Skincare researcher shares ‘red flag’ when buying sunscreen
Just over a year ago, biostatistician Julian Sass, Ph.D., began documenting the seemingly simple task of finding sunscreen.
But choosing one that suits her dark complexion is “a difficult task,” said Sass, who also works in research, education and product development for skincare brand Matter of Fact. And he thought others might benefit from the trial and error process he was getting himself into.
“I was like, ‘OK, I can share this with other people and I hope this can help someone else,'” he told TODAY. “Now it’s gone further than I ever imagined.”
Today, Sass maintains a massive and constantly updated sunscreen database with detailed reviews of nearly 300 products. On Instagram, Sass shares videos of himself applying the recommended amount of each sunscreen — which is often more than commenters realize — as well as information on whether the product stings his eyes, a a fragrance or is accompanied by dubious marketing claims.
On his site, Sass bills himself as “a biomathematician, statistician, data scientist, and researcher trying out sunscreens, so you don’t have to.”
Through his training and experience, Sass provides scientific background on the regulation of sunscreens and the proper way to wear them. And as a dark-skinned man, he shares the all-too-relatable experience of trying sunscreens only to find that many of them leave an embarrassing white cast. It may not be the prettiest work, but the response so far has been “incredible”, he said.
The so-called “universal” shades are generally not
People of color are more likely to develop skin conditions, such as melasma, which may benefit from using tinted sunscreens containing iron oxides, TODAY previously explained. But research shows that there are very few tinted options available for people with darker skin tones – a fact that Sass reviews make very clear.
It’s especially frustrating for him when brands use terms like “universal shade” or “no white plaster” on their products that end up leaving a plaster on his skin – even as the beauty industry has made progress in other areas. While it’s great that some brands make foundation and concealer in more than 30 or 40 shades, that’s not the norm with sunscreens, Sass said. And it’s usually those with the darkest skin tones that are most often left out.
“With sunscreen, which is something all skin tones need, there’s a real problem,” he said. “We still have a long way to go in this area.”
Building community through skincare
Like most people who grew up with acne, Sass began to understand what worked and what didn’t work for her skin at an early age. “It’s a story as old as time,” he said. In grad school, he “had a lot of ricochet moments,” which involved exploring different skincare trends.
During the pandemic, Sass sought to find sunscreens that worked for her complexion and documented her reviews along the way. He also created articles that explained the basics of specific ingredients and products he enjoyed at the time. “It was just a nice creative outlet that was unlike anything I had done before,” he said.
Sass “really had no intention of becoming an influencer,” but his reviews have helped him build a community of over 25,000 followers on Instagram.
Brands have used his not-so-positive feedback to improve their products and marketing. And he’s heard of dermatologists and beauticians showing their patients his database to help them find sunscreens that might work for their complexion, “which just means the world to me,” he said. -he declares.
Fighting sunscreen misinformation
The world of skincare, including SPF, is rife with misinformation. And Sass often finds himself dealing with online fear and answering basic questions.
“Generally, if a brand tries to sell you something based on fear, to me that’s something that automatically sends a red flag,” he said. “It’s a very effective marketing tactic, but it’s only based on lies.” Ultimately, you should use products because you like them and they work for you, not because you’re afraid to use something else, he said.
Amid the online chaos, Sass has found a place alongside cosmetic chemists and other industry experts who regularly help the public analyze the science behind favorite products — and help find even better options. He named Esther Olu, @glowbyramon and @capricorneum.skin as inspirations and said “it’s a shock” to be counted among them now.
“I can use my experience working in clinical trials for so many years and bring that to the community,” he explained. “I am forever grateful to be part of this scientific skin community.”