Expanding Her Mission

Entrepreneur extraordinaire Kara Goldin has always been about ingenuity, perseverance, planet-friendliness and transforming obstacles into opportunities. With Undaunted, her recently published memoir and self-help guide, Goldin offers an inspiring look into her drive to succeed in business while also making the world a better place, leading her in 2005 to create an industry game-changer, the naturally flavorful hint water. In this excerpt, Goldin relates how a cancer scare motivated her to develop lightly scented, chemical-free hint sunscreen.
hint’s all-natural deodorant is free from harmful ingredients.

For years, I had a tiny patch of dry skin on my nose, but I didn’t think it was anything to worry about. It had been there so long, I just ignored it. In 2015, it got a little bigger and looked a bit red, so I finally forced myself to see my dermatologist, Dr. Kathleen Welsh. She didn’t like the look of it, so she scraped off a bit and sent it to the lab to be tested. It turned out to be a precancerous basal cell tumor. I wasn’t in any great danger, because basal cell skin cancers rarely spread to other parts of the body. Still, they can grow and be problematic, and in rare cases they can become malignant and metastasize.

Kathleen was taking no chances. She removed the dry spot and took a little extra bit of my nose with it, just to be sure she had gotten all the cancerous cells. When she was done, she said: “From now on, Kara, you absolutely have to wear sunscreen at all times. Once you’ve had one of these melanomas, you could certainly have another.”

I had been using a foundation with sunscreen, but I probably hadn’t been wearing it regularly, especially at the beach or pool. So, just as I had done when I was examining my soda addiction back in 2005, I started scrutinizing my sunscreen habit. As a kid, I hated putting on sunscreen because it felt oily or sticky or made my skin itch. I felt like taking a shower 15 seconds after application. As an adult, I tried the new and improved unscented sunscreens, which felt better on the skin, but I still wasn’t diligent about applying it and almost never reapplied as recommended. Like many things you know are good for you, you still don’t use them if you don’t love them.

Could I find a way to fall in love with sunscreen as I had found a way to fall in love with water? I didn’t think adding fragrance was the solution, because I had never liked scented sunscreens. Then I realized that I had hated the flavored waters that were available on the market before I invented hint. I solved that problem.

Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, HarperCollins, 2020. A Wall Street Journal bestselling business book

What if we could enhance the experience of applying sunscreen with a fantastic fruit essence, without leaving so much scent on the skin that people walk around smelling like fruit?

The idea was exciting, but I had no clue how to make sunscreen. I did some research and learned that sunscreens have many ingredients, two of which are pretty scary. One of them, oxybenzone, is a naturally occurring chemical found in flowering plants. It absorbs sunlight, which is what makes it effective as a sunscreen. It was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in the late 1970s, but in the years since, questions have been raised about its safety. The substance is absorbed into the skin and some evidence suggests it might cause precancerous cells to form and grow. Another ingredient commonly used in sunscreens, parabens, has been linked to hormone disruption and breast cancer.

I did not like the sound of any of these possibilities. I did not need any more precancerous cells, and I wasn’t interested in trading skin cancer for breast cancer. I grabbed the sunscreens we had, checked the ingredients, and found they all contained oxybenzone or parabens or both. My foundation makeup, with SPF, did, too.

I went back to my dermatologist and asked her what she knew about oxybenzone.

“Not a lot. Once a substance is approved by the FDA, that’s pretty much it. Doctors are not researchers. We rely on the FDA to tell us what’s safe for our patients.”

Now I had a bigger challenge than just getting myself to wear sunscreen. I wanted to find one that did not contain these potentially harmful ingredients.

I checked out dozens of sunscreen brands and learned there are two types. There are “natural,” mineral-based products that physically block out the sun, and there are products whose ingredients absorb the sun’s rays before they reach your skin. After trying a number of them, I thought we could do better. I asked [husband and business partner] Theo if he thought we could use fruit essences to make a spray-on sunscreen that would smell great as you applied it but not too strong afterward. It seemed like it was worth a try.

We worked on the project off and on for the next two years and came up with a number of prototypes. Some were too fruity and the scent persisted too long after application. Some barely had any scent at all.

Then one day, Theo asked me to try the latest version. “It’s pineapple.”

That sounded dubious. “Really?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to try it, but I sprayed some on my arm. It smelled great going on. After a moment, the scent dissipated. My face lit up. “You nailed it! It’s perfect.”

hint sunscreens are lightly scented with fruit essences.

We got more proof a few days later. The whole family flew to Hawaii for the spring school break, and we took the prototype sunscreen with us. We used it for a couple of days at the beach and liked it. It felt good on the skin and protected us from burning.

Then Justin, our youngest kid, gave it a try before going in for a swim.

“What do you think?” I asked.

“It’s good.” That could mean anything from “I love it” to “I’m humoring you.”

An hour later, Justin ran back to me. “Mom, I need more of that pineapple sunscreen!” He loved the experience of spraying it on. After another hour, he was back again for an application.

I turned to Theo. “We’ve got a winner!”

From Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters; karagoldin.com