Why I started Bask

Bask is a brand dedicated to empowering the first sun-safe and sun-loving generation. Everything we do is rooted in the idea of eliminating skin cancer.

You may be wondering what a lot of people wonder when I tell them what I’m up to which is “why is this guy doing it?” I’ve never worked in sunscreen, or beauty, or personal care. Really, I kind of stumbled into this as a result of professional and personal experiences colliding one day in the aisle of a CVS in Bethany Beach, Delaware. 

The professional is that I’ve always worked in consumer and ecomm startups, and recently I was running a New York based startup incubator. Our goal was to recruit all of the best startups in the city. Being New York, a lot of those were DTC companies (Quip, Billie, JetBlack, and Huron all spent time there). Being around those founders I became fascinated with the changing face of retail, DTC, and the challenger vs. incumbent dynamic. I’ve followed it in depth for years now. 

The personal side of this is that skin cancer runs in my family. My aunt successfully battled melanoma twice, but we lost my uncle Braden to skin cancer. As a result, I got very serious about my sunscreen usage, and learned a lot about the disease. The thing about skin cancer that really struck me, though, was that it’s the most diagnosed cancer - 5 million cases per year, more than every other cancer combined - despite the fact that it’s easily the most preventable. Wear sunscreen. 

My uncle with Larry King
(Photo: My uncle Braden with Larry King in 2005)

For years I had wanted to start a charity in my uncle’s honor to combat that problem: literally to just go around beaches, public parks, you name it, and give out free sunscreen. And last March, mired in quarantine with a lot of extra time on my hands, I decided to finally do it. So I got the 501c3 spun up, and I started hunting for sunscreen partners. 

And that brings me back to that CVS aisle in Bethany Beach. I’m looking at the options, and it hit me: sunscreen sucks. This is archetypal DTC. The brands are stodgy and commoditized, they use really bad ingredients, and they’re not willing to change because they’re protected by industry moats. A trip down the SPF aisle, and it's no wonder why more people don't wear sunscreen.

So I thought, why can’t I build a better-for-you sunscreen with a beautiful, purposeful brand that appeals to millennials and Gen Z, take a different approach to this market, and use this company to fund the non-profit? 

And so the idea for Bask was born, and I set out to build a company, brand, and set of products all dedicated to the idea of getting more people to wear more sunscreen more often in an effort to reduce the instances of skin cancer diagnoses. 

I then embarked on an incredible research phase that included the history of sunscreen; products, branding, and messaging over time; trying every product I could - I tried everything from everybody and spent way too much money on sunscreen; and talking to 50,000 people about sunscreen via phone calls, zoom interviews, surveys and focus groups over the course of 3 months. The insights I gathered have informed everything that we’re doing from a brand, product, and distribution perspective. 

One of the key takeaways was that sunscreen is marketed all wrong: it’s either all about getting tan and trying to achieve this unrealistic and unattainable ideal of beauty pushed by the industry; or, it’s all about clean and clinical and being safe. Which is good. Just boring.

(Photo: No wonder people don't wear sunscreen. Sunscreen brands are traditionally commoditized, ugly, and boring. Example: Coppertone's "rebrand"!)  

Bask is a brand that talks not about looking good, but about feeling good. About finding purpose, being outside, and having fun. And we endeavor to turn sunscreen into something that people want to wear - not that they need to wear, but that they want to wear. A product that empowers your discovery of great moments in life, helps you unplug from work and the news, and, after the year we’ve all been through, to get the hell out of your house. 

We looked at our products from the same lens: getting more people to wear more often. In our interviews and research, we identified the four primary points of friction that prevent people from wearing sunscreen. Far and away number one was that people hate how sunscreen feels on their skin. So we laser-focused our efforts on solving this problem.

From an ingredient perspective, the biggest thing for us was no Oxybenzone or Octinoxate. There's strong evidence that they are bad for the environment (particularly marine life) and are bad for us. Oxybenzone is, by the technical definition of the word, toxic, and is found in cancer tissue. Those ingredients have no business being in any products yet they’re in 80%+ of sunscreens on the market. We use clean chemical (also known as organic compounds) UV filters, and all of our active and inactive ingredients are a 3 or lower on the EWG scale*.

The bigger problem was harder to solve, but if the number one barrier to wearing sunscreen is how it feels, and we want people to wear sunscreen, then our’s better feel damn good. Over 6 months and 50+ product iterations, we achieved the very ambitious focus group benchmarks that we set, and are very confident that Bask is now the best feeling sunscreen you will ever use (especially under $150).

Our lotion is silky, smooth, and rubs in quickly, sheer, and non-oily. It works for all skin tones and types. Our spray is non-aerosol, and dries very quickly without the typical oily residue. Each carries a light, coconut-vanilla scent with the intention of capturing the nostalgia and good feeling of being at the beach as a kid, but in an elevated way. We love these two products (bundled here).

The Bask Feel Good SPF 30 Bundle
(Photo: Bask looks good and feels good, so you want to buy it and you want to use it. It also does good: we donate money and sunscreen to skin cancer charities as we seek to eliminate this cancer.)

Bask is the Feel Good Sunscreen. It feels good on you, and we want you to feel good because of what you can do in it. We want you to get outside, safely, and rediscover this beautiful world we live in. And we believe in this idea of basking in your purpose, and paying it forward. 

For us that means getting people to wear more SPF, increasing the overall size of the market (too few people wear sunscreen), and increasing access to SPF.  In that vein - and this is the most important thing - is our philanthropy and the foundation in my uncle’s honor: The Skin Protection Foundation (SPF). Bask is donating 15,000 units of sunscreen to seed the operations. To demonstrate how serious we are about this - that’s half the product that we manufactured. So starting Memorial Day Weekend, we’re going to have (vaccinated) people walking around beaches and public parks handing out sunscreen to people for free, and explaining to them the importance of wearing it. You can find me in Central Park.

Bask will continue to support SPF through product and monetary donations, and the better Bask performs, the more we can build out the operations. My hope is for SPF to one day span the country, hitting every pocket and summer camp without access to sunscreen with a goal of eventually giving away 1,000,000 bottles. 

It makes no sense that the most preventable cancer is the most diagnosed. But by doing these things (addressing the key pain points, approaching the market and messaging differently, making suncare something people can get excited about, and doubling down through our philanthropic efforts) we can make a serious impact on reducing skin cancer diagnoses.

This is very personal to me, and we’re committed to it. I hope to bring you along for the fight. You can support us by buying Bask, donating to SPF directly, following us on Instagram, or even by just sharing this post with friends.

We appreciate anything you can do to help win this fight. And, remember, WEAR SUNSCREEN!

Mike Huffstetler

Founder, CEO

May 27, 2021

 

*EWG is the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit that has created standards for rating the cleanliness of ingredients that go in our cosmetic products. The one exception we have is fragrance. EWG rates it low because it is used as a catch-all in cosmetics similar to natural flavors in food - often it’s unclear what goes into a “fragrance”. However, our products were extensively tested, and we did not experience any adverse reactions to usage during those tests. Our products are also dermatologist recommended. 

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