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How Frank Ocean's Mom is Setting Out to Change the Way People Think About Sunscreen

Katonya Breaux is hoping her skin-care company, Unsun Cosmetics, will be an industry game-changer.
Katonya Breaux with son Frank Ocean. Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Katonya Breaux with son Frank Ocean. Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Katonya Breaux's skin-care brand Unsun could have made its retail debut in Anthropologie this year. “We were asked to go into Anthropologie but we didn’t make the deadline," Breaux, who happens to be the mother of Frank Ocean, told Fashionista over the phone a few months ago. Specifically, she was referring to a lip balm formulation that was ultimately scrapped because it didn’t hold up to Breaux's natural standards. "I just didn't want to put a product out there that I didn't believe in, so we didn't make it." But, even without that launch, a year into operation, she's launching a hand cream and lip balm, preparing to expand into beauty and considering where she sits in the market.

So far, the biggest single day of sales for Unsun was a few weeks after Ocean's release of his album "Blonde." Though Yahoo Beauty first kicked off a round of features about Unsun the week of its launch, it was New York Magazine's coverage that really set things off. "It was crazy," says Breaux. "My phone kept going off; my son told me I had to hire someone to help me." At the time, the company offered one product: a $29 tube of SPF30 tinted sunscreen, a formula that didn't leave behind a white residue, which is particularly bothersome for people of color.

But because of that, the product quickly became known as a "sunscreen for people of color," as The Cut put it. But while Breaux does keep issues pertaining to people of color in mind and is herself a woman of color, she stresses that the line has always been meant for everyone. "If you look at some of my YouTube videos [about the brand,] you'll see that we're saying 'Hey, this is for everybody," Breaux points out. On the site, the imagery depicts a variety of shades from women of color but also includes a freckled, white skin tone. "I definitely want my sisters to be protected, but this is a universal product and I think that's key." Part of that universal appeal is that for fairer skinned customers, the tint in the product provides a bit of a tanning effect.

Unsun SPF 30 - Tinted Mineral Sunscreen, $29, available at Unsun.

Unsun SPF 30 - Tinted Mineral Sunscreen, $29, available at Unsun.

The line's latest expansion comes in the form of a $12 lip balm and a $27 hand cream, which launch this week. Hopefully, in the months to follow, shoppers will be able to find the products in stores, says Breaux. "I felt like having one product on the shelves would look kind of weird," says Breaux, explaining why she's held off on brick-and-mortar retail until now. Instead, the company sells direct-to-consumer on its own site as well as via "Hopefully, this year we can really break into the retail market," says Breaux.

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A significant component of making all of this happen is product testing to adhere to regulations. Though most lip products aren't required to go through much testing, any that include SPF undergo more intense scrutiny. And with products like the hand cream, the combination of SPF and Breaux's desire to keep the ingredients natural provide unique challenges.

"I really went back and forth on the hand cream so much," she says. "I don’t know if you know, but the natural hand creams with SPF are so sticky; they're like goo. It's just not good, and I think that's why a lot of companies just don't do them." Eventually though, after multiple formulation tweaks with the factory, Breaux ended up with a hand cream with a similar ingredient listing to her sunscreen.

Outside of new product, though, Breaux has other changes coming down the pipeline. "We're going through a repackaging phase and my son had some of his people working on it and I hated it all," she said, referring to Ocean. "He wanted to change the tube and it was all too masculine, and so I said that and he said, 'Well, it shouldn't just be a girls' brand.' It was such a good point because I've had so many male customers; I get so many orders from George and Dave and Mark." And though women will likely continue to be the brand's most significant demographic, especially as the company expands into color cosmetics this fall, Breaux will keep an eye on her male clientele. To wit, a recent advertisement features Breaux’s son and (Frank's brother) Ryan as its star.

Another important aspect for Breaux is education. So far that education has been restricted to press as well as expos, but Breaux is hoping to do some public speaking down the line. "I really want to get on the lecture circuit or start being on panels," she says. "This year I would like to do Essence [Music Festival], but I don’t know if it’s going to happen."

From her lips to Twitter's keyboards.

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