Under the Townsville sun: A skincare company using science from the Great Barrier Reef
Larissa Bright followed love from Sydney to North Queensland but more than 20 years later she is exporting from Townsville to the world.
“I left university and travelled to Townsville to be with my partner,” she says.“I arrived with literally nothing but a backpack!”
She took on a receptionist role and started to settle in to the North Queensland lifestyle, falling in love with the environment around her.
“The Great Barrier Reef, the rainforests and the world heritage areas, I was just blown away by nature,” she says.“It fuelled something in me, though I wasn’t sure what that was at the time.”
Having previously worked in the cosmetics industry Larissa decided to try creating her own make-up and skin care lotions.
“I always had an interest in natural products and now I was living in one of the most beautiful natural environments,” Larissa, 45, says.“So my passion was fuelled from there to start making something good for me and my skin, but it turned out others were keen to try it too.”
From humble beginnings experimenting with essential oils and natural products on the stovetop of her home kitchen Larissa Bright Australia launched in 1998 with a 100 per-cent vegan, plant and aromatherapy based product line.
As the company thrived, Larissa started to investigate expanding her range to include sunscreen.
“I started looking into sunscreen and what it was made of. Was it doing enough to protect our skin?” she says. “I couldn’t stop asking questions and a lot of the research I was doing by myself kept leading me back to the amazing natural elements on the Great Barrier Reef right on my doorstep.”
Also right on Larissa’s doorstep was the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) based south of Townsville at Cape Cleveland.
Working alongside the talented scientists at AIMS Larissa learnt about the molecular make-up of reef coral and its ability to survive the harsh sun when exposed at low tide.
“It was a significant moment of realisation and I just knew if we could adapt the technology into an application to prevent skin cancer we could have an impact and potentially reduce the incidence of skin cancer and save lives, not only in Australia but globally,” she says.
“I was incredibly lucky to be given access to more than 30 years of research in coral molecular makeup and the natural chemical compounds that shallow water corals use to protect themselves from the sun.”
“From here I engaged the CSIRO to work with me to create world first molecules which mimic the corals natural sun protection and put it into a sunscreen lotion.”
In 2009 her biotechnology company Coral Sunscreen Pty Ltd was officially launched.
“It just made so much sense to me to utilise what nature has been doing for millions of years and apply it in an effort to keep our kids safe, all of us safer when out in the sun,” she says.
“We have the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world here in Australia so why not try and make a difference if we’ve got the technology to do so?”
Larissa says she persevered with launching Coral Sunscreen out of necessity, need and passion to help the nearly 4,000 Queenslanders diagnosed with skin cancer each year.
“Every person who has been involved in this project has known we have something of incredible value that can save lives right here from fabulous Townsville all the way around the world.”
Spending time with Larissa it becomes apparent her passion for Coral Sunscreen is very much a genuine one.
She can rattle off skin cancer statistics faster than your local GP and talks with a smile when using terminology like UVA/UVB and visible sunlight screen filters.
It’s also clear that being recognised or receiving awards for her efforts has never been her reason for choosing the rewarding but rocky pathway of innovation.
In 2016 her biotechnology company was awarded $250,000 by the Queensland Government’s $10 million Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas Fund.
“Being recognised in this way and getting the support to keep working with the UV filters, explore the global market for the product and have the luxury of growing the brand and the research all from the regional centre of Townsville is amazing, there’s no other word for it,”
“Coral Sunscreen now has four global patents pending for the technology and the UV filters are the first true innovation in the sun care industry in more than 20 years.”
“It makes me excited to say to other people in regional Queensland never be afraid to take the first step. Success is lots and lots of small failures, you really do have to have little failures to achieve success on any level you want.”
Larissa says the support she received from Advance Queensland will assist to create jobs for the people of Townsville and also make it possible to further investigate the technology in eyewear lens, paints, plastics and the automotive industries.
“For me, I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say to people in my own town that all of this activity with a global focus can happen right here from this amazing regional centre.”