It's no secret- I don't spend a ton of time in the sun. For me, our week-long summer vacation at "the lake" presents me with a somewhat rare opportunity to test out products I'd otherwise use so rarely I'd probably never form a concrete opinion. First off, sunscreen.
I learned earlier this year that a close tween-hood friend was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. I have a distinct memory of us oiling ourselves up and laying out in the field behind her dad's house in Buffalo, NY. I remember the dry heat, the scratchiness of the straw-like dried grass, the sounds of the weekend-long Grateful Dead show that was playing just beyond the field that we lay in. I have two big regrets about that weekend.
The obvious regret is that we weren't yet old or experienced enough to know what we were missing at that Dead show (and that we didn't realize how easily we could have snuck in)! The second is how oblivious we were of the damage those sun baking sessions were doing to our perfect, young, beautiful skin. But I digress. Suffice it to say that after learning of my friend's diagnosis, I decided once and for all that I was done competing with anyone for the best tan. I was going to step out in my black bathing suit, flaming red hair and glowing white skin and revel in my paleness- and damn anyone who challenged me! Thus, I was a fiend on this trip with the sunscreen, and I ended up going through several cans, bottles and tubes by the end of the week. For the sake of brevity (by which you should not assume this will be a short post!) I'm going to focus today on sunscreens that I purchased primarily for my body.
$32 for 5oz ($6.40 per oz)
Coola is a thick cream formula, but since it's a chemical sunblock, it didn't leave that telltale ghostly cast on my skin. Saying that this sunscreen is "unscented" is not to say it doesn't have a scent. It smells like sunscreen. If you don't know what I mean, you will as soon as you smell it. Coola does feel a bit greasy when first applied, but absorbs well enough that I could dress after applying it and not feel dirty all day- something I can't say for a lot of sunscreens that leave behind that icky chalky residue. (I'm making a nasty face even as I write about it!) I did try this one on my face as well, something that I would only recommend to those with normal to dry skin. With ingredients like Glycerin, Shea Butter and Linseed (Flax) Oil, they're not kidding about the moisturizing part, and I think this would be too much for oilier skin.
One thing I find odd is that Coola is a line marketed as "organic sunscreen". While it does contain "over 70% certified organic extracts" this refers more to the extra benefits that the product touts (they say: "antioxidants, anti-aging nutrients, and restorative anti-inflammatory properties"). Thing is, the term "organic sunblock" generally refers to physical (aka barrier) sunblocks that use minerals (Titanium and Zinc Oxide) to block the sun's rays. This particular sunscreen contains a mixture of chemical sunscreens, which I'm fine with, but the way this product is marketed could cause confusion to those looking for a physical sunblock.
$8.19 for 6oz ($1.37/oz)
OK, yeah, this may seem an odd choice for a professional beauty junkie. You have to remember, I'm also a professional Mom, so these kinds of products cross my path- and why not test them too? After all, children's care products are generally formulated to be gentle to young, sensitive skin and since this one offered a high level of protection (and, with it's "blue melon splash" scent, smelled totally yummy!) I decided to try it. So glad I did. First, for those with sensitive skin that may be concerned with the fragrance in this product, I will tell you that my 2 1/2 year old daughter has had a reaction to almost every sunblock I've tried on her (and I often break out myself). I had no such issues with this one. Honestly, if I'd been able to find it anywhere in the vicinity of our vacation spot, I'd have probably stuck with this for the entire family. The spray formula was totally convenient, went on smoothly and dried down so that it was virtually unnoticeable on the skin. Also, totally reasonably priced. I picked mine up at the Toys 'R Us in my neighborhood, and unfortunately, that's the only place I've been able to find it.
$9.99 for 6oz ($1.67/oz)
In short: what the hell is wrong with this stuff? After the success that I had with the Huggies sunscreen, I decided spray was the way to go. Then I tried this. The closest thing I can compare this to is coating your entire body in ultra-hold hairspray. Or spray lacquer. Or something heavier- it actually visibly coated my body hair (like, the fine blond, usually unnoticeable hair on my arms) with little beads of liquid that did not go away when the product dried. My fiance actually came up to me and brushed my shoulder off because he thought I was flaking. Eww. When I tried to rub it in a bit to avoid this effect, the product actually rolled off like dry rubber cement (remember when you used to paint your palm with it, just so you could peel it off when it dried?) So I guess the term "no-rub" that Coppertone uses to describe this actually means "don't rub". Anyway, NO.
This was the end of the week choice, picked up at the local Sun-N-Snow shop. If you follow the link in the title, you will notice that the website isn't actually functional right now, so sorry for that. Consequently, I have no idea where you can get this, but I thought it warranted mention in case any of you run across it in your vacation spot sundries shop (say that 3 times fast!) This stuff smelled great at first; yummy bananas for the ape on the bottle. Still, the sunscreen-y undertone became more prevalent as the lotion dried down, and in the end, the tropical banana scent wasn't really noticeable. A lighter lotion than the Coola, Sun Bum spread easily, and felt drier on the skin- but I did notice a little bit of that chalky residue. Not a deal breaker, and despite the feel it didn't look chalky on the skin, so no big. This was the last sunscreen of the week, and I did notice some hivey bumpiness on my chest after using it. I didn't continue to use it long enough to know if it would have turned into a full blown allergy, but it wasn't such a bad break out that I wouldn't test it again to find out.
This one is a bit of a cheat, since I didn't actually apply it to myself. This was the sunscreen that I bought to replace the favored Huggies spray for my daughter. I wanted to use something that had both chemical and physical sunblocks in it, and this one is primarily Zinc Oxide, so it was the winner. The thickest of the bunch, applying this was like rubbing Elmer's glue all over her little body. I literally felt like I was going to pull her arm out of socket blending this stuff in. Mineral sunscreen works by reflecting UV rays away from the body, and if you remember your color theory, you'll know what color reflects light. So, who can guess how this looked on the skin?Chalky, ghostly, white. Rub, Rub, Rub- still white. It also felt like liquid black-board, and almost immediately after applying it I noticed a few little red bumps on her belly. Like I said before, most sunscreens we've tried have broken her out to some degree, and this one wasn't the worst. Having said that, I didn't like much else about this one, so I don't think I'll be buying it again.
So, there you go. I'd have to say, in case you didn't pick up on it, I think the overall winner of the week was the Huggies Little Swimmers spray- I'll definitely try to hunt some down before our next trip. And for any doubters, yes, I really did use all of these sunscreens this past week. Keep in mind that even sunscreens labeled "waterproof" should be reapplied every 2 hours when out in the sun. This means that an 8 oz bottle of sunscreen applied correctly (1oz for the entire body, reapplied every 2 hours) will only last about 16 hours in the sun. Considering we were outside the bulk of the day, that's less than 2 days per bottle. You may also notice that I didn't mention any facial sunscreens...for that you'll have to wait until next time!
Photo by Cain Doherty