The unappealing white cast left behind after the application of a high-SPF mineral sunscreen is understandably enough to deter many people with melanated skin from using it at all. Tennis champion Naomi Osaka, who is of mixed Japanese and Haitian descent, is honest about that fact that it took a bad sunburn to convince her to start taking sun protection seriously. When she set out to find a go-to formula that actually blended into her skin and didn't leave that telltale lifeguard cast on her nose and shoulders, however, Osaka was frustrated by the lack of options — so she designed her own.
The 23-year-old Nike athlete is now the founder and CEO of her own skincare company, Kinlò. Launched in the US this week, it features a curated assortment of skincare products, including an SPF 50+ formulated with a brown tint designed specifically for non-white skin. The product line is yet to ship to the UK.
Ahead, Osaka tells us all about her new venture as a beauty entrepreneur and how she's using Kinlò to invest in her own skin health and educate her fans and followers on the importance of sun protection.
Refinery29: What compelled you to want to start your own brand, and sunscreen specifically? What do you think brands get wrong about making sunscreen?
Naomi Osaka: I was shocked when I learned about the statistics of skin cancer in the POC community, particularly about how much higher the mortality rate is for those of us who are diagnosed with skin cancer. That really opened my eyes to the fact that protection for melanated skin is a real public-health need. I immediately wanted to facilitate conversation and help debunk the myths about us not needing to wear sunscreen because we have natural melanin — that's really not true.
I also have a very entrepreneurial mindset, so when I decided to start Kinlò, I partnered with GoDaddy to make sure the website and e-commerce experience are reflective of our brand values and provided a great customer experience. They've been great partners to help bring the brand to life. As far as product, we formulated Kinlò with special ingredients that are specific to the needs of melanated skin, and we also made sure that the sunscreen is a non-chemical one made with zinc. I think there's a lot going on lately with chemicals in the sunscreen world, so we wanted to make sure we built clean products that are healthy to use.
R29: Growing up, what was your relationship like with sunscreen? Did your parents and family members encourage you to wear it? Did you like to wear it?
Osaka: To be honest, I didn't really start wearing sunscreen until the first time I went to Australia. The sun is so much stronger down there, so I actually got burnt — and that's when I realised that my own natural melanin wasn't enough to protect me, so I started wearing sunscreen. But I definitely remember that it left a white, pasty residue that never blended in, so my hope is that Kinlò will never be that type of experience for people. I want the customer to actually get excited about applying our sunscreen because they know it will protect them... and blend in completely.
R29: How did you incorporate your personal identity into developing this line?
Osaka: I spent some time thinking about the name, as I wanted something that spoke to both my Japanese and my Haitian roots. When I thought about it I was really drawn to the word gold and that’s where Kinlò was born. 'Kin' and 'Lo' mean gold in Japanese and Haitian, respectively.
R29: What's your current skincare/beauty routine like?
Osaka: My skincare routine is pretty low-key: cleanser, moisturiser, and maybe something extra like Kinlò's Hydrating Eye Cream because my eyes tend to get a little puffy. But honestly I just think washing your face regularly and keeping your skin hydrated and protected is most important.
R29: How has your idea of beauty changed over the years? What is your definition of beauty now?
Osaka: For me, beauty is really a natural state: It's taking care of yourself, appreciating your skin, and prioritising protection. I used to believe the saying "black don't crack," but now I've learned that's not true. It's so important to protect our skin, even though we have natural melanin. Our melanin is beautiful and needs to be celebrated.
R29: Where do you find beauty inspiration?
Osaka: I do a lot of internet browsing and reading magazines and stuff, but I also get a lot of inspiration when I travel on the tennis tour. I'm always in different cities and get to see beauty trends on the street and experience cool new products in other countries. I always feel like I learn and discover a lot while I'm traveling.
R29: What is your favorite product in the line?
Osaka: Can I say more than one? I love the Golden Rays Sunscreen SPF 50+ because it's made for outdoor activity and is sweat-proof, so I wear it every single day. But I also really love the Hydrating Golden Mist; I spray it on my face for a quick refresh after training, and I also use it as a room mist because I love the sweet orange-coconut scent so much.
R29: What more can we expect from Kinlò?
Osaka: The thing I care most about is really educating people, building awareness, and hopefully saving some lives. The possibilities are endless and we'll definitely continue to build out the brand and focus on making products that are specifically formulated for melanated skin. We're already working on expanding the assortment and I think we'll take direction based on the public-health needs of the POC community.
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