Dr Andrew Birnie

Producing sunscreen doesn't need to be a sticky business


A skin cancer surgeon at Kent and Canterbury Hospital was inspired to develop a new sunscreen while surfing in South Africa.

Consultant dermatologist Dr Andrew Birnie has created a high-performance budget product in a bid to encourage more people to slap on protection.

The project came about after Dr Birnie spent a year’s sabbatical in Durban teaching skin cancer surgery and helping to set up a new unit but as he visited the beaches to give surfing a go, he had a chance meeting with another novice surfer, David Westerbeek van Eerten, who had worked for the firm that makes Eucirin and Nivea creams.

Their conversations turned to skin protection and the rather lax attitude of South Africans to the risk.

Andrew said: “He sold products that helped reduce skin cancer and I was treating it, so there was a shared interest.”

After leaving South Africa, they kept in touch and together came up with the idea for a high-quality, but low price, sunscreen to rival the more expensive, fashionable brands.

Working with a leading German formulation scientist, Andrew launched Altruist Dermatologist Sunscreen on Amazon where demand was so high it initially sold out.

It is now being used by Kent cricketers and is also on sale in the shop at the Spitfire ground.

Altruist contains the most advanced filter available, Tinosorb A2B, to provide protection across the whole UVA/UVB spectrum.

Together with other filters the effective mixture results in an SPF of more than 30.

Andrew said: “The challenge was not only making it very effective against the sun but also pleasant to put on. We spent months getting the formula right.

“We also wanted to price it attractively so that customers would be encouraged to buy and use it, although I think it is scandalous that 20% VAT is added to such an important health product.

“It’s good to see Altruist getting such great reviews on Amazon from customers.”

Father-of-two Andrew is acutely aware of the damage the sun can do to skin and says the number of skin cancer referrals and cases in Kent is on the rise, despite the widely-publicised risks.

Altruist is already proving a huge success with thousands of tubes sold and five star reviews on Amazon, where it costs £8 for a 400ml twin pack.

A donation from every bottle of Altruist sold goes to support 'Under The Same Sun' ; a charity that supports children with albinism in Tanzania and the rest of Africa. 

Dr Birnie said "We believe everybody should have an equal opportunity to be protected from the sun. With each purchase we will donate 10p. You can help children with albinism in Africa."

“Our mission is to reduce the incidence of skin cancer through increased use of quality sunscreen together with better education and awareness. This sunscreen has been formulated to minimise the risk of allergic reactions and is paraben- and fragrance-free” 

With its scorching hot sun, the tropical climate of Tanzania puts people with albinism at a high risk for developing skin cancer at an early age. 100% of children with albinism in Tanzania show signs of sun-related skin damage by the age of 10. 

Sun Awareness Week 2019 

This year from the 6th of May to the 12th of May is Sun Awareness Week, the aim of this week is to raise awareness for the dangers of long exposure to the sun, and to promote safety when outside.

How can you be safe in the sun?

It’s quite easy to be safe when playing outside, with the simplest and most important thing to do being putting on sun screen. Make sure you put on a hat, or cover your skin. It’s the easy things like this that save your skin from harmful and painful damage caused by the sun when over-exposed. 

What damage can the sun cause?

Over-exposure to the sun’s rays can cause serious damage to your body, with two common types of cancers. One being non-melanoma, and melanoma, which is by far the most dangerous and deadly skin cancer. This simple reason is enough to look after your skin and stay in the shade and be safe in the sun.

Who is affected?

Everyone is affected by damage to the skin from the sun, in fact last year, 35% of people in the UK were burnt at least once, with 28% of those being burnt more than three times during the year.

So this year, remember to wear sunscreen, wear a t-shirt, stay in the shade and during Sun Awareness Week spread the word of sun safety and the dangers of over exposure!