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How my skin cancer diagnosis inspired a brand of self-tanner

Like most bad news, finding out you have cancer is one of those things that will never happen to you. Until, of course, it was – as was the case for Maddy Balderson, who was diagnosed with skin cancer at 27.

She is far from alone. Skin cancer is the most common form of the disease in the United States, with 9,500 people being diagnosed each day. Not only did the experience inspire Balderson to completely change the way she approaches sun protection, it also led her to co-found Australian sunless tanning brand Luna Bronze.

Growing up in Australia, the sun ruled her life, says Balderson. “Any sunny day in my teens and early twenties was spent at the beach in a bikini without any form of sunscreen — no hat, no shade, no sunscreen,” she recalled. Although Balderson’s skin tone is fair and freckled, she is able to tan. As a result, she would lie for hours without sunscreen to see how well she could get bronze. In fact, “it was almost a contest between our girlfriends – passing around the tan oil and roasting each other to see who could get the deepest tan,” she says.

In her mid-twenties, she developed a patch of rough, pink skin along her jawline. One morning, she noticed the area was bleeding, so she went to see her GP, who quickly dismissed it as dermatitis. “It wasn’t until I visited my facialist that it all clicked,” she says. “She told me she had seen the exact type of condition before and made me promise to see a dermatologist as soon as possible. A client of hers had recently lost part of her nose to cancer of the the skin.

Shortly after, a dermatologist diagnosed Balderson with a form of basal cell carcinoma, or BCC. At first, she didn’t think much about it, assuming the patch would be burned or superficially removed, and that would be it. However, “when I met the plastic surgeon, I realized it wasn’t going to be that easy,” she says. “I was going to have a big scar on my jaw.” This is because the location of the skin cancer (near its lymph nodes), the existing damage to the tissues underneath, and the invasive nature of the BCC itself necessitated a more complicated removal protocol – as well as the potential of radiotherapy.

That’s when it felt real, Balderson says. “I realized that if I didn’t change my ways, I was going to end up covered in these things and scarred for life.” She revised her solar habits. Now she regularly applies — and reapply — sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. While she still spends time at the beach, she sits in the shade under an umbrella with UPF 50+ (a measurement of UV protection in the fabric).

Balderson felt good about staying out of the sun, however, she lacked what little confidence she had gained from tanning and found that the self-tanners on the market did not live up to her standards. “I couldn’t find a self-tanner that focused on skin-friendly ingredients and smelled great, or that didn’t offer unnatural results,” she says. “I told my best friend, Rhiannon Hall, about my research and she immediately suggested that I create this product ourselves.”

Glow Gradual Bronzer Moisturizer

Together they created Luna Bronze. It took nearly a year to bring the brand’s 2015 Glow gradual moisturizer to shelves – the co-founders used their savings to fund it. Fortunately, the formula hit the mark. Still, it was a disjointed operation — “our biggest challenge early on was juggling Luna Bronze, our side hustle, with our full-time jobs,” says Balderson.

Both succeeded. The line is now sold in 10 countries and loved by celebrities. The launch of the brand’s Good Night Face tanning serum had a waiting list of 10,000, then sold out three times over.

Good Night Face Tanning Serum

Although his experience is a caveat, Balderson sees it as motivation for his work. After all, that’s what inspired her to change the way people, including herself, tan. “Your health is more important than your appearance,” she says. “Take my story as a learning experience – and a chance to change your ways in the sun.”

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