This skin care brand wants to get more men to use sunscreen daily

This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.

While sunscreen is widely recognized as one of the most important—if not the most important—skin care products in the market, many people—especially men—still aren’t using it on a daily basis when they should. A new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that only 18% of men regularly wear sunscreen on their face, and only 20% bother to apply it elsewhere. And a 2020 study by RealSelf found that women are approximately three times more likely than men to wear sunscreen on a daily basis. Overall, only 56% of men used any sort of sun protection in the last year.

Meet Atticus, the genderless skin care brand created by two guys who were fed up with the skin care industry and are aiming to change those statistics.

Cofounders Mike Fine and Nathan Barksdale are working to de-stigmatize skin care for men, instilling it as part over a person’s overall health and wellness routine, regardless of gender.

Fortune recently spoke with Fine and Barksdale about the burgeoning growth of skin care brands for men and plans for the summer.

Nathan Barksdale and Mike Fine, cofounders of Atticus
Courtesy of Atticus

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Fortune: Can you share a bit about your professional backgrounds prior to launching Atticus?

Nathan Barksdale: Mike and I are what we like to call “user experts” and actually didn’t work in the skincare industry prior to launching Atticus. Both of us had different relationships with skin care and the industry as whole, but weren’t aware we had similar frustrations and issues until we happened to chat about it one day. At the time, we were both working in different departments at Uber and had never discussed skin care with any of our other guy friends. I think that’s when we first planted the seed to what’s now Atticus. 

Mike Fine: Prior to Atticus, I had spent six or so years working in experiential marketing and business development at Uber. Nathan and I met while working on a project in 2017 and quickly grew our work relationship into a close friendship. After bonding over our various skin care issues and struggles in finding quality products one night, we both decided we wanted to dive head-first into the industry and see where and if we could make a splash.

Barksdale: From there, speaking about what quality products were out there, if there was any efficacy behind the newest and sexiest “miracle ingredient,” and why skincare was being bifurcated by gender and ethnicity became routine. We realized that the market was saturated, but our mission was clear from day one: if we make quality products and use only world class ingredients with a proven effectiveness, there is room to educate consumers on the need to use skincare products from looking good and feeling good to positive skin health and preventing future skin issues. 

Fine: We spoke with as many industry professionals as possible. We’d meet with skincare users, enthusiasts, experts, and executives, dropping in at a number of dermatologists offices just to speak to different dermatologists about what they were seeing in the industry. Our goal was to truly understand the macro and micro view of why people were so uneducated about skin health and other crucial skincare regimens––like wearing a daily SPF or washing your face with something other than a bar of soap.

Barksdale: Not being in the industry previously, Mike and I set out to research as much as possible in order to put together a dream team of industry professionals that we believed could deliver our vision. The benefit of not being in the industry previously is that we weren’t swayed by particular cost-cutting mechanisms, “marketing-only” ingredients, and efficiencies that other companies may have adhered to. 

Instead, we developed each product independently and when selecting raw ingredients and technologies to compound, looked at the results and merits of what each would offer an independent formula and if the measured load of each would yield the specific results we were looking for.

Atticus’s debut lineup includes nine products across three categories: cleansers, night creams, and SPF-enhanced moisturizers.
Courtesy of Atticus

There is no shortage of sunscreen products on the market, which can make it a bit of a crowded, and even confusing, market for consumers. What inspired you to launch Atticus?

Fine: My interest in skincare spurred from necessity. Growing up I struggled with incredibly horrible acne which led me to work with doctors to solve my issues. I always was encouraged to wear sunscreen by my mom, who had skin cancer and taught me the importance of maintaining my skincare routine.

As I grew older, I realized the importance of skincare as a form of healthcare rather than a cosmetic addition to someone’s lifestyle. We decided to form Atticus with a central idea of education surrounding why you need certain products as your needs progress and approaching skincare as maintenance for your health, rather than a solution for an issue. Our skin is our largest organ and we need to take care of it throughout our lives as it presents different needs based on the evolution of it as well as the environment. This is how we decided to create Atticus.

Barksdale: As Mike and I are from a tech background, we both lead our lives through fact and science and that is exactly what we brought forward with Atticus. We decided that instead of fitting a one-size-fits all mold, we wanted to create products that catered to everyone no matter what your location is or what your ongoing concerns are with your skin. We as founders have different needs that need to be met with our skin, and of course we are two out of billions of people with individual needs we needed to create products that could be combined for various purposes.

