Despite the hundreds of sunscreens that launch every year, there hasn’t been much innovation in the actual sun filters that do the heavy lifting. A new ultra-violet filter (think: titanium dioxide or avobenzone) hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the ‘90s. Pavise, a biotech company helmed by a biomedical engineer, aims to make the best SPF out there within these constraints, while creating new filters that, if approved, could totally change the sunscreen landscape.
“Sunscreen in the United States is a regulated drug—it’s an over-the-counter drug,” says Sophie Bai, biomedical engineer and founder and CEO of Pavise. That’s why you haven’t seen much innovation since 20 years ago. Everything uses the exact same filters, just different formulations. Personal care should be regulated as drugs because the skin is the largest organ of our body. And our goal at Pavise is truly to bring the whole pharmaceutical research and development [to cosmetics] to provide high-quality care in the skin-care category.”
Pavise started out making molecules to treat eczema and acne, but put those on the back burner in late 2020 to focus on mineral filters. This switch was sparked when the FDA released findings that chemical filters are absorbed into the bloodstream more easily than mineral filters and that further research was needed to determine whether or not this impacts safety. Erring on the side of caution, Bai wanted to create the best mineral sunscreens out there so customers could feel at ease with a mineral formula that they actually enjoy using.
“Mineral filters leave a terrible white cast for me, for people of color,” says Bai. “I don’t think people of color should sacrifice access to quality care, and skin care is health care. Additionally, if we’re nursing, pregnant, or a young child, we can’t use chemical filters. So that’s why we immediately started working on transparent mineral filters.
Pavise launched this spring with four products: Dynamic Age Defense SPF ($148), Lip Defense SPF ($58), Gentle Amino Powerwash ($64), and a UV Camera ($176). Dynamic Age Defense and Lip Defense both use Pavise’s revamped mineral filters.
“Our technology truly creates a different shape and composition of the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide molecules,” says Bai. “So we work with the starting point of what the FDA has approved, but change their chemical property—without changing the fact that they’re still zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—to get a better UV absorption.”
Dynamic Age Defense SPF
I’ve tried tons of mineral sunscreens, and this one from Pavise is among the best. It’s SPF 30 and goes on white, but with some rubbing, it fully disappears into my skin.
“Dynamic defense is transparent across all skin tones,” says Bai. “That’s something that I’m so proud of because that’s an example of where science can create a more equitable world.”
Plus, the formula is rich in antioxidants, allowing it to repair while the minerals protect. “Our Photoaging Defense Cocktail is six compounds that synergistically work together to repair the photodamage from UVA rays on a daily basis,” says Bai. “We actually went through a library of 10,000 compounds that have clinical evidence of being synergistic with photoprotection alongside UV filters and narrowed it down to these six.”
Lip Defense SPF
This SPF lip gloss is one of my favorites. It comes in three pretty, neutral shades and each adds a nice, thick yet sheer layer of glossy color while providing SPF 30 protection.
“I created lip SPF because I actually have a condition called a venous lake,” says Bai. It’s a non-cancerous tumor that appears as a bluish-black dot on the lip resulting from accumulative UV damage. “It usually happens for people who are 50 years old and above, and the fact that I got it when I was 26 just shows how much UV damage I’ve gotten.”
The three shades—604 (semi-sheer nude pink), 616 (semi-sheer nude mauve), and 774 (semi-sheer rosy brown)—are pigmented with iron oxides, the same ingredient that adds color to tinted SPFs.
“We don’t have any synthetic dyes that are so commonly used in lipsticks, eyeshadows, or blushes,” says Bai. “To us, to claim daily use safety is very important from a drug-development perspective. And we’re all drug researchers in my company. So we have a way higher standard in terms of what safety means to us.”
Gentle Amino Powerwash
This cleanser just won our Well+Good SPF Award for The Best Luxury Cleanser for Removing Sunscreen. It proved its worth time and time again throughout the testing process, as I used it to get my face clean in between the dozens of sunscreens I tried. It left my skin clean without feeling stripped.
“We discovered that a lot of the cleansers on the market don’t remove sunscreen even though they claim they remove makeup,” says Bai. “Oftentimes sunscreen is even harder to remove than color makeup because of the film formers in sunscreen products.” So Pavise created a cleanser that can remove any SPF (including waterproof) sunscreen in one wash.
To make sure you 1) don’t miss a spot when applying sunscreen and 2) remove all your sunscreen EOD, you can use this camera. It plugs into the bottom of an iPhone, turning your camera into a UV camera so you can see exactly where your SPF is or isn’t. We just gave it an Innovation Award during our SPF Awards.
“When you apply sunscreen, the camera helps you see if you have applied sunscreen uniformly or if you have any missed spots,” says Bai. “Oftentimes, you’ll actually miss the nose strip and the under-eye area. And a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I apply sunscreen every day, why do I still get skin cancer on my nose?’ It’s because you actually never apply sunscreen on your nose you thought you did. So this tool truly helps you to make sure you’re fully protected and can tell you when you need to reapply when you’re sweating. Plus, it can show if a cleanser is effective in terms of removing sunscreen.”
What’s to come from Pavise
Although Pavise has found a way to innovate with the existing UV filters, they’re also developing new ones and seeking FDA approval. It takes millions of dollars to get FDA approval. The process of obtaining FDA approval typically involves multiple stages, including preclinical studies, clinical trials (Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III), and the submission of extensive documentation to demonstrate the product’s safety and efficacy. The costs involved can include research and development expenses, hiring clinical trial investigators and staff, manufacturing the product at a large scale, paying for regulatory consultants, and covering administrative fees associated with the FDA review process.
But Pavise has committed investors in its corner to hopefully make it happen, and a new slew of products the believe deserve approval. “We have four new classes of macro meaning very, very large chemical UV filters we just developed in lab that can create SPF 1000,” says Bai. No, that’s not a typo SPF one-thousand. “That is truly gonna change how we think about sun care. We are committed to investing and going through the FDA drug approval process together to get those UV filters approved in this country.”
This process will take a while, but even if it doesn’t all comes to fruition, we should still expect to see more cutting-edge innovation from Pavise.
“We are continuously working to improve either existing formulas or coming out with new molecules as science evolves,” says Bai. “We’re never stagnant. It’s never gonna be like, ‘This is the formula 10 years later.’ We want to always be bringing the latest and greatest.”
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