Why Lady Gaga Hosted a Party for an Obscure Sunscreen Brand

Last week, millions of little monsters and their allies were made aware of an Australian sun protection pharmaceutical brand called Clinuvel, thanks to Lady Gaga, who hosted an event for the company at the Malibu home she shares with boyfriend Michael Polansky.

Many, including myself, were taken by surprise. I do not profess to keep tabs on the global pharmaceutical trade. Though I was embarrassed to realise that a cutting edge beauty company had evaded my reporter’s eye, this curiosity paled in comparison to a louder voice that could not help but wonder how Lady Gaga fit into this particular puzzle.

First off: What is Clinuvel? The company’s glossy website announces “Pioneering photomedicine & photocosmetics,” though they only have one product in the US market, and you need a prescription for a genetic disease to get it. A little more information is available on the company’s Instagram page (2,297 followers), but I’ll do my best recap here: Clinuvel develops pharmaceuticals for the skin and brain primarily by using a group of hormones called melanocortins; its only FDA-approved product is called Scenesse that is used to treat a rare disorder, adult EPP or erythropoietic protoporphyria, that causes acute photosensitivity.

But Clinuvel has bigger aspirations, with plans to branch into consumer cosmetics. Its Cyacelle Polychromatic Solar Protector is currently available in the UK.

“We’ll have a core pharmaceutical company that’s franchising into cosmetics, and that’s a unique position in the world,” CEO Phillippe Wolgen said in an interview with Nasdaq last year, where he also shared the company’s goal of becoming a household name by January 2026.

Lady Gaga hosted an event for Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals at the Malibu home she shares with boyfriend Michael Polansky.

Long before it met Gaga, Clinuvel was called Epitan, but rebranded in 2006. Its success was slowed due to regulatory delays, and a shareholder who committed investment fraud, according to the Australian Financial Review; its luck turned around when Scenesse was approved by the EU in 2014 to treat adult EPP. You can read about it endlessly, but a better and more enjoyable way to learn about the brand would be over the course of hours, with food and drink provided, and perhaps an entertainer in tow to keep the audience engaged. Savvy, then, that Clinuvel decided to launch to the greater public consciousness last weekend with an event held at a pop star’s private cliffside residence.

Influencers who were invited to the event, dubbed the “the Art of Photomedicine” had no idea what Clinuvel was, or indeed where they were going. After an hour’s drive, the beauty vlogger Monica Ravichandran arrived at a sprawling Malibu manse built in immaculate Tuscan style. A greenhouse was outfitted into a dining room; it looked like a wedding. “Honestly, I didn’t really understand the event,” she told her audience afterward, in a TikTok video with 69,000 views on its native app but millions more on the corridor of X where male homosexual users tend to congregate, a.k.a. Gay Twitter.

In the context of Gaga’s artistry, a pharmaceutical-cosmetic spokeswomanship may seem odd; In the context of Gaga’s spokeswomanship, it fits perfectly into place. Gaga is currently appearing in television ads for the migraine medication Nurtec ODT (Khloe Kardashian is also a face) and regularly promotes her makeup line, Haus Labs, which relaunched in 2020.

But her link to Clinuvel is more intimate: her boyfriend, Polansky, who is well steeped in the tech and pharmaceutical industries, is a trustee for the Photomedicine Foundation Clinuvel, which Clinuvel launched at the event. He is also the CEO of the Parker Group, endowed by the Napster co-founder Sean Parker, an early investor in Clinuvel, according to the Australian Financial Review. Gaga’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

None of this mattered to me, and yet I tumbled into the Clinuvel brand awareness funnel. It began on X, after I saw a photo of Gaga looking clean girl goth. Then I saw Pop Crave had reposted Ravichandran’s video from the event — this was the moment I became aware of Clinuvel. Now I have been served several other influencer recaps, and the word Clinuvel has calcified into brand recognition.

In other words — the marketing worked.

The brand got its money’s worth and more. It’s fair to say that we’ll encounter Clinuvel and its products once again on its quest to household name status; I’m guessing somehow they will be paying for the opportunity.

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