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Fairwell Gavin Greenoak

June 27, 2017

We travelled up to Byron and met Gavin and Suzie on the beach. July 2010.

I remember being quite bemused by Gavin when I first met him as a newbie to Australia back in 2004.  I wasn’t quite sure how to take him really, found his lecture oddly intriguing and very different to what I’d been used to at cosmetic industry events back in the UK.  But I was in a new town in a new country on the other side of the world and so I decided to go with the intrigue and get to know Gavin a little more.

There are lots of people who ‘do’ cosmetic or other types of science but far less who actually ‘get’ it. I soon realised after spending more time talking to Gavin that the intrigue I felt was triggered by this and the realisation that in him I’d found someone to whom I could really talk (and listen to and learn from) cosmetic science with.  Gavin spent much of his cosmetic industry career working on sunscreen development and it was with him that I learned to appreciate and experience the applied nature of the craft, the interaction between sun and skin, product and person.  I ended up spending quite a bit of time in his sunscreen testing facility and seriously looked into buying it when Gavin retired a couple of years ago.

During my early days as a consultant it was Gavin that helped me forge on and find a space in a market that seemed to have no place for me (I was still relatively new to Australia and totally under-prepared for life as a solo operator).  I would love to say that Gavin saw within me an expert formulator, someone with a fine grasp of an emulsion and film-former combo but no, he actually encouraged me to concentrate on writing probably because my early attempts at creating an SPF product failed spectacularly, not least because the first samples I presented to Gavin contained traces of the non-woven cloth that I’d used to wipe the blades of my mixer. The product proceeded to return an SPF that amounted to nothing much.  He tut tutted and patted me on the back while  I nearly died of embarrassment…….

Writing was something that Gavin and I discussed a fair bit after that, indeed along with another friend, Roger we formulated a plan to launch an online sunscreen/ sun-information website called Sunscreen Central, an idea that never quite made it to fruition but that gave me the final push I needed to start blogging, that was 2007 and by November Realize Beauty was born.  Roger and I went on to start-up another website called Friday Mash (political Satire) with another chap Alisdair, that website has gone from strength to strength but I ducked out of it early on as by that time by Realize Beauty blog and business was hitting its stride.  Anyway I digress.

Gavin and I spent many an hour hauled up in the alleyway at Digicafe in Glebe (where he could smoke while eating) discussing this and that, crafting articles and offering feedback and discussing the goings on in the cosmetic industry.  Sometimes I’d bring my youngest, Emily with me and she’d sit all curly-haired and fidgety as we discussed all manner of hair brained schemes over eggs benny or mushrooms on toast.  One day Em ended up with a couple of new pets, Stuart Little and Amy the hairless mice left over from sunscreen R&D work. Gavin had been the first to bring hairless mice into Australia and had used them as part of his research into how UV interacts with our biology. These were the last two left in the lab, retired as pets but now in need of a new home thanks to the redevelopment of the Sydney Uni site. They lived out the rest of their days with my two girls up in the Blue Mountains – weird pets indeed.

One of the biggest projects that I was involved in with Gavin was when I played the role of a human lab rat (or mouse) in a zinc nanoparticle trial.  Gavin was one of the lead scientists along with Brian Gulson from Macquarie University and behind them were a team from the CSIRO.  All I had to do was donate part of my back and submit to blood and urine tests but this practical testing over a week led to a deeper understanding of the movement of Zinc across the skin and into the bloodstream.  It was interesting to see the inner workings of a project like that, especially given that it was part of an international round of testing on nanoparticles, Australia having ‘won’ the rights to carry out the sunscreen science bit.  Again, for me the experience was transformative.

But now Gavin has gone. Too soon, too young maybe but gone none the less.

Like many writers, Gavin’s death is purely physical,  perhaps even trivial given that the greatest part of him lives on in the words that he has written, the scientific work he compiled with such uncommon understanding and depth and of course the unforgettable lessons that he taught those of us that dared to listen and I say dared because that’s what he encouraged me to do.

What I recognised in Gavin was a kindred soul, a soul that dared to stand  strong and true to its self,  a soul that knew its purpose and direction.  Gavin’s courage rubbed off on me and has allowed me to become what I am today and yes, that includes being a formulator – I didn’t listen to his advice, what student does listen to everything their teacher says 🙂

When I think of  how to sum up the Gavin I knew  I am drawn into a world of possibility, a world that lies beyond the ordinary and the obvious, I am drawn to the book  ‘Becoming Animal’ by David Abram, a book that shaped the way I interact with the world, a book that Gavin introduced me to.  I’d like to think that Gavin’s spirit is on its way to becoming so much more than just human. I’d like to think that in death Gavin can become fully animal.

I am forever grateful to have met you and known you Gavin and will see you in the forest, the beaches of Byron and the dusty streets of Glebe.


This is the press release from the ASCC Newsletter.

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I write to inform you of the passing of Gavin Greenoak on Wednesday 21st June.

Gavin was an inspirational, highly active member of the ASCC, having served on Council as President and a number ASCC committees in varying positions. Gavin was President of the IFSCC when he was elected in 2010, an achievement that only enhanced his already incredible resume. One of Gavin’s more recent successful contributions to the ASCC was to guide the society to secure the hosting rights for the ASCS conference in 2015. Gavin’s dedication to the ASCC and the industry as a whole saw him loved and respected by everyone. Gavin was described by many as a man generous with his time, a great mentor and an outstanding leader whilst at the same time having a great and unique sense of humor.

On behalf of the ASCC I’d like to extend our condolences to Gavin’s family and friends. As per Gavin’s wishes, there will be a Private Home Burial at the family’s Nimbin property on Saturday 1st July.

With the permission of Gavin’s family and with Gavin’s love for words, we welcome our members to share their words, memories, stories or offer their condolences.

Please email these to Kate at these will be collated and shared with Gavin’s family.


Robert McPherson

ASCC President

One Comment leave one →
  1. permalink
    December 11, 2017 9:48 am

    I only just heard and am very sad about Gavin’s death. A very good friend and unusual scientist. Forever remembered!

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