The Next, Episode 44
Toxic sunscreen, Edge City, and a startup idea
Hi there, and welcome to The Next - my take on health, wellness, and company building.
In the last few years I’ve founded 3 health brands (Kettle & Fire, Perfect Keto, Surely non-alc wine), which do tens of millions in revenue. I’m now working on TrueMed, which allows health and wellness brands to accept HSA/FSA funds. Previously, I worked in tech and had no experience in CPG, DTC, or any other 3-letter industries.
If you missed past episodes, I recommend checking out Episode 42 on environmental toxins and finding your passion. Otherwise, let’s dive in!
🆕 What’s new
I recently went on the popular Invest Like the Best podcast and covered a bunch of topics: startups, incubations, health, the food system, etc.
It’s always interesting to see what resonates when you put your ideas out there. One of the things that seemed to resonate was the idea of “Edge City”, a term a friend and I use to talk about living on the edge of what’s normal, surrounded by others who are into weird, edgy stuff.
For example. I probably have 50 friends using GPT on a daily basis. This will almost certainly be the norm 3-5 years from now, but not just yet. Today, the only people using AI tools on a daily basis are those living in Edge City, who adopt new tools just a bit earlier than others. Queue the classic William Gibson quote, “The future is here – it's just not evenly distributed.”
Living in Edge City can be great for your career as an entrepreneur. Building the future is a lot easier when you’re surrounded by people living in it. Rather than inventing something from scratch, you simply notice what your friends are just starting to get into and figure out how to bring that thing to broader society.
In 2015, my Edge City health friends were talking about bone broth. In 2017, keto. In 2019, drinking less. And I started companies (Kettle & Fire, Perfect Keto, Surely) behind each of those trends, not to mention invested in many of the trends that my friends were into rather early (crypto, psychedelics, to name a few).
Living in Edge City isn’t all positive. In many ways (relationships, health, to name a few) our traditions have survived because they help humans flourish. There are real downsides to extreme openness and questioning of how one should live. Probably, most people are happier not questioning and rethinking every aspect of their lives on a near-continuous basis.
“Moving” to Edge City is trite in the way that much life advice is. It requires a curiosity about what’s next, and seeking out others also curious about the future (and in some cases, building it).
It’s this curiosity that (in my view) makes the inhabitants of Edge City so interesting. When you’re at the frontier of one area (AI, for example), you’ll often get exposed to the frontiers of other domains as well. It’s how someone like Vitalik can simultaneously be at the edge of longevity biotech, crypto, and AI, or how someone like Sam Altman has both founded the leading AI technology company and co-founded a leading longevity one (Retro).
I’m betting we’ll see this happen more over the next decade, as it becomes easier for Edge City residents to start more things. Personally, it’s a world I’m very much looking forward to.
💪 Health stuff
You may have heard the recent news that aspartame - the sweetener used in all Diet Coke and many other sugar-free “diet” foodstuffs - is a possible carcinogen.
“What?!?!” you may exclaim. Surely, the research sponsored by the American Beverage Association (and neatly collected at https://www.safetyofaspartame.com/) isn’t wrong! I can’t believe that Coca-Cola could possibly have misled us about any potential health concerns!!
The Big Food playbook, laid out for all to see. Trust the Science!
Unfortunately, aspartame is not the only likely carcinogen Americans expose themselves to on a regular basis. Which is why I want to talk about sunscreen.
Most sunscreens have oxybenzone, a known hormone disruptor. And, in a pattern we see time and time again, Europe recommends against this ingredient while the FDA says nothing.
Unfortunately (as Chris Kresser mentions), oxybenzone is easily absorbed into the skin. Oxybenzone was detected in the urine, plasma, and breast milk of human volunteers after full-body sunscreen application, and was found in 96% of urine samples collected in the US between 2003 and 2004 (2, 3, 4). From the EWG on oxybenzone:
In an evaluation of CDC-collected exposure data for American children, researchers found that adolescent boys with higher oxybenzone measurements had much lower total testosterone levels. Three other studies reported statistically significant associations between oxybenzone exposure during pregnancy and birth outcomes. One reported shorter pregnancy in women carrying male fetuses, two reported higher birth weights for baby boys and one found lower birth weights for baby girls.
