As the school year starts, Howard Early Education Center students will be among the first in the nation taking part in a new program aimed at preventing skin cancer by using sunscreen.

That couldn’t have happened in the Alamo Heights Independent School District or any Texas public school two years ago. But thanks to a change in state law, a consortium of cancer-prevention advocates and the Terrell Hills mom who created Supergoop, things are different today.

When Holly Thaggard first got the idea for Supergoop, she was on a mission – to create a sunscreen for schoolchildren. Ten years later, she’s making progress.

In the process, she has become the CEO of a fast-rising company with offices in San Antonio and New York. Forbes featured her in July; the Wall Street Journal did a piece in May. A diverse range of Supergoop products, from sunscreen mist and sunscreen mineral-setting powder to sunscreen lip balm are distributed by several retail giants. Just this summer, Supergoop’s combined skincare-plus-sunscreen products earned favorable mentions in several publications.

Thaggard, who rolled out the brand in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in July, expects sales to reach $20 million this year.

It all started when Thaggard and her husband, Ty, a lawyer and San Antonio native, were living in Dallas. A close friend, who was 29, was diagnosed with skin cancer.

“A dermatologist friend told me that early exposure to (ultraviolet) rays is usually the basis for skin cancer. Right out of college, I had taught third grade in a very affluent school – and when she said that about early exposure, I suddenly realized I had never once seen children using sunscreen at school.” — Holly Thaggard

Her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. Working with a chemist, she created a product free of controversial ingredients such as parabens or synthetic fragrances that also did not feel greasy. She called it Supergoop Everyday SPF 30, and aimed to market it to schools in large classroom dispensers.

But there was a problem. Sunscreen is classified as an over-the-counter drug. At the time, in every state except California, it was prohibited in public schools without a doctor’s note or permission slip. The business plan failed. Thaggard turned to refining Supergoop for the retail market, as a skin-protection product that worked with makeup.

“When we launched in retail 2010 we disrupted a very sleepy category in the world of SPF. Nobody was waking up and thinking, ‘How do we deliver SPF in a beautiful anti-aging eye cream or a luxurious body oil?” Thaggard said.

Tennis champion Maria Sharapova, already a professed fan and user, came on board as investor and spokeswoman. The company blossomed.

But Thaggard never forgot her mission. She and Ty moved to San Antonio in 2010 with their two children, Emery and Will, now 12 and 9 years old, respectively.

“When Emery was in first grade at Cambridge (Elementary School), the day before a class field trip she came home with a note in her backpack that said if she was found with sunscreen it would be discarded. That refueled my drive to make the school project work,” Thaggard said.

At last, things are changing. In 2015, based on information from the American Cancer Society, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and others, the Legislature passed a bill to allow students to use and carry sunscreen in schools, and the Texas Education Agency adopted the law.

“We know from epidemiologic studies that getting sunburn in childhood – or five blistering sunburns between age 15 and 20 — can double the risk of melanoma. And half of children and adolescents get at least one sunburn a year,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gershenwald, a surgical oncologist at M.D. Anderson. As part of a preventive health program, M.D. Anderson has developed a sun-safety curriculum for kindergarten through first grade, featuring cartoon superheroes Ray and the Sunbeatables.

“With some of the initiatives such as sun-safety programs, there will be more awareness,” Gershenwald said. “Simply being able to use sunscreen in schools sets up a paradigm where you can actually practice sun safety. Supergoop has been sort of a partner in that regard.”

Now Thaggard is working with M.D. Anderson to offer free 64-ounce Supergoop! dispensers to classrooms using the Sunbeatables curriculum, or any other schools that are interested, in Supergoop’s  charitable program called Ounce by Ounce. It will roll out nationwide this month.

Howard is the first local campus to have the program. Thaggard started working with the school last summer, said Kathi Martinez, AHISD health coordinator and a registered nurse at Howard.

“Anything that promotes health and wellness for the kids is our job. When Holly reached out to the district, we began meeting last fall to learn more about it and how to implement the program in school,” Martinez said. “Holly was willing to get us the sunscreen, and we needed to get parents and teachers involved.”

The district hopes to add Cambridge and Woodridge elementaries in the future.

Still on her mission, Thaggard has gone beyond simple footwork. When Martinez asked for help coming up with a way to get children to apply their sunscreen in an orderly way, Thaggard wrote and recorded “This is My Sunscreen,” a jingle to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine,” in English and Spanish. At Howard, before going outdoors to play, kids line up and pump the Supergoop, applying sunscreen and singing as they go.

“In a way, it’s as though I’m coming full circle now,” Thaggard said. “I started out as a teacher, and I guess in a way I’m not far from that today.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *