Two Greek Americans are changing the way we think about protecting ourselves from the sun with the drinkable supplement UVO
By Athan G. Bezaitis
To the ancient Greeks the sun was a mysterious force so powerful that not even the gods could control it. According to legend, the titan Helios brought forth the light of day by driving a golden chariot led by fire-breathing horses across the sky. When his son, Phaestus, attempted to take the reins, he set the earth on fire, nearly destroying all mortal beings. Humankind fared no better in bending the sun to their will. Icarus escaped the labyrinth of King Minos on the island of Crete with wings made of wood, wax and feathers when – drunk with the joy of flight and in spite of his father’s warnings – he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax and plunging to his death. Despite these cautionary tales as well as 4,000 years of advancement in astronomy, science, and technology, mankind still isn’t faring well against the power of the sun.
Research shows that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime – it’s the most common form of cancer in the country – and worse, nearly 50 percent of people who live to 65 will have some form of carcinoma at least once, per the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Yet people are doing little to protect themselves.
Either because it’s messy or a hassle or irritating to the skin, not enough Americans apply sunblock. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reports that only 14.3 percent of men and 29.9 percent of women regularly use sunscreen.
Bobby Awadalla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon based in Southern California, noticed these trends in his patients and found them troubling. Knowing that the body has ways to fight the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays, he conceived of a formula made up of all natural vitamins and supplements that harnesses biological defenses to help shield and repair the skin from sun damage. By turning it into a drink it would be easy for people to use and a nice addition to the arsenal of sun blocking products.
“The ultimate goal is to get more people to protect themselves from ultraviolet damage, so I set out to develop a product that was healthy and convenient that could be used together with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, etc.,” Awadalla said. “We all need to use as many forms of sun protection as possible.”
Busy with his flourishing practice but anxious to spread the word about his new idea, he partnered with childhood friend and fellow Greek American, John Giakouminakis, a former high-level business consultant with Deloitte, and together, in 2015, they brought UVO to market.
“When Dr. Bobby explained the idea I thought it was a great concept, but I was a little skeptical because I didn’t understand how it worked,” Giakouminakis said. “Once he explained the science behind it, I thought it could really be a market disruptor and have a huge impact to the sun protection industry.”
Drinkable sun protection may sound like an elixir from one of Aesop’s fables, but it’s backed by a growing body of research. Certain foods have shown to have protective properties. A study from the British Association of Dermatologists found that healthy women between the ages of 21 to 47 who consumed tomato paste on a daily basis had more protection against sunburn and the long-term effects of photo damage. UVO’s ingredients combine lycopene, found in tomatoes and watermelon, with more than 30 vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that have been proven to protect and heal the skin.
“The science around the ingredients contained in UVO and their benefits to the skin have been known for years but have not been mainstream,” Awadalla explained. “These vitamins are available on the market, but it is not easy or convenient to take a handful of pills every day – which is what you would need to do in order to get the equivalent of nutrients contained in UVO.”
Here’s a high-level primer on how it works. Melanin in your skin absorbs harmful ultraviolet rays to stop them from causing damage. UVO contains nutrients naturally found in plants and vegetables that help provide the body with extra protection to absorb those ultraviolet rays. UVO also helps protect DNA from being damaged while boosting the DNA repair proteins. It helps repair collagen from overexposure to the sun while boosting the proteins that repair cell membrane damage. Anti-inflammatories help alleviate inflammation, which manifests itself as red, patchy skin caused by sunburn. UVO has a defense mechanism for every aspect of a sunburn. But – the makers warn – it should be used in conjunction with other sun protection strategies to be most effective.
The list of luminaries singing UVO’s praises is impressive. The website www.drinkUVO.com is filled with endorsements ranging from celebrities to media personality Drew Pinsky, MD, known as Dr. Drew, who called it “useful” and added, “I’m convinced that Dr. Awadalla is the real deal.”
Dermatologists have also joined the choir of supporters. “UVO is a breakthrough in sun protection,” said Zena Gabriel, a board certified dermatologist from Newport Beach, CA. Mark Eid, MD, of Fredericksburg, VA, said, “As a dermatologist I’m very excited I can give my patients an oral supplement to help their skin.”
Awadalla also regularly recommends UVO to his patients who often sign up for recurring monthly orders.
“We have received positive feedback from countless dermatologists in the U.S. and abroad, and many of them are now offering UVO in their offices to their patients,” Awadalla said. “In fact, internal supplementation for the skin is becoming increasingly more popular as a lecture topic at venues like the AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) conference as well as other medical conferences.”
UVO comes in drink mix powder packets and ready-to-drink bottles in a tasty orange-peach flavor. It retails at $4 per bottle or $2 per packet, or can be bought in bulk at a discount. It’s currently available online and in some natural food and specialty stores across the country including Clark’s Nutrition and Lazy Acres in Southern California. So far people in beach communities who live active, outdoor lifestyles have shown the most interest in it.
“These people spend a lot of time in the sun doing things like swimming, surfing, running, biking, and playing beach volleyball – activities during which it isn’t always convenient to be reapplying sunscreen, and even if you do, it sweats off or washes off in the water, so the added internal protection provides a valuable benefit,” said Giakouminakis.
The company is beginning to expand into global markets, including China, Japan, and Vietnam, where UVO is seen as a skin and beauty product. They are also looking to bring UVO to Australia where, according to the Cancer Council of Australia, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.
So far its users are a diverse group of people of all ages.
“Parents give it to their kids, teens and outdoor athletes in their 20s use it for the extra sun protection, those in their 30s and 40s appreciate the anti-aging and beautification benefits, and those 50 and above drink it for all of those reasons as well as to help repair against long-term ultraviolet damage,” Awadalla said.
The ancients would advise that respecting the sun is the first step to harnessing its power. Two Greek Americans have made it their passion to offer protection that could in the short term protect from a sunburn and in the long-term save lives.
Email the author: The Hellenic Journal