We also felt it was very important to develop top-tier moisturizers with a quality SPF in it. Through our education programming we want to encourage consumers to use an SPF daily, so we developed all three of our moisturizers with the best quality zinc at the recommended SPF 15 to SPF 25 for daily use. At the end of the day, if we are focusing on skin health, we want our consumers to be using SPF daily. Men are almost twice as likely to get skin cancer than women, and we want to change this statistic.

A study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that only 18% of men regularly wear sunscreen on their face, and only 20% bother to apply it elsewhere.
Courtesy of Atticus

Q: Skin care sales have already influenced changes in the beauty market for women, but skin care for men is increasingly gaining more attention than it ever has before? Why do you think that is, and what else still needs to change?

Fine: The 1920s shaped skincare as we know it today. Back then, skin care was essentially marketed as cosmetics in order for  women to appeal to the ideal standards of femininity at the time (i.e. looking younger). A decade later, sunscreen was also introduced as a cosmetic product to help achieve a natural glow and sun-kissed look. One of our North Stars with Atticus is to be a thought leader in this paradigm shift from skincare as cosmetics to skin care as health care. For us, it all starts with accessibility and education. We believe that if we can properly educate our consumer, they will be best armed to make informed decisions regarding their skin health.

Barksdale: Since the 1920s, skin care has certainly progressed in the men’s market, which we love to see. Still, there’s a level of decision paralysis that tends to take over as soon as you research the loads of different products on the market. Not only is there an influx of cleansers, serums, face oils, and more, there’s also so much deception with marketing claims and so-called miracle ingredients on the market. If a customer purchases a product and it doesn’t suit them, it can be very daunting and discouraging to start the process all over again again. This is exactly what Atticus is looking to change. We want to provide accurate, non-bias information, so that decision making is easier for those who are newly curious to skincare. Our goal is to be that source of truth, and to do that we first have to gain the trust and confidence of men.

One of the goals for Atticus is to encourage more men to use sunscreen regularly. What potential barriers are you expecting and how does Atticus plan to overcome them?

Barksdale: Our biggest piece of advice for men (and women) is to forget every myth and preconceived notion they have about sunscreen and begin from scratch. We have heard everything from “I don’t get burned so I don’t need it,” “I’m not spending my entire day at the beach so what’s the point,” “I want to tan so sunscreen will prevent that,” to “It takes forever to rub it in and there’s white residue everywhere.”

Sunscreen doesn’t have to have these negative connotations associated with it. That’s particularly why we decided to make zinc-based sunscreens that provide daily protection and go on clear with a matte finish.

Fine: Exactly. Sunscreen was one of our top priorities in our product development process. Most people don’t know this, but wearing SPF is the single most important thing you could do for your skin every single day. It doesn’t matter if you’re inside staring at your computer, outside on the beach, or climbing in the Rocky Mountains. If you want to avoid having wrinkles for as long as possible, if you want to avoid melanoma, you have to wear sunscreen everyday. Period.

Through Atticus, we hope to educate and empower people to make the conscious decision to go out and use sunscreen everyday. We don’t have a single “sunscreen product,” instead we engineered luxurious moisturizers that include a safe broad spectrum SPF in them using the highest grade of zinc oxide possible. Our goal is to have everyone feel great when they’re putting it on our products.

Barksdale: To do that, we have to get people to try and feel the product. We know that once people get a routine in their hands, they will love it. It will become an ordinary part of their day like brushing your teeth and styling your hair. When your face is clean and protected, it’s a confidence booster.

Developed for acne-prone skin, the clarifying combines blue-green algae retinoid alternative, witch hazel, and shea butter to clear up blemishes, smooth acne scarring, and reduce fine lines.
Courtesy of Atticus

Atticus just launched this summer. How has business been so far? What are some of the surprises that have come up? Do you plan to expand into other skin care products—for men or women, or both—in the near future?

Barksdale: We launched three and a half weeks ago and already see a beautiful distribution of sales across all of our nine products for users that take our skin survey. This reinforces our hypothesis that people want and need a personalized skin care routine that is best for them and their current situation. 

Fine: Also, both men and women have already been purchasing from us which is so fulfilling to see. Skin care isn’t and shouldn’t be a gendered concept. I mean, we all have skin don’t we? There’s no real difference in men and women’s skin—except for the fact that men’s skin tends to be thicker because of the coarse hair on our faces. In time, we are going to be expanding our product line with more products that take a health first approach. That’s about all we can say without giving away too much!

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