As a medical and surgical dermatologist practicing in Portland, Maine, Michael Taylor, MD, MPH, was well aware of the prevalence of skin cancer and the risks that sun exposure pose to healthy skin. While doing free skin cancer screenings for Maine fisherman, he discovered that seaweed harvesters have utterly smooth and youthful hands compared to fisherman and lobstermen. This led to the investigation of the benefits of other marine plants and ultimately the creation of Ocean Elements, a science-based skin care line. With a focus on sun protection, the first product that Ocean Elements launched is called Sheer Daily Moisture SPF 30, formulated with five marine ingredients and physical sunblocks, the least irritating kind. On the cusp of rolling out a night cream, Dr. Taylor tells Beauty in the Bag about his background and inspiration for creating Ocean Elements.
Please tell us about your background. How did you transition from a practicing dermatologist to a skin care developer?
As a practicing dermatologist for more than 30 years, I was aware every day of the increase in skin cancers of every kind at every age. Public knowledge about the risk of sun damage is widespread and 100s of sunscreens are available, many of them very effective. Yet, few people protect themselves on a regular basis. There are several reasons for this disconnect, including differences in the “feel” of the sunscreen, color, odor, water resistance, irritation, allergic reactions, the use of damaging chemicals including PABA, parabens, and phthalates, the risks associated with chemical sunscreens, concern about nano-particles, stinging of the eyes, inhaling of sprays, cost, and on and on. Educating people about the benefits of sun protection is sort of like educating children about brushing their teeth, then giving them a fine toothbrush, and telling them to brush their teeth with pickle-juice. Or like touting the benefits of flossing twice a day which nobody really does.
As well as educating patients and the public, we needed to develop an effective sunscreen that felt good enough for people to use on a regular basis. We were fortunate to learn, during an annual American Academy of Dermatology skin cancer screening, that the harvesters of the Maine seaweed laminaria digitata have moist and smooth hands from handling the seaweed. That led to an investigation of other marine plants that might also provide photoprotection, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and moisturizers. We were able to develop a moisturizer that incorporates five ingredients from the ocean that feels great, so it will be used, protects with a broad spectrum SPF of 30, and restores with antioxidants and nutrients.
So, the transition in my profession of dermatology has been a shift to education and prevention rather than treatment.
As a physician, what characteristics comprise healthy skin for you?
We believe that “healthy skin is beautiful skin,” so the two are paired. It’s easier to describe what comprises “unhealthy” skin—blotchy, uneven, discolored, sallow, tanned, wrinkly, sagging, spotty, veiny, thin, dry, and bruised. Healthy skin, adjusted for age, looks like the skin on your bottom—even toned, pale, firm and not thin, well hydrated, smooth, elastic, without bruises or surface veins. Sure there may be a little sagging due to changes in weight over the years, but the skin is still intact.
Although many people who seek cosmetic treatments might disagree with us, dermatologists accept skin that ages with the individual to be normal. It is not abnormal. This includes changes that we would not prefer and which can be helped by moisturization and protection in particular. Older skin becomes thinner and the barrier function—holding water in and toxins out—diminishes. This decay in function can and should be easily helped.
What causes unhealthy skin is primarily sun damage—all of the characteristics of “unhealthy skin” noted in paragraph one above are caused by too much sun. Add to that the significant risk of developing skin cancers, and there are good reasons dermatologists jump up and down telling their patients to protect themselves against sun damage.
Interestingly, a recent study divided teenaged girls into two groups. One group looked at a film of the premature “aging” effects of sun damage that the other group looked at a film showing the risks of skin cancer from sun damage. Guess which group changed their behavior, limiting their sun exposure. You guessed it, the group that saw the one on “aging.” The one on skin cancer hardly changed behavior at all.
What inspired you to launch Ocean Elements: And how is it different from other brands on the market?
Ocean Elements includes five marine ingredients that protect, moisturize, and restore. Although, a few other topical products contain marine ingredients, no other moisturizer contains all five and few effective moisturizers for daily use have a broad spectrum SPF of 30. Ocean Elements is as natural as we could make it using only physical sunscreens. zinc and titanium. We use no chemical sunscreens that can be toxic, sensitizing, and endocrine disruptors. Ocean Elements is safe for the whole family, water resistant to 80 minutes, fragrance free, non-irritating, non-sensitizing, packaged in recycled and biodegradable materials, and PABA, paraben, and phthalate free. It does not sting the eyes, so kids don’t kick and scream. It is quite unique.
Where do you stand on the vitamin D question? If we protect our skin 24/7 from the sun, how can we generate enough vitamin D.
I stand on the side of truth and justice and the American Way when it comes to vitamin D.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get a tiny fraction of our patients, even those who have had skin cancers including melanoma, to protect themselves 24/7 from significant sun exposure? This is as unrealistic as having all Americans floss twice a day. So, let’s set the “24/7” straw man that is often brought up by the vitamin D advocates to argue in favor of sun exposure.
What is also true is that many of us who live in the northern regions of Europe, Asia, and North America have lower than normal levels of vitamin D when we are tested. This occurs especially during the three seasons of the year when we don’t have enough background sunlight to generate adequate amounts of vitamin D—with or without sunscreen. I take 1000 IU of vitamin D3 every day and recommend it to all of my friends and patients. Why argue over an issue that is so easy and safe to resolve?
Having to reapply sunscreen every two hours really keeps some people from adequate protection. Why hasn’t a long-term sunscreen been developed?
Wonderful question. It has been developed! It is called clothing!
There are many manufacturers of very effective sun protective clothing for children and adults. I highly recommend using sun protective clothing when outside and do so myself. You can leave it on all day, in or out of the water. It is safer, more effective, and less expensive than sunscreen. And while you’re at it, wear a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Now, on the scientific and more serious answer to the question, it can be worn off. I have a good friend who is a surfer. The abrasive saltwater, clothing, and board rub his sunscreen off so that he has to reapply at least every hour. It has become part of his routine. The other reason is a biologic one. Our skin is constantly shedding—in fact we replace our outer layer (the epidermis) every 28 days. It doesn’t stop the process just because we have applied a lotion or a sunscreen on the surface. It is normal for our skin to shed the outer layers along with the sunscreen. This is one of the several challenges to using sunscreens.
What’s next for Ocean Elements?
Thanks for asking. We are well into the process of developing a restorative and rejuvenating night cream that will be effective in repair and anti-aging. This is being developed in collaboration with Bob Verdicchio of Verdi Enterprises in New Jersey and will be tested for effectiveness by Dr. Peter Elias at his laboratories in San Francisco. As well as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, it will have retinol, which is to be avoided in the use of sunscreens because of potential phototoxicity, but is important for anti-aging and restoration. It is heavy in liposomes, has a pH that matches the skin’s, has ceramides, and improves the barrier function of the skin. It is going to be a great complement to Ocean Elements Daily Moisture SPF 30 daytime products.