Meet Martha Van Arts founder of Skinnies sunscreen

Skinnies is the Kiwi beauty brand revolutionising sun protection. Editor Trudi Brewer meets founder Martha Van Arts to find out what it takes to create a game-changing summer essential.

Photo BeautyEQ

Photo BeautyEQ



You just won US Allure magazine's 2018 Best in Beauty Breakthrough Award for most innovative product. Tell us about this amazing achievement.
The Allure awards celebrate products that are truly unique and different in the world of cosmetics and Skinnies was competing with products from the likes of Victoria Beckham and Rihanna with mega budgets. We couldn’t believe it when we got the news we’d won – I had a cry (of course). To be a winner, the product has to be a true revolution, completely changing the game. Skinnies caught the mind and hearts of the Allure judges and was enthusiastically endorsed by a very high-profile US dermatologist. 

What makes Skinnies Sungel so revolutionary?
Skinnies isn’t a white lotion, cream or block. It is a gel that rubs in clear, feels amazing on your skin and dries in two minutes. It contains no water whatsoever and you only need to use a pea-size blob for your face, neck and ears. The majority of sunscreens contain 50-70 per cent water, which does not protect you from UV rays. This water needs to evaporate before you go into the sun, which is why it's recommended that you wait 20 minutes after application. The high water content is also why typical sunscreens need to be reapplied so often. 

The range of Skinnies sunscreen.

You launched Skinnies with your husband Olly, why did you decide to start making sunscreen?
I still remember the day in December 2009 when Olly came in bemoaning white, greasy sunscreen. After a couple of days he announced that we should launch an alternative to typical sun protection that made it less of a grudge experience. We knew we were on to something. I’m the scientist and set about researching and working with cosmetic chemists to create Organogel – the unique waterless delivery mechanism for the UV filters – while Olly developed the Skinnies branding. 

What do you love most about having your own brand?
I love being able to put our own integrity and feeling into the products. We get a lot of positive feedback from our customers, which is really cool, both on our environmental initiatives and our ‘giving back’ programme with our half-price offer for people with melanoma. My best friend died of melanoma at 21 and we want the people who need it most to have the best sun protection around.

What’s it like to work with your partner?
Olly and I love working together. We have distinct skill sets and clear roles in the business, where Olly is creative and I’m technical. The only challenge is that Olly doesn’t really switch off. He wants to talk strategy at 10pm when I’m more focused on reading my book and going to sleep!

Olly and Martha at Skinnies HQ in Auckland city with Border Collie, Zedd.


What’s your skincare routine?
It’s basic and quick! Skinnies Looks SPF30 medium tint every morning, eyebrows, eyeliner, mascara (in that order) with either a dash of lip gloss or bright lips if I have a meeting. Skinnies Cleansing Oil in the evening as soon as I get home and a prescription vitamin A cream at night.

Image BeautyEQ

Image BeautyEQ

Until my mid-30s I didn’t wear foundation. I remember going into a pharmacy in Melbourne and asking the woman why anyone would need foundation. She replied, “So you feel beautiful.” Since then, whenever I wear foundation it makes me feel beautiful.
— Martha Van Arts

Van Arts simple beauty routine Skinnies Cleansing oil, $35 Skinnies Looks Medium, $45, Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, $37 MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo, $40.

What makeup do you rate?
Until my mid-30s I didn’t wear foundation, just a sunscreen, moisturiser, mascara and lip gloss. I remember going into a pharmacy in Melbourne and asking the woman why anyone would need foundation. She replied, “So you feel beautiful.” Since then, whenever I wear foundation it makes me feel beautiful. I recently discovered Ellis Faas foundation and when I wear it people say my skin looks amazing. 

How do you keep in such good shape?
Running around after four kids and working full-time keeps me active and I walk/jog with our dog every morning for an hour. Olly recently bought me 10 personal training sessions (no underlying message other than health and wellbeing!) and while the sessions are vomit-inducing, I am very happy with the feeling of having muscles afterwards. My mini triumph was three sets of 10 ‘proper’ press-ups – who knew carrying kids and groceries made you so strong! 

Van Arts at home with daughters Isobel and Ophelia.


You recently moved from a large family home with a garden to an inner-city apartment with four kids, what have been the pros and cons?
An inner-city warehouse apartment certainly wasn’t what I anticipated for our family home and the cons are no barbecue, trampoline or spa pool – oh, and one or two doggie accidents when we failed to read the signs. But not having outdoor maintenance frees us up enormously to head out with the kids and do more fun stuff. When we moved into the apartment we downsized about 40 per cent of our possessions. It required brutality and was, if I’m honest, liberating. It challenged any sentimentality around things we had carted around for years (and kept in boxes) and I realised the things I love most aren’t material. 

Van Arts inner city apartment in Auckland City.

How would you describe your interior style?  
I love colour, texture and classic pieces that stand the test of time. I’d rather buy something more expensive that lasts, not least because I treasure it more but because it’s more environmentally aware. Our style is probably quite casual and functional for our family. I was laughing with Olly that when the kids leave I want a white room with no sticky little fingers or smudges, but no doubt the first thing I’d do would be spill red wine in it.

Martha Van Arts apartment and her daughters Isobel and Ophelia.

What are your most treasured family possessions?  
My grandmother’s musical cow and her piano. I also really love my engagement/wedding ring. It’s Karen Walker’s ball and chain ring and because of the movement the links need reinforcing and sometimes replacing every year or two, which signifies the maintenance in our marriage. The kids have all gone through holding the little ball when I cuddle them, so it’s something they connect with too.

Photography Keryn Sweeney
Makeup Sarah Zlatarevic