In Australasia, Northern America and a significant part of Europe, the skin cancer mortality rate for men is almost double that of women. LifeJacket Skin Protection is a pleasingly simple concept: it’s all about protecting skin from sun damage and hand in glove with this is the desire to raise awareness about skin cancer whilst still encouraging an outdoor lifestyle. Specifically, this brand is targeting men with a range that includes sun protection, moisturisers and a developing clothing line. The design is clean, sharp and appealing and the founders are passionate about their vision. I chatted with brothers Jono and Rob and their co-founder Billy to find out what inspired them to launch a business, and what their plans are for the future.
Could you tell us a little about Jono’s story?
Jono: I was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 34. I had no family history of it and I was fit, relatively young and healthy. Despite the signs leading up to my diagnosis telling me that something just wasn’t right, it was still a complete shock. I had tried to ignore it so I didn’t seek medical advice soon enough. Yet, I wasn’t alone; three good friends of mine – all fit and strong guys – were also diagnosed with varying forms of cancer in their early thirties. Thankfully, we have all made full recoveries, but we were shocked to learn we weren’t as indestructible as we thought.
As well as supporting us all throughout, Billy, my best friend and fellow LifeJacket co-founder, was reading about why we got our various conditions and wondering how much of it was avoidable. We knew we couldn’t eradicate bowel cancer, but we could take steps to reduce the chances of us getting skin cancer. Fitness-fanatic Billy wanted to do something positive; encourage men to take life outside, but protect themselves while they are doing what they love. My brother and I felt the same and knew we wanted to be involved.
And so, LifeJacket was born. We want people to understand the science and facts around skin health. In Western society we need to understand that there is no such thing as a healthy tan; it’s simply prematurely ageing sun damage. Our message is inspirational… #TakeLifeOutside, do what you love and enjoy, but protect yourself while you do.
On your website it states that Jono is the ‘engine room’, Rob the ‘technical nerd’ and you, Billy, are the ‘face’. What exactly does each entail?
Billy: We joke that Jono is the mule who gets everything done, Rob is the chemist and science expert who makes stuff and I do the fluffy marketing. By chance, that's where our abilities (I'm reluctant to say 'skills'!) lie, so this is the most obvious division of labour. In reality, we all need to spin a lot of plates and wear different hats daily given how small the team is and the scale of our ambition.
In what way do men benefit from a separate product range?
Rob: There are so many variables to a person’s skin that it’s hard to conclusively say that men’s skin is like ‘X’ and women’s skin is like ‘Y’. Plus, the condition of a surfer’s skin will inevitably be different to the skin of an office-based worker. Skin health is shaped not only by genes but also by lifestyle choices. That said, generally, men’s skin is around 25% thicker than women’s (1-2mm) making it less sensitive and able to handle stronger ingredients. Men also have more collagen, sebum and a higher sweat rate, plus several other variances but that said, there’s not some magic ingredient that men need and women don’t.
Men, however, are generally less sensible in the sun than women. If I could wave a wand and get all men to use one product it would be a moisturiser with SPF every day of the year. The sun’s UV rays are the greatest threat to the structure of your skin and the visible signs of ageing. They also cause skin cancer. And, they’re just as present in winter and also pass through cloud cover and glass, so you’re not necessarily safe if you’re inside by a window.
You have some impressive ambassadors, how do you select them, and who would be your dream ambassador?
Billy: We rely heavily on Instagram. We start by following people to get a feel for who they are and what they're about – obviously leaning towards men who spend a significant amount of time outside. We then try to build a relationship with those who take the products and say they like them. If they continue to use LifeJacket and even ask for more, we know they've converted to our products and mission. That's the point where we ask if they'd be interested in being ambassadors.
We're super proud of the team we have and they all genuinely use our full range of products almost daily. We always felt that getting 'aspirational' people to be seen using the products might encourage all men to change their behaviour when it comes to skin protection.
There are plenty of people out there who have that level of influence across hundreds of different 'outside' themes so it's hard to give you one name. But to be able to supply the military would be a dream come true for us.
Can you describe your relationship with Melanoma UK?
Jono: Men are nearly twice as likely as women to die from skin cancer – that’s the hard-hitting fact that shouts to us every day and the catalyst and motivation in our ongoing mission. We want to encourage men to change their mindsets when it comes to investing in their future health, and also try to instigate a cultural change when it comes to our relationship with the sun.
Our partnership with Melanoma UK came naturally as we’re both on the same mission. Melanoma UK offers support for people going through treatment and it wants to educate as many people as possible.
What are your plans for the future?
In addition to offering skin protection in the form of skincare and UPF 50+ clothing, we are bringing detection to the mainstream too. Just like women are told to check their boobs for lumps or changes every month, we want skin checks to be a regular part of everyone’s self-care routine. That’s why we’ve partnered with the artificial intelligence phone app, SkinVision, to offer every single one of our customers free, instant and unlimited skin checks for seven days.
From 1 May, every order placed on our website will generate an access code which enables you to access the SkinVision app for seven days. We’ve also a 50% discount for our customers should they choose to upgrade to a 12-month license. Our charity partner Melanoma UK will receive a £4 with each license upgrade too.
Of course, we’re also currently working on various new skincare and clothing product launches over the next twelve months.
LifeJacket is delivered in a sustainable gift box that fits through the letterbox. Prices range from £8 - £59. Available from lifejacketskinprotection.com