Each year around this time I dutifully check the EWG's Skin Deep database and start the mind-numbing task of choosing sunscreen. Weighing environmental safety vs effectiveness vs cosmetic appearance, I – with trepidation - order my top three. They arrive, and from that point on my boys and I spend way too many days looking like greasy snowmen. On a good year, the whitish cast is only observable for the first few hours. The really good sunscreens, however, provide a thick white layer that will last through several showers. Sunscreen For Life!
At some point, we will meet friends at the beach. Friends who don't obsessively search product ingredient lists for triclosan and retinyl palmitate or who can recite the list of the EWG's top ten safe sunscreens in their sleep. These friends will come armed with the poison known as spray-sunscreen-in-a-can (not even paraben-free!!) and I will watch – ashamed by my jealousy – as they spray down their kids in 10 seconds flat.
"Raines and Pax? Time for more sunscreen!" I call. Raines, resigned to his fate, dutifully trods over and sticks out his arm. It's covered in white streaks. I squeeze out a blob of the safest-ever sunscreen and start rubbing. Sand is stuck all over his body, combining with the sunscreen to form a particularly sticky type of sandpaper. I resort to gentle pats. Raines shoots me a death glare, his eyes very blue in his shiny white face. Pax just runs screaming. Can't blame him, really.
But at some point, I give up. I don't even care anymore. I borrow my friend's poison-in-a-can or, if I'm being completely honest here, I just stop applying sunscreen altogether (my kids, like their father, don't burn anyway). Somewhere in my warped brain I'm trying to weigh the risks of invisible chemicals vs the risks of sunburn. Vitamin D is good for you, right? I KNOW. It's just…too much. I am defeated by overabundance of information and fear. So I come home burned to a crisp, my children annoyingly (thankfully?) tan. I have tan children. I AM THAT MOTHER.
I'm done. I'm done with this whole mess. This year I just want sunscreens that work, sunscreens that smell good and feel good. Sunscreens that are a joy to apply, dammit! Remember how exciting it was in high school to bust out the coconut-scented coppertone oil? EXACTLY. I want that. But in, a, um…paraben-free version that actually works. ( My earth-mother bar has lowered, but it is still there.)
For self-tanner, my requirements are simple: no streaks, no orange, no parabens, NO SMELL. Like, really, truly, none of that telltale self-tanner stink. Don't try to hide it under stronger smell, just get rid of it altogether.
And you know what? I was shocked to discover that products like this actually exist. For the first time in a long, LONG time, I am L-O-V-I-N-G my sunscreen and self-tan products.
1. Clarins Radience-Plus Golden Glow Booster, $30
This stuff is genius: you simply add a few drops of this face self-tanner to whatever moisturizer you currently use. Wake up the next morning with a little glow. I typically use it a few days in a row to build up to the color I want, then take a few days off. Or whatever. It's pretty foolproof.
2. Supergoop Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40
Sheer and blendable, no strange smells, not greasy, no whitish cast at all. I love this stuff. I now wear it under my makeup everyday.
3. Vita Liberata Phenominal 2-3 Week Tanning Mousse in Dark, $54
This one blew me away. The color is perfection (no streaking, no orange), it dries in seconds (literally seconds), and there is no smell. I mean OK: hours later, once the color starts to really develop, there is an ever-so-faint smell of self-tanner, but it's NOTHING compared to other brands. And this stuff is organic! Happy Hippy Earth Mothers rejoice! However, ignore the claims that this self-tanner lasts 2-3 weeks. If you are shaving and exfoliating this tan lasts roughly 5 days like all others. The good news is that when it fades, it fades really naturally. And you must – MUST – apply with a mit. (See #5.) One bottle of self-tanner typically lasts me all summer (my look is more OK, tan enough, rather than sun goddess).
4. Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Powder SPF 45, $30
I know powdered sunscreens get the EWG all worked up. But here's the thing: I put sunscreen on in the morning. Then I carefully apply concealer, blush, no-shine face powder, mascara, lippy….and so hell will freeze over before I smear goopy white sunscreen over all of that. Talk about a hot mess. So if I'm outside all day with the boys, I will end up sunburned and eventually turn into a wrinkled old lady. Granted, wrinkles are inevitable, but until I succumb (NEVER SAY DIE), I'm touching up throughout the day with this stuff. And ps. I love this stuff for buffing onto my kid's scalp through little baby hair….or dusting their nose as they sprint past.
5. Vita Liberata Tanning Mit, $6.50
Because the self-tanning mousse dries so fast, attempting to use your hands will leave your tan streaky, and your palms dark orange. This mit will change your self-tanning game regardless of which self-tanning mousse you buy.
Here's what you do: Shower and exfoliate (aka shave your legs). Then when your skin is dry, put on your tanning mit. Pump out a single pump of tanning mousse directly onto the mitt. Then, crunch up the mitt by making a fist a few times to distribute the product a bit. Quickly use the mit to rub the tan on – really go ahead and scrub, for evenly distributed tan. I used one pump of product on lower legs and feet, one pump on thighs, one for each arm, two for my back, and one for chest and stomach. I was done in roughly 3 minutes.
6. Supergoop Sun-Defying Oil Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $26
So…..that coconut-scented tanning oil of yesteryear? This is exactly like that but SPF 50, not 5. It's also lighter in both formulation and scent (which is vaguely citrus), and I actually LOVE putting this on. It's a joy! Really! Even the boys don't mind it. And while I know the recent sunscreen buzz has been all "NO SPRAY, SPRAY IS DEATH"….this is actually just…oil. So I spray it on my hands, then rub it onto my kids. (This is my current rationalization, anyway.)
Enjoy the beach!!