Protecting the Public

From left: Allen Starnes, Gabe Valente, Geoff Olson and Tyler Haggstrom

Malibu is known around the world for sunny weather and beautiful beaches, but when spending so much time outdoors, it’s important to be protected from harmful rays. 

Sun Shield, the creation of two Malibu High School (MHS) graduates, aims to make sunscreen use a fun and normal part of one’s daily routine in order to help prevent skin cancer — the number one form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Tyler Haggstrom and Allen Starnes started the Sun Shield project after college, which they plan to use to provide outdoor automatic dispensers, much like a hand sanitizer dispenser that one might see in a grocery store or hospital, with free sunscreen to the public.

“I was on a bicycle ride to Manhattan Beach from my home in Playa Del Rey when I came up with the idea,” Haggstrom shared. “I had applied sunscreen at home but a couple of hours into the ride, I needed to apply more, but I hadn’t brought sunscreen with me. A lot of people don’t carry sunscreen with them.

“I also thought about hand sanitizer dispensers and how they went from being a novelty to a near necessity.”

Although Haggstrom and Starnes were both working on other joint projects, they quickly began to concentrate on Sun Shield after Haggstrom discussed the idea with Starnes.

“We were already working together on other projects and after he came back from the bike ride, he told me the idea and we instantly decided that was something we wanted to put all of our attention into,” Starnes explained. The two were joined by Gabe Valente, also from MHS, and Geoff Olson in 2015 to help with sales, account management and daily start-up business tasks.”

The Sun Shield dispenser is designed to be an attractive, unintimidating and intuitive way to get people to apply sunblock. They explained that the project seeks to make putting on sunscreen less of a chore and more of a fun and interesting way to apply sun protection. They hope sunscreen application will eventually become an instinctive habit, in the same way that hand sanitizer dispensers have made hand sanitation easy and accessible. Starnes and Haggstrom especially hope to attract younger children to encourage them to develop a healthy habit of applying sunscreen when they’re playing outdoors. 

Since the group was formed, Sun Shield has had soft launches at events, including the Special Olympics World Games, the Los Angeles AIDS Walk and CicLAvia where the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Sun Shield has also been nominated for the 2016 Edison Award.

“It’s an honor to be considered among people of that caliber,” Haggstrom said. “It’s not about the product itself, but about using it as a platform to talk about the issue. Skin cancer is the number one form of cancer but no one really knows that. We are always encouraging people to be active outside but we want them to enjoy it responsibly.”

To provide Sun Shield for free to the public, the group has come up with several possible ways to sustain the service, including using Sun Shield’s signage board as advertisement space, allowing business owners to buy the machine and include it as a service of their establishment, relying on community donations toward the purchase of a machine for a location of their choice, or by getting the city government to finance the acquisition of Sun Shields as a public service.

“We’ve been in talks with the City of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Orange County,” Starnes said. “It’s a process that we have to go through, but we are making headway. We are trying to get the community involved so that they can show the city that it’s something we all want.”

Sun Shield recently completed a 30-day Kickstarter campaign where they raised $50,000 to go toward manufacturing dispensers. 

“We’re excited that Sun Shield could be a platform for raising skin cancer awareness,” Haggstrom shared.