• Sianna M. Simmons

Beauty Behind the Brand: Unsun Cosmetics

We are back with another installment of The Beauty Behind the Brand and this time we are shining a bright light on Katonya Breaux founder of Unsun Cosmetics. If there’s anyone that can handle the rays of bright lights, it would certainly be this brown beauty who is changing the game (and our woes) with sun care protection for black and brown skin.

Minority entrepreneurs are creating a renaissance in the beauty industry. Black and brown consumers have more access to beauty products that work with, instead of against, pigmented skin than ever before. While more expansive shades and pallets are recently making their way into beauty lines, even more, recent is the increased awareness and dialogue about sun care for black skin.

Thanks to a little thing called melanin, black and brown skin does have built-in sun protection of about an SPF 13, but dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 30 for true protection. What's more, the obvious redness that shows up as sunburn on white skin may not be visible on darker tones, but the skin can still be damaged leading to sunspots and hyperpigmentation. Both of which can be prevented with --- say it with me now, S-U-N-S-C-R-E-E-N.

But protection for pigmented skin isn't that simple. We’ve all had that frustrating experience with sunscreen; the stubborn neon white cream that leaves us with a horrible ghost-like tint. Maybe most of us figured, “well, black don’t crack so be gone white neon ash!” but dermatologists know that the sun’s damaging rays hit all skin with equal strength.

Enter Katonya Breaux. Katonya was pretty familiar with the sun’s heat growing up in Los Angeles, what she wasn’t familiar with was the news that her moles were actually sun damage. She quickly established a regular sunscreen routine but unfortunately, part of that routine also included creams that made her eye burns and created ghost-like complexions. Many, many, SPF’s later, Katonya was introduced to a chemist who helped her refine the ingredients for her own sunscreen. As you can guess --- the rest is history.

We got a chance to speak with Katonya about her transition from construction to cosmetics, the intense regulations for sunscreen, and of course, the misperceptions of sun care for black skin.

S: I understand you had a construction company in New Orleans for over 20 years. How did you get involved in construction and then make the shift to cosmetics?

K: I worked as a sales manager for a historical restoration company. Someone I knew owned a lot of historical properties in NOLA so asked if I could get the contract to work on them. They said yes, but only if you go out on your own and create your own company. At the time, I wanted to be a museum curator or record executive, but 6 months later I opened up my own construction business and got the contract. Creating a sun care line was not the plan, but after finding a sun care solution that could work not only for my complexion but for all of the different shades of my family, I had to try.

S: In what ways do your products specifically serve and protect black and brown skin?

K: If you go with pure zinc and titanium, it’s very white so you need to use clean ingredients to tint it. A lot of brands have a tint but not enough for brown skin. We are prone to hyperpigmentation and discoloration. We also have a higher mortality rate when it comes to skin cancer.

S: As a sun care brand, you have to work within FDA guidelines but you’ve also committed to using clean ingredients. Can you talk about navigating these requirements while staying committed to all-natural ingredients?

K: The FDA only regulates the active ingredients in a product. When it comes to sunscreen, they want to make sure that you have the science to back up the SPF content. This means testing but not just anywhere, it has to be within an FDA approved lab. In 2019, the FDA deemed zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) which means they can be used without FDA-approved applications. Still, there are other little requirements and regulations from the font sizes, to the label placement, and listing. The same standards aren’t in place for body lotions, color cosmetics, or even most skincare, only sunscreen.

S: Despite the statistics that prove minority women are taking over the field of entrepreneurship, there’s a perception that minority female entrepreneurs don’t exist, why do you think that is?

K: We are self-funded and made the decision to do that. When you bring in a VC they want a large percentage, and by the time you get to your other rounds of funding, you have a percentage of the brand that you built. Nevertheless, they aren’t funding our brands. They’ll say “I love it, but call us when you’re making a million or more.” And the business doubt isn’t just from funders, it’s also among our own people. I get emails from black people asking if my products have been tested. There’s this mistrust that if there’s a black brand, they aren’t doing it the right way. We need to actively work against this narrative and support and buy from each other.

S: What misperceptions about black and brown skincare do you want to clear up here and now for our readers?

K: Ok --- let’s make a list:

1. Our built-in SPF factor will only give us protection from 11-15 minutes from direct sun.

2. SPF 30 has a 97% sun protection value while SPF 50 only has 1% more with a 98% protection value. They will try to get you to pay more for more SPF but it isn’t necessarily stronger. Anything labeled over SPF 50 is a marketing tactic.

3. There is no such thing as sun-proof, only sun resistant.

4. As we get older our skincare needs change. Women over 40, need products with Retinol, Vitamins C & E, Ferulic acid, and hyaluronic acid to help replace moisture.

5. Use sunscreen on your hands! They are going to age a lot faster than the rest of your body.

S: What business accomplishment are you most proud of and why?

K: I am most proud of the fact that I stuck to my guns about having quality products. I see brands that are receiving more business but compromised on their ingredients. The general public doesn’t know better so the demand for the ingredients isn’t there yet, but we are still going to make these products for you because they are clean and healthy.

S: What does success look like for Unsun?

K: Now, success means building a brand that does something good and has value in every sense of the word. The next step for us will be to convert our packaging to sustainable materials.

S: Any advice for others looking to launch their own business venture?

K: Wow! There’s a lot, but for those that are looking to launch into entrepreneurship, don’t up and quit your job without doing thorough research about the market you wish to enter. Make sure that what you’re bringing to the market is something that can sell or is improving upon something already out there. There’s this glorified view of entrepreneurs but know that it’s hard and lonely. Have a support system and if you’re able, some savings for when things get tight.

UNSUN is truly the gift that keeps on giving! Use code OMISUN for a 20% discount on products this week. Follow both OMNoire and UNSUN IG accounts for your chance to win the signature Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen lotion SPF 30! Winner will be announced on Thursday, August 6th!

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