our Story

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Aloha, I’m Robin. . .

Sit right back and I’ll tell you a tale of sailing, love, and sunscreen. I first arrived on Oahu by catamaran as part of an around-the-world adventure that began in Cape Town, South Africa. It was an epic journey that included many joys and challenges, including numerous sunburns! By heritage, I’m Scottish, English, Irish, and South African Dutch (Afrikaner) and my fair skin got burned and eyes stung daily from wearing conventional chemical sunscreen.

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When I decided to make Hawaii my home, I worked as captain and crew on private sailboats and tour boats that prohibited toxic spray sunscreens because they ate away at the marine plexiglass. I could not believe that the very thing that people were using to protect their skin from UV rays melts hard plastic.

At around the same time that I was falling in love with Hawaii and my future wife, Tatyana, a Russian-German-Italian-American from New Orleans, I was having this epiphany about sunscreen. Tatyana was well immersed in a healthy Hawaii lifestyle, buying local organic fruits and vegetables, already reading labels on products from food, to cosmetics, to cleaning products, and researching ingredients. She also had a problem with mainstream chemical sunscreens because of their toxic ingredients and ineffectiveness, and she introduced me to natural sunscreen.

Although better than chemical sunscreen, the natural ones we tried were hard to apply and left our skin feeling greasy and sticky. Moreover, the oils often separated calling into question whether the active ingredient, zinc oxide, was consistently dispersed through the formulas and actually providing the SPF claimed. We also could not find any natural zinc-based sunscreens that featured natural antioxidant ingredients grown right here in Hawaii.

My wife is an attorney and when I first met her in Honolulu, she was an avid triathlete. When not practicing law, she was usually outdoors enjoying nature, hiking, or training for a race, usually with Boca Hawaii. She enjoyed sprint triathlons the most but also did some long distance races like the Honolulu Marathon, the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, Honolulu Century Ride, and Maui Xterra World Championship, off road triathlon. She also had to brave the hot tropical sun and needed effective non-greasy natural sunscreen that lasted during long trainings and races. After completing the Waikiki Roughwater Swim one year, the back of her legs got so burned despite using a sample packet of chemical sunscreen that her skin blistered requiring a visit to the dermatologist.

Our feeling was mutual that the sunscreen market was missing something. My wife is type-A when it comes to the law, so she started researching the manufacturing of sunscreen and the relevant laws. She found that sunscreen is regulated as an over-the-counter (“OTC”) drug, like Tylenol or Advil, and must be manufactured in a licensed drug manufacturing facility that is monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”). Furthermore, she found that sunscreen must go through all sorts of rigorous testing following FDA protocols, and it must be labeled in accordance with FDA regulations and registered.

Alas, we had identified a need in the market and understood the demanding process to provide it. It was then that we embarked on our five-year odyssey to create reef safe Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen, SPF 50 with 80 minutes water resistance, 25% zinc, 7 Hawaii-grown antioxidant ingredients, and FDA compliance. We wanted to create a high performing zinc sunscreen that rubbed in clear and smooth like a moisturizing lotion and was enriched with Hawaiian antioxidant ingredients that would support local farms and businesses.

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Over the years, our formulators decided that we were unbearably picky and irritated with us because we refused to settle on a mediocre formula. After several attempts to meet our criteria, one lab told us it would be impossible to achieve what we wanted with natural ingredients. That did not stop us. We kept vetting ingredients and insisting that we keep trying for the cleanest natural formula that also performs beyond expectation, better than anything we could buy. Five years, 3 laboratories and over 2-dozen formulas later, we finally succeeded. It was worth the huge investment of time, money, and labor to do it right and to finally get to use the sunscreen we always wanted!

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During all those years in development, we got married and had two children who brighten and fill our lives with purpose. They wear our sunscreen daily and always remind us why we started on this long journey – to work for something we believe in that helps us to live a healthy life deeply connected with family, community, and nature, and to inspire others to do the same.

As we listen to the trade winds rustle the trees, watch the rain blow through our valley, spy a vibrant rainbow, plunge into a refreshing pool at the base of a remote waterfall, and become one with the ocean in one way or another, we remember how Hawaii has shaped our lives so profoundly. We are forever grateful to live here,

and, we will strive always to contribute to helping or providing kōkua to the home we love. We promise to do our part to offer high performing reef safe alternatives to toxic chemical sunscreens, to educate and advocate for the ocean, and donate to ocean-loving non-profit organizations.

The Backstory… what brought us together!

Aloha, I’m Tatyana. When we met, Robin had just sailed back to Oahu after attempting to continue on his sailing adventure around the world. He was headed toward the South Pacific to the northern Cook Islands when he and his father discovered serious damage to the boat that needed immediate repair. Incredibly talented, adventurous, and well travelled, I thought it would be at least interesting to have dinner together. The repairs took a few weeks longer than expected and consequently, one dinner turned into many. During that time we managed to spend lots of time together. We called it “speed dating” because we tried to see each other every day before Robin set sail again.

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The repairs were finally completed and the voyage restarted once again. Several days into the faithful trip and just south of the Big Island, another fateful event occurred. They lost steering. A small screw had come loose and fallen in a narrow groove where the steering cable lay and managed over time to wear through the cable severing it. The chances of this happening are one in millions! As fate would have it, the winds were favorable for heading straight back to Oahu without too much trouble. We believe the ocean, wind, and waves brought us together and then back together again in every way. For both of us the ocean is sacred and must be honored and protected. Our first born’s middle name is Kai, meaning “sea” in Hawaiian because we are happiest in or near the ocean and because of our joint belief that the sea and Hawaii made our marriage and family possible.

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After this second attempt to depart, it was decided to postpone the sailing trip to the next season and we were able to get to know each other better over the following year. Robin continued his trip to the South Pacific and I got to meet him in Tonga where we sailed up the island chain anchoring in idyllic coves, cracking coconuts for water on uninhabited islets, scuba diving and snorkeling around vibrant coral reefs, and having an adventure of a lifetime.

Robin sailed on, but then returned for a while to Oahu to test his land legs. We soon got engaged at Hanakapi’ai Falls after camping on the Nā Pali Coast and had a wedding on the North Shore of Oahu. After our wedding, Robin flew off to meet the boat to finish the circumnavigation. They departed from northern Australia toward Cocos Keeling Island, and then on to Mauritius over the Indian Ocean. They experienced treacherous conditions having skirted the edge of a fierce tropical storm, making communication impossible. A little beat up but alive, Robin thankfully managed to meet me for our honeymoon in South Africa.

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Kōkua Sun Care is yet another big adventure for us! We love it all, everything that happens, the ups and downs, the setbacks and challenges, the long brainstorming sessions. Our motto is to love your fate no matter what. Do not just accept what happens to you – totally love it. Amorefati!

 Tatyana and Robin of Kokua Sun Care at Koko Crater Botanical Garden