Maybe this could be one reason why nobody is having sex?
Unfortunately, not only is sunscreen loaded with stuff that’s definitively bad for you, but it’s extremely unclear whether it even has anti-cancer benefits!
Some research (warning: observational study alert) reports that sunscreen decreases the risk of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer), while other studies show that sunscreen increases the risk of melanomas.
The rate of melanoma continues to rise significantly each year and has more than tripled since the 1970s even though there’s been a drastic increase in sunscreen usage.
This doesn’t quite prove that sunscreen is worthless. As all cancers have been rising, melanomas could be increasing for the same reason(s) that other cancers are increasingly prevalent... and things could be much worse if not for sunscreen!
That said, it is a suggestive data point.
Most sunscreen is designed to block and/or absorb UV radiation. UV radiation comes in both UVB and UVA rays: UVB is historically the bad stuff, and the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, and were once thought to cause aging, but not skin cancer. From my reading, the consensus seems to be changing as studies are pointing towards UVA playing a larger role in skin cancer development than previously thought.
Unfortunately, many sunscreens on the market contain ingredients that only block UVB rays, and thus provide almost no protection from UVAs. Though good for preventing sunburn, ‘screens that solely block UVBs could make people comfortable spending more time in the sun than their body can take, and thus getting waaaay more UVA exposure than they can handle.
So even if you block out the UVBs causing burns, you’re still getting a whole lotta UVAs which can cause skin cancer. Not cool, Banana Boat.
But wait - it gets worse!
You see, sunscreen works by either blocking or reacting with UV rays. Some sunscreens use physical particles, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to reflect UV radiation from the skin. Think of them like tiny mirrors physically blocking rays from entering your skin.
Billionaires can afford lots of tiny sunscreen mirrors
Non-mineral sunscreens work differently. Instead of physically blocking UV rays from penetrating your skin, they contain (often toxic) chemicals that react with UV rays before they penetrate the skin. These chemicals react with the rays hitting the sunscreen, and release that energy as heat.
Given that most sunscreens are loaded with hormone-disrupting chemicals, I don’t use sunscreen unless outside for very, very long periods of time. And when I do, I only use non-nano zinc oxide products. A non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen should protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and contain particles too large to be readily absorbed by the skin. I personally use Kari Gran, but there are a few good brands out there.
With summer firmly upon us, I hope this little PSA on sunscreen safety helps you get 1-2 fewer chemicals in your system this year.
🤑 Biz stuff
Early last year, I considered launching a fertility company. Infertility is something many, many people struggle with, and (from the research I’ve seen) lifestyle and environmental toxin exposure is absolutely a contributing factor.
Given so many infertility problems are related to diet and lifestyle - factors that extremely few MDs appreciate - I thought (and still think) there’s a big opportunity to create a brand in the conception/fertility space. Though I decided not to move forward with it, I figured I’d share the idea regardless.
Would love to know what you think of the idea, and if you all find the peek behind the curtain of my ideation process useful (or not). Who knows, maybe one of you enterprising young readers is interested in starting something in this space. Enjoy!
There are a huge number of couples struggling to conceive and/or have healthy pregnancies. A few concerning stats:
In the US, one in eight couples (6.7 million people) struggle to conceive.
Each year, the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) increases 5-10%.
Sperm count in western men has dropped 30%+ in the last 40 years
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the leading cause of female infertility
A huge number of people are struggling to conceive, and their only options are expensive, invasive IVF, or other ART tools. Many women are also told they’re infertile, when they may not be. Additionally, in many couples who struggle to conceive, infertility issues often come (heh) from the male side, yet 95% of fertility interventions are focused on women.
At the same time, there’s plenty of research pointing towards chronic conditions (obesity, insulin resistance, environmental contaminants, etc) playing a major role in a couple’s ability to conceive (or not).
