Here at Truth In Aging we have had a good track record with beauty products from New Zealand — think MitoQ, Snowberry and Moana — so I was very receptive to taking a look at a brand called Ao. The first thing that I pounced on from this down under, doctor-backed line was a sunscreen with astaxanthin, Ao Protect Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($59.95 in the shop).
Before I explain why I was so excited by a sunscreen with a tongue-twister ingredient, I’ll give some context about the Ao brand. Ao is a reference to Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand and the “embodiment” of pure and natural beauty. Behind the brand is a dermatologist, Mark Gray, MD, whose mantra is that science and nature can coexist.
Right off, I want to say that from a cosmetic and comfort perspective, this is the best sunscreen that I have ever encountered. I look forward to wearing it — and I typically don’t like sunscreen. Ao Protect is silky and smooth, not in the least bit chalky, sticky or shiny, but does provide a subtle (very subtle) amount of coverage, somewhat like a primer. I never use primer, but I’m willing to bet that I could ditch it for Ao.
As sunscreen actives (yes, even mineral ones) are controversial and potential cytotoxic, I am very particular that a sunscreen formula be tempered by antioxidants. This is where astaxanthin comes in. According to one scientist, astaxanthin can eliminate free radicals 6,000 times more effectively than vitamin C and 800 times more than CoQ10. It can prevent UV-induced collagen degradation, wrinkles, sunburn and phototoxicity.
Ao has also included ferulic acid, another great antioxidant that is credited with providing sun protection, as well as vitamin E, niacinamide and pomegranate.
Although plant stem cells are becoming more widely used in cosmetics, there aren’t too many sunscreens with them. This one has meristem stem cells from the gardenia plant, which are supposed to synthesize collagen production.
Ao goes to some lengths to explain the function of every ingredient — and in some cases, justify them. Lanolin was one that caused raised eyebrows. I know there are a lot of sheep in New Zealand, but the oil from their wool has in recent years been dismissed as an unwelcome irritant in skin care. According to Ao, lanolin gets a bad rap. Much as I like Ao’s sunscreen, I wasn’t going to take this at face value and went off to do my own research. It seems that lanolin’s reputation as an irritant is based on misinterpreted research from the 1950s. Although subsequent studies have demonstrated that lanolin sensitization is relatively low and only mildly comedogenic, the myth lives on to this day. I’m pleased that my own bias against lanolin has been revised.
The feel-good factor of this silky sunscreen is due to a number of synthetic emollients. They proved to be only a small price to pay as I looked into each one and found them to be largely benign — same for the suspending agents and thickeners (mostly fatty acids). And it’s nice to see that there are no harsh preservatives, the antimicrobial is a natural one from an indigenous New Zealand plant.