Saving our skin, Saving the planet

Published on May 22nd, 2019

Edit Olasz Harken MD PhD

Before marrying a man best known for excellence in marine hardware, Edit Olasz Harken had a bunch of letters behind her name (MD PhD) as an Associate Professor of Dermatology.

With her work in treating high-risk skin cancers, she was now also immersed in the sailing lifestyle, which has led to the development of Harken Derm sunscreen and repair lotions.

Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck checks in with Edit for an update.

I see new sunscreen all the time. What made you think you could rise above this noise and develop a product that would be impactful and long-standing?

I get this question all the time. Through my profession, I’m surrounded with good and bad sunscreens. Then, since I met Peter, I started going to regattas and meeting the sailors, and I realized that so many people had no idea what kind of sunscreens to use. So often they’d grab what was nearby, not realizing if it was any good or bad for them, or maybe even expired.

Also, when they learned I was a dermatologist, I was getting a lot of questions, which I was surprised how little people knew about sunscreens and what to use and what not. So one day I was talking to Peter and noting how there was a definite knowledge gap in the sailing community.

So I wanted to help, and I felt like with his brand recognition and my knowledge in dermatology, we could provide a choice that was needed. I never intended to invent something because it’s very difficult; the filters are very regulated in the United States by the FDA. However, I know what a good sunscreen is.

What do you mean by filters?

The UV filters are very regulated so you can’t just invent or bring in a novel UV filters; you have to work with those a lot. So the only things you can realistically change is the vehicle, the composition of the sunscreen, how it stays and how it feels. I knew what I wanted and I just thought that I can help the sailing community.

With the brand recognition of Harken, it was possible to offer something which is a really high-quality sunscreen and safe for their skin and safe for the environment, especially to the coral which we know is getting impacted by sunscreen.

It still must be hard for people to recognize a better product. I can see the quality in Harken hardware, but aside from your nice logo, there still must be skepticism.

While the Harken brand name is a real strength, it also presents a little bit of an obstacle as people suspect that Harken just privately bought something to use as a giveaway promotional product.

We recognized that we had to quickly clarify how this is a product where there is specific knowledge behind it. I am an academic dermatologist, and one of my specialties is high-risk skin cancer. I’ve been suggesting sunscreen and advising people to use sunscreen for more than a decade, so I really know what’s the best for people.

After people learn about the background of the product, suddenly they get much more interested. So we had to put in extra effort for people to understand that this was not just a privately labeled product, but rather the care and thought that we put into Harken Derm is like any other Harken product, which is to only offer the very highest quality and ideal solution for each specific need.

The product was revealed to the public a year ago at the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Newport, RI. Have we saved the planet yet?

We decided from the very beginning that we’re going to go slow. So often you see with new products how there is a lot of money in marketing to inflate status, but we just wanted to go step by step and organically build our community of sailors. And it’s been really nice because whoever uses it, we get fantastic feedback so it’s very positive in this sense.

For me, it’s more about going slow and more about education. But of course, it’s a business so I want to make some money too; we have to survive. However, for me it’s a priority that people are learning so we have reps that are very educational. More so, we have a huge initiative now for saving the corals because our sunscreen is very safe for the coral.

We are teaching people why it is important to use this type of sunscreen filters, zinc, and titanium dioxide, and not to use the chemical ones, oxybenzone, and octinoxate. So as for me, I’m very proud because I’ve always focused on educating. I’m a dermatologist and I feel like I can give something for the sailing community.

For a sport that’s in the sun all the time, it does seem like there’s been progress about using sunscreen, but now we have to get smarter about using the right sunscreen.

Exactly. It’s so important because it’s your skin and that what you’re using on your skin is what’s best for you. Additionally, it is very important that you don’t use anything that can harm your environment, especially in the sailing world which is so connected to the ocean. You definitely don’t want to use anything that hurts or harms the coral or other sea life.

I am admittedly that guy that just grabs what’s in the drawer.

Craig, you must be better than that.

It is so important for your sunscreen to have physical filters, or also called mineral filters, such as zinc and titanium dioxide as they provide the broadest coverage. I really believe for sailors, you have to have a sunscreen that is rated for at least 80 minutes water resistance. That’s the maximum the regulatory agency will allow a sunscreen to state. And then it must have some added antioxidants. You also don’t want a sunscreen that is not really greasy, as you don’t want it to run, you want it to stay on the skin for a really long time.

That’s what you need, and that’s what we have in Harken Derm.

You want to lecture me on SPF too?

Absolutely. SPF is the sun protection factor which measures the UVB protection. The max in the United State we can officially say we’re at is SPF 50, and of course our sunscreen is at max SPF 50. You need to use that level because people don’t apply as much as is done in the testing stage. I always recommend people for outdoor sports to use the highest SPF possible.

Edit with America’s Cup and Olympic winners Blair Tuke (left) and Peter Burling.

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