Preserve & Protect
When three scuba enthusiasts joined forces to launch their own line of reef-safe sunscreen products, KAANI ACTIVE was born. bruce scott dives in to find out more
Coral reefs, which are vitally important to the vast ocean ecosystem, are under threat from pollution, climate change and destructive fishing techniques, but also by tourism. It’s a sad irony that people who snorkel and scuba dive in order to admire coral formations can unwittingly do damage, especially if they are wearing unsafe sunscreen products. Unfortunately, finding environmentally friendly suncare can be a challenge in itself, as three friends in Thailand – all passionate scuba divers – found when they went searching for sunscreen that was both reef safe and skin safe.
“Long story short, we couldn’t find any so we made our own,” says Pachara “Jeen” Snidvongs Na Ayudhaya, who – along with Chanipa “Pam” Sarasin and Disalada “Stang” Disayanon – is one of the three founders of KAANI Active. The brand debuted in January of 2020, and initial sales of their SPF 50 PA+++ broad spectrum sunscreen exceeded all expectations.
“Even with the unexpected arrival of Covid-19, we reached our two-year goal within six months of launching,” he remarks. “It turns out that most of our buyers were people with sensitive skin and mothers with young children. The dive market was also strong, but we were pleasantly surprised at the reception of our product in other markets.”
Developed and manufactured in Thailand, KAANI adheres to some of the most stringent reef-safe regulations in the world. Almost a year was spent in the R&D process, and while Jeen is not a scientist by trade – his day job is in wealth management and foreign direct investment – he certainly knows a lot about the science behind suntan lotion.
“There are two main types of sunscreen on the market: chemical and physical/mineral,” he explains, pointing out that KAANI falls into the latter category. “The term ‘mineral’ refers to the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide they contain, while the term ‘physical’ describes how they work: physically blocking the UV rays from reaching your skin. Chemical sunscreens, by contrast, use ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, avobenzone, which absorb UV rays and turn them into heat through chemical reaction.
“Physical sunscreen often feels stickier and leaves a more noticeable white cast,” he continues, adding that in order to eliminate these unwanted attributes many brands use nano-sized ingredients, despite the inherent dangers. “Scientific studies have raised issues about nanoparticles being absorbed into your skin and blood, and nanoparticles can also be ingested by coral, leading to a multitude of problems. So we decided to use only non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide.”
Jeen also knows plenty about the subject of diving. He began at a very young age, as his father was involved in the scuba business, and to date he reckons he’s logged about 1,350 dives. His father was also adept at undersea photography, and Jeen later carried on this tradition; spending time working abroad as an underwater photographer while unknowingly conducting his own market research.
“I would often spend the entire day on a small boat, fully exposed to the sun,” he recalls, “and after a week or two on site the shortcomings of the existing reef safe sunscreens would be painfully obvious.” As the idea for a better solution simmered in the back of his mind, fate played a hand in introducing him to his future business partners.
“I first met Pam on a diving trip, and it turns out our parents knew each other. A while later I met Stang on a family trip in Egypt, as our mums are good friends. Pam and I are avid scuba divers, and after months of pestering Stang she agreed to get certified. We asked Stang to join us [in KAANI] because we appreciate her honest, analytical feedback about her own issues with skincare. Both Pam and Stang have had past problems with dishonest skincare products and allergic reactions.”
The trio pooled their personal resources to get the project going, and while Jeen and Stang kept their day jobs – hers being Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Content & Production, at Kantana Group – Pam eventually left her job in the office of the secretariat of the Prime Minister in order to work full-time on the new venture.
“Pam is the heart of KAANI,” says Jeen. “She brings tremendous experience and vision to our R&D and is also a talented administrator. We share the workload and take responsibility for a few products each, but Pam oversees the day-to-day operations.”
If Pam is the heart of KAANI, then Jeen, with his background in underwater photography, might be considered the eyes. He’s still very much committed to photographing wildlife whenever the opportunity arises – a few of his pics are used in this article – so naturally I’m curious about what he’s observed over time with respect to the effects of harmful sunscreen on corals.
“I can see first-hand the changes happening in the underwater ecosystem,” he admits. “The science behind reef-safe sunscreens is quite extensive. Chemical sunscreens can impair growth and photosynthesis in green algae. As they accumulate in coral tissues they induce bleaching and damage the coral’s DNA, as well as causing decreased fertility in fish and other marine life. Many jurisdictions like Palau, Hawaii, US Virgin Islands, Key West and Bonaire have all banned non-reef safe sunscreen in an effort to protect their natural resources. Unfortunately there’s no globally recognised standard so we’re working on helping establish a set of regulations that will hopefully bring some transparency to the industry.”
In the meantime, KAANI’S sales are continuing at a brisk pace, with Hong Kong and Cambodia already on board as secondary markets, and Bahrain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines in the future pipeline. Adding to that success, Jeen reveals that a new product line has just been unveiled, called KAANI Everyday.
“It’s an urban sunscreen that was formulated specifically for people living in cities. It has anti-blue light and anti-pollution properties that are essential for people who spend a lot of time in front of a computer or phone, and who live in cities like Bangkok. It’s meant to be used everyday as the last step in your morning skincare routine.”