Ava Matthews, Co-founder Ultra Violette


Ava is one of the founders of Ultra Violette, a new Australian sunscreen brand that has just hit the market. Ultra Violette specialises in high-factor SPF products mixed with skin care attributes (they call it ‘skinscreen’) with a high-energy brand voice that that makes SPF fun. Ava handles all brand, marketing, design, customer service, and digital elements of the brand - anything that's consumer facing - while her co-founder manages everything legal, operational and financial. They work together on product development.

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A sunscreen Q&A with Ava MATTHEWS

There are loads of sunscreens on the market - why did you decide to develop your own?

We'd both worked for MECCA managing their private labels, a large part of which is suncare. We saw first hand how most sunscreens are made and felt there was always something missing: from the product to the branding, the messaging and even distribution.

We felt that sunscreen was never really considered from a beauty lens, in the context in which it's applied: over other skincare products and under makeup. We wanted to make a range that had really nice skincare ingredients, was cosmetically elegant, wore beautifully under makeup without ‘pilling’, but most of all was just a delight to wear.

SO many sunscreen brands still take the ‘beach/summer’ approach to their marketing which is just mind boggling to me. This is Australia! You need to be wearing sunscreen all year round, every day. We wanted to take the conversation away from that - from sunburn and beach and cancer to everyday wear and anti-ageing (and vanity I suppose!).

What about the TGA regulatory process? How was that?

*Eds note: Sunscreens are highly regulated in Australia, as we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. To ensure the safety and efficacy of sunscreens, the Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) regulate all sunscreens with SPF greater than 15 in Australia. This ensures that only approved (and safe!) ingredients are included, and that each sunscreen is tested for efficacy so it provides the SPF printed on the label. So remember when choosing a sunscreen, that those with SPF15 or less have not been approved by this rigorous testing process (and the Cancer Council recommends wearing a broad-spectrum (UVA+UVB) sunscreen of at least SPF30+ anyway).

For us, it was actually okay. It wasn't our first TGA rodeo. As long as you factor in enough time to allow for a few redos and the TGA timelines, work with a TGA consultant, and understand their rules and regulations, you're okay. They're sticklers to the rules, but it's for good reason!

How and when should you apply sunscreen?

EVERY MORNING! And then again every 2 hours - especially if you're going to be outside in direct sunlight. We say to apply after your skincare (or just directly onto skin if you're only using SPF) and under your makeup. Remember to let sunscreen set for 5-10 minutes before applying makeup so you don’t disturb the protective film.

Image credit: @dirtyboysgetclean

Image credit: @dirtyboysgetclean

Can you clear up the myth about where in your skin/makeup routine you should apply chemical vs physical SPF?

A recent study has shown that it matters very little at what point in your routine you apply SPF - regardless of whether it’s a chemical and physical sunscreen. There was a minor improvement in sun protection when sunscreen was applied as the final step in skincare, but the point at which you apply doesn't matter so much. Just make sure you wear it, and let it set before applying makeup!

What about this notion that chemical sunscreens contain 'toxic chemicals' and physical ones do not?

There's a lot of fear mongering in the SPF community - the chemical vs physical issue is a huge one.

Zinc Oxide (the main ingredient in many physical SPFs) is a chemical and I'm sure toxic in the right doses (like all other chemicals). Many of the studies that state chemical ingredients are toxic were because they actually fed animals those ingredients - they weren't applied topically. So the ingredient was found in their blood stream because it was ingested.

I always say the best sunscreen is the one you wear every day - regardless of whether it’s chemical or physical. Most doctors would say the same.
— Ava Matthews

What about SPF in makeup and moisturiser? Can I just use these instead of a dedicated sunscreen?

NO! (sorry for all the caps) but there is absolutely NO way you're getting adequate protection if your sunscreen is in your moisturiser or foundation. You need 1.25ml of SPF (1/4 teaspoon) applied just to your face to get the protection listed on the bottle. it doesn't seem like a lot but measure it and see. The moisturiser or foundation's protection level would be diluted anyway as it’s not a dedicated sunscreen, and then even more diluted by lack of the proper amount. Also, many of these products aren't made in Australia which means their SPF level wouldn't be tested to our TGA standards and may be even less than what's on the bottle.

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So if I wear an SPF15 sunscreen then add SPF15 makeup doesn't that add up to SPF30?

No, it doesn't work like that sadly. With a second application of sunscreen, you may potentially cover any gaps left by the first application (if you use enough sunscreen that is!) but it's not a |+|+|=| scenario. The highest SPF protection you can get, is only ever the same as the highest SPF number you apply (again, only if you use enough of it).

Does wearing high factor SPF daily stop me getting enough vitamin D (because we are all worried about bone density)?

Not at all, the body doesn't necessarily need vitamin D exposure every day. You can get enough sun exposure to help with vitamin D levels if you are outside without SPF before the UV starts to climb (i.e. before 9am) or after 5pm. Otherwise, supplements can help.

There are so many myths about SPF out there that we haven't even touched on. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about SPF? A question you get asked the most perhaps?

Many people don't realise sunscreen needs to be worn every day, even through autumn and winter. In Australia, the UV levels even in winter are high enough to justify application all year round - especially in QLD, NT, NSW - just keep yourself in the habit and apply every day. 

There's so much misinformation and conflicting opinions on sunscreen application and ingredients (even by those who should know better!) - just make sure you find one you love and wear enough of it every day - and get your SPF information from credible, evidence-backed sources!