, many foundation products also contain iron oxides and could serve the same purpose.

What are you most excited for in the world of formulation? Are there any upcoming trends, ingredients and products you are excited to try?

Formulation constantly evolves, introducing new ingredients each year. One thrilling development is the emergence of innovative ways to address hyperpigmentation, especially when tested across diverse skin tones. It's heartening to see new, rigorously tested ingredients launching. This gives me hope that brands will increasingly offer potent solutions for pigmentation.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

A standout moment was attending the International Societies of Investigative Dermatology conference in Tokyo. There, alongside my colleagues, I had the privilege to present our groundbreaking work on vitamin C innovations.

What do you love most about your job and why?

I often describe my role as a fusion of marketing and science. Working with a smaller brand is exhilarating — I constantly learn about the industry's scientific innovations. Plus, I’m deeply involved in understanding and communicating with consumers. This reciprocity between consumer insights and our scientific pursuits creates a dynamic workspace and allows me to learn from everyone on our team.

What’s your favourite 4.5.6 product and why?

It's hard to pinpoint just one! Sevenly Delight and Green Bae hold the top spots for me. I have a soft spot for fragrances in skincare, and both these products excel in their roles, coupled with their scents. Green Bae, with its fantastic texture, is my go-to morning or in-shower cleanser. It's gentle, non-irritating, and keeps my skin from feeling parched. Sevenly Delight, on the other hand, is a multifaceted formula adept at addressing pigmentation. It not only brightens but soothes, making it indispensable for effective pigmentation treatment.

You can find out more about Julian, his sunscreen recommendations and the amazing work he is doing for our community here: Instagram and website .

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