I promise if you read through this interview you will never think about sunscreen the same way again. When Valerie McMurray launched her organic sun protection line Soleil Toujours in early 2014 she had three goals: 1) To make sunscreen glamorous again (think Bain de Soleil) 2) To marry the highest quality sun care with anti-aging skin technology 3) To scare us all into learning how important using organic sunscreen (not potentially toxic drugstore brands) is, 365 days a year.
Her mission is picking up momentum and her brand is now carried at Net-a-Porter, Blue Mercury, Barneys and at some of the top resort destinations around the globe. Immediately after our interview I threw out my Hawaiian Tropic (that I use on my body, not the face, mind you) and have been using her Organic Set + Protect Micro Mist SPF 30 on my face every day. (I was lucky enough to get a sample of her upcoming SPF eye cream with shimmer. It’s pretty brilliant.) Here, Valerie shares her story.
Why did you start Soleil Toujours? What made you want to go into sun care? I was in finance for about eighteen years. At the time I was working on the trading floor selling derivatives. One day, I was on vacation with my husband on some Caribbean island and I wanted to buy a swim cover-up as a souvenir. I went to the gift shop but I couldn’t find anything. I thought ‘I’m going to go home and make my own’. So I started a little side business. I would go from the trading floor to F.I.T. to take a sewing class, just to know what a seam was. Then I found a pattern maker and a factory in the garment district. I started making these swim coverups, which at the time I thought were cute, but looking back, they were horrible. No wonder it didn’t work out! I cold called and I started selling to these luxury resorts like Sandy Lane and a couple boutiques in Palm Beach and Nantucket. Then I did a line of swimwear and thought, ‘I would love to build a lifestyle brand’ and sunscreen would be the next thing.
I was pregnant with my third child at the time. When I started researching sunscreen I found out how potentially toxic the majority of sunscreens on the market were. The chemicals stay in the bloodstream for long periods of time–they are found breast milk, in urine, in the blood. The chemicals are hormone disruptors and can result in low birth weight, low sperm count in fetuses, and potentially even cancer.
Then the whole global economy collapsed. Nobody was buying my swim cover-ups, but I will never forget the spa director at Sandy Lane said to me, ‘When are you coming out with your sunscreen? I have the Duchess and Gwenyth Paltrow coming and I don’t feel comfortable giving them any sunscreen.’ At the time, there was no non-toxic, mineral based formula that was a beautiful, nice, luxurious formula and wasn’t all white and spackly.
I discovered was that mineral sunscreens were really the safest and the most effective, but at the time they were all pasty white and gross and smelled terrible. So I decided to start a sunscreen line that was mineral based that was more high-end.
My inspiration was Bain de Soleil. Remember back in the day? It was so chic. But when I started Soleil Toujours there was nothing chic about sunscreen at all.
What sets your line apart from others? Ingredients. We started off as a mineral based sunscreen line, but what we discovered is that most people don’t really care about ingredients so much, they care about the convenience and the ease of use of sunscreen. People are so used to spraying themselves with chemicals and not having to rub it in and not being white from the minerals. So our formulations are just the cleanest, the safest, and non-toxic. So formulation and ingredients is number one.
Number two is we’re really more combination sun and skin care. We load all of our products with potent anti-oxidants and anti-aging ingredients. I think that’s really our key difference. A lot of people like to think of it as anti-aging sunscreen because, for example, our face products have anti-aging actives like peptides, stem cells, and really advanced actives. We also have a complex that is in every product that we create. It’s called the EcoSun complex and it’s composed of vitamin C ester, vitamin D, red algae, and bisabolol, which is a chamomile derivative. Everything we do starts off with that complex as the baseline, then for our face products we add anti-oxidants and anti-agers.
How do you think the consumer’s mindset about sunscreen has changed? How has it stayed the same? It’s stayed the same in the sense that people still love the convenience of a chemical spray.
It is better to used a mineral based lotion? Definitely, it’s safer. The way minerals work is they stay on the surface of the skin and reflect rays like a mirror. Whereas chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin and when the rays hit, they sort of absorb and scatter the rays. The problem with chemicals, especially if you have the bad chemicals, is they penetrate the skin and get into the bloodstream and that’s where they end up in urine and breast milk and stay in the system for super long periods of time.
The Center for Disease Control, for example, does a study every year on about 2500 people and they test their blood. 96% of that sample study has oxybenzone in their system, which is one of the most common sunscreen chemicals on the market. Basically, you may have used it a year ago, you may have used it several years ago, but it’s a chemical that stays in the blood for such long periods of time, it’s crazy.
You’re just going to scare everybody into using your products! I think, in terms of how mindsets have changed, people are becoming a lot more conscious of the ingredients and the products they’re using because they understand that your skin is like a sponge. Those chemicals get into your blood and can cause potentially damaging effects.
What would you like somebody to take away from reading this? What would you like them to learn? The most important step in any skincare routine is really sun care. Every dermatologist says it and I feel like a lot of people think, ‘It’s such a chore to wear sunscreen’. At Soleil, we want to make it more like an indulgence, part of your daily routine. Everyone is so obsessed with looking younger, everyone is getting Botox or fillers and peels and all sorts of treatments, but they don’t wear sunscreen. So basically it’s all for nought.
The sun is responsible for over 80% of premature aging. I do training and I explain the difference between UVA and UVB rays and how UVA rays are the rays that are responsible for premature aging. Those rays penetrate glass and clouds. I have a picture of a truck driver who’s been driving for thirty years. The skin on the left side of his face is completely destroyed–all the elastic collagens are broken down. He’s been in a car, but he’s been exposed to UVA rays through the window because those rays penetrate clouds and glass.
So you may be walking out on a cloudy day, but you’re still getting exposure to UVA rays and those are they rays that cause wrinkling. Both rays can cause cancer. UVB rays cause burning. So you really need to have a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both types of rays.
What are your best sellers? Our organic sheer mists and chemical sunscreen mists, as well as our makeup setting spray, which is an SPF 30. These products are all 70%-plus organic and loaded with anti-agers and great anti-oxidants.
What’s next? We have a lot coming up. For the most part we’re really trying to stick to our mineral active groups. We’re launching an eye cream that is 100% mineral, SPF 15, loaded with anti-agers, and it doubles as an illuminator. It’s got shimmer in it, so you can use it to highlight. Then we’re launching lips–five colors, SPF 15, 100% mineral, loaded with collagen boosters that help plumping as well. Then we have organic self-tanners–a gradual self-tanner, which is a lotion, and a couple of sprays that are more instant bronzers, but that will also be a little bit longer lasting, so that you will have a tan to last for about a week or so. And tinted moisturizer. It’s the next generation BB/CC cream.
Sounds like I need them all!