My bet is that there’s a protocol you could create that helps couples increase their odds of successful conception before embarking on something like IVF. Such a protocol would combine:
Supplementation and/or prescription medication
Dietary and other lifestyle interventions (including chemical removal)
Coaching and peer support
Regular testing of key fertility markers
I imagine such an intervention geared at lifestyle and other interventions to help someone conceive would appeal to a lot of people who want to try and improve fertility before resorting to IVF or other ARTs. Kind of like Calibrate ($100M run rate) but focused on improving fertility, over a 3, 6, or 12-month fertility improvement protocol.
The market is also huge. 1 in 6 women struggle to conceive, male sperm count is down 30%+ over the last 4 decades (and men themselves are often infertile), yet there are only 450 fertility clinics across the US, and 1,700 reproductive endocrinologists (1). There’s a ton of demand for fertility treatments today, and the problem is only getting worse as more and more couples struggle to conceive.
I’d imagine a product would be very similar to Calibrate and be structured like this:
Coaching - We do an intake with each potential customer. This intake would ask about lifestyle factors, diet, current issues, exercise, and some questions around plastic and chemical exposures (common questions to understand plastic contamination, amount of packaged food eaten, etc). This intake and coaching could also determine drug interventions that are most likely to work for that individual.
Testing - as part of intake, everyone going through the program gets tested for potential fertility issues.
Dietary, supplement, and lifestyle interventions - based on the intake and lifestyle factors, we would suggest a set of dietary and lifestyle interventions that are geared towards reducing inflammation, stabilizing blood glucose, minimizing chemical load, and addressing any glaring holes with supplements.
This interesting study found that removing sugar for 12 weeks reverses PCOS (link). Hard, but perhaps a doable lifestyle intervention if the reason (wanting children) is motivating enough.
Alternatively, to start out we could also go more niche. PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women, and it is primarily driven by the same metabolic factors that drive type 2 diabetes and the like. Women with PCOS have a much higher risk of gestational diabetes and miscarriage during pregnancy, so could be a good starting point for building out fertility interventions.
I’d imagine a program like this could cost somewhere between $100-200 per month (Calibrate is $135/mo), and down the line could incorporate insurance coverage and the like.
I would absolutely love for someone to build this out. People who want to have kids should be able to have kids, not struggle to conceive because they’re regularly drinking dirty tap water or using sunscreen.
It’s honestly tragic and infuriating how toxic our environment has become, but few places make me angrier than the impact of health on fertility. I would absolutely love to see more entrepreneurs tackling this important problem.
😌 Dope stuff on the internet
Some of my favorite things since the last newsletter (note: I don’t get paid to recommend anything here):
📰 Article - This was an interesting read on how one guy changed his facial structure through proper breathing and (likely) chewing gum. I think this is interesting: in so many cases with our bodies, what we take for granted (“my face looks like this”, “my vision is bad”) can be modified with intentional effort and training. The human body is wild.
📚 Book rec - I recently finished Invention, the James Dyson autobiography. The book is easily one of my favorite all-time books on the topic of entrepreneurship and building new things. I learned a lot and was inspired to lean harder into inventing and doing new things at the companies I’m involved in - highly recommend.
⌚ Cool product - As air quality throughout the US is in a bad place, I highly recommend picking up an air purifier. Clean air, clean water, both are required to function your best. In my opinion, the Jaspr is the best out there. I have one for my house and two in my office. AND they recently started working with TrueMed, so you can use your HSA/FSA dollars to buy an air filter. If you buy an air filter, I’d love if you’d use TrueMed to do so at point of checkout, and use coupon TRUEMED200 for an extra $200 off.
🎵 Music - I am torn. Lane 8 dropped his seasonal Summer mixtape, which is great (though a bit more techo-y than I normally like). But my friend Justin ALSO released a summer mix that I’ve been enjoying quite a bit. And I’m not sure which one to recommend so I’ll just link to them both 🤷.
🏀 Random - Last month I went on the Invest Like the Best podcast to talk about the US health and food systems, companies I’ve started, and much more. It’s certainly the best interview I’ve done to date, and I talk a lot about the messed up incentives in our food and healthcare systems that are driving today’s chronic disease crisis.
Happy July to all of you out there, and I’ll see you in a month!