Cyrus Sutton’s father had cancer. It was melanoma—the worst news for a family of people who love the outdoors. Sutton is a professional surfer, and his dad’s diagnosis got him thinking about how he wasn’t protecting himself. Chemical sunscreens wouldn’t cut it—Sutton wanted something all natural for his skin. This goal started him down a six-year journey to found Manda, a company that specializes in organic, all-natural sunscreen with one extra special ingredient: thanaka. The thanaka powder in Manda—made from the wood of Burmese thanaka trees—has been used as a natural sunscreen and moisturizer by the native Burmese people for over 2,000 years. Here, Sutton talks the creation of Manda, why go all natural, and how to use thanaka in your everyday life.
How were you introduced to thanaka?
CS: “I’ve spent most of my time traveling since I was 19, both as a pro surfer and a documentary filmmaker. So the first time I saw thanaka powder was in Southeast Asia. People there were putting it on their skin, ingesting it…and it was in all the duty-free shops. I didn’t really think much of it until my dad got skin cancer. It was really serious, and a total wakeup call for me. I never really used sunblock—I figured if I ate healthy, I didn’t need it.
“I started researching DIY recipes, because I wanted all-natural, chemical-free sunblock. And thanaka came up again in the recipes I tried.”
How did you come up with the formula?
CS: “Thanaka is actually not the main active ingredient. The problem with it is that when you add oils to it, it becomes translucent. So we’ve had to strike a balance between performance and sustainability.
“Zinc oxide, the mineral, is our main ingredient, and it’s the main ingredient in most non-chemical sunscreens. It sits on top of the skin and physically blocks harmful sunrays from reaching your skin. Ideally we’ll get to the point where we’re using more thanaka than zinc oxide, as thanaka is a regenerative source while the zinc oxide still has to be mined.
“Manda also has lots of antioxidants from the plant kingdom, like cocoa butter and Shea butter, and it has ingredients like cacao powder and cinnamon oil because we wanted to make something that smelled good, too.
“Mostly, I wanted to take it back to things we could eat. Not that I would recommend it, but I’ve taken a fingerful of this stuff and eaten it. I wanted something that I would feel comfortable doing that with.”
How long did it take?
CS: “I’ve been coming up with batches throughout the last six years. I’d buy all the materials and make enough to last a year or so, and every time I’d tweak the formula. It’s only in the past year I decided to make the company happen, and then I took it to a professional level and developed the formula we have now.”
How should we use Manda and how far does a container go?
CS: “You use a lot less of it than you would with another sunblock. I put this stuff on at 6 a.m. and go surfing. When I come back at the end of the day I still have to wipe it off with a washcloth—it stays on that well.
“I only wear sunblock on my nose, ears, lips, and cheeks—where we have the thinnest skin—so a small container of Manda lasts me about two months for average use, six weeks if I’m using it every single day.
“But you can use it all over your body. Basically this is like putting a new skin on in the eyes of the sun. You’re covering your body with an armor you can see.
“This stuff is pretty temperature sensitive, so when it’s warmer it’s easier to put on. I put it on the dashboard of my car for a bit usually and let it heat up. Then you apply it on the most burn sensitive areas of your body. You’ll still be able to see it—it doesn’t rub in like chemical sunscreen does.”
What are the environmental and health implications?
CS: “The regulations on our food are troubling enough, but the cosmetic industry is just the Wild West. There is no regulation.
“The sun care industry in particular is backwards. The chemicals we’re putting on our skin are shown to be incredibly toxic to coral reefs and sea life in general. Tourists come to these coral reef environments and slather on chemical sunblock, which ends up washing off into the ocean and causes coral bleaching.
“Manda is all natural, so even if it does come off in the ocean—which it typically doesn’t—it won’t hurt the reefs. As far as sun protection goes, when you put Manda on, you’re covering your skin with an armor you can see. If you’re not doing that then you’re dealing with an unknown as far as I’m concerned. And a lot of people are concerned now—there’s a whole slew of people creating natural skincare products now.
“Personally, I’ve seen it work for me. No one believes I’m over 26 or 27, and I’m 33. I get carded every time. And I attribute that to using natural products on my skin.”
How do you feel about the importance of natural sunscreen?
Buy Manda online at simplebynature.net. The sun paste is available in two sizes: small (0.52oz) for $18 and large (1.76oz) for $28.