One of my all-time favorite pieces of outdoor jargon is the term “bacon face.” It describes what happens to your mug when you don’t lube up before a long day skiing in the mountains. And it’s only a slight exaggeration. As anyone who has had their face whipped by the wind can attest, your cheeks and beak really do look and feel like crispy pork. To help you avoid that condition this winter, I put four of the most popular facial skin-care products head-to-head.
First I applied each of the products to my face and went skiing at my local resort, Mount Ashland, in Oregon, on days with 15-to-40-mile-per-hour winds and temperatures ranging from the mid-twenties to the mid-forties. For head-to-head (or, more accurately, cheek-to-cheek) comparisons in identical skiing conditions, I lathered up the right side of my face with one balm and the left side with another. Also, because many balms can freeze up in frigid weather, I placed each product in my freezer for an hour, then applied it to my face to see how well it went on while extremely cold. Finally, I tested how well the balms tolerated water by applying them and sitting in the shower with the stream aimed directly at my face for two minutes.
It’s worth noting that I focused on how well these balms dealt with the winds, low temperatures, and dryness of mountain environments. I did not attempt to evaluate their ability to defend my face from the sun, instead relying on the manufacturers’ SPF rating. (Meanwhile, as Outside recently reported, our understanding of sunscreen may be on the verge of a massive shift.)
1. Original Ski Balm ($13)
Freezer Test: 2/5
Shower Test: 4/5
Ski Test: 5/5
Takeaway: While the Original Ski Balm was one of the hardest to get out of the jar after the freezer test, it absolutely shined on the mountain, thanks to its balance of comfort and protection. It went on grease-free but still guarded my sensitive skin from 20-mile-per-hour gusts that pummeled me with snow for the entirety of a four-hour ski session. It was the second best in terms of staying power in my shower test, too.
2. Beyond Coastal Active Face Stick ($8)
Freezer Test: 4/5
Shower Test: 2.5/5
Ski Test: 3/5
Takeaway: While the Beyond Coastal Active Face Stick still remained on my cheeks at the end of the shower test, it didn’t hold up as well during the real-world portion. I had to reapply it twice over the course of the ski test. But it had ease of use going for it: this balm and the Vertra, below, were the simplest to reapply on the mountain because of the stick design, which is similar to a tiny deodorant dispenser.
3. Vertra SPF 50+ Sunscreen Face Stick ($22)
Freezer Test: 4/5
Shower Test: 2/5
Ski Test: 3/5
Takeaway: I was shocked at how well this surf-centric brand’s balm played in the snow. It smeared right on my cheek after sitting in the freezer, earning it second in that part of the test. It also came out nice and thick. But I had to ding some points because it ran a bit under the showerhead and left a white residue on my nose and cheeks, which I don’t mind rocking while surfing but prefer not to sport in the mountains (and not just for vanity reasons—I just didn’t fully trust the coverage in a snowstorm).
4. Dermatone Lips’n Face Protection Creme ($6)
Freezer Test: 3/5
Shower Test: 3/5
Ski Test: 3/5
Takeaway: Dermatone did everything well but wasn’t quite the best at any one thing. If smell was one of the categories—it has a lovely tropical scent—it would’ve been the winner. It was fine on the ski hill, though I did have to apply it twice. And the little metal tin, which is about half the size of the plastic Ski Balm container—proved onerous to open with cold fingers. (To be fair, Dermatone also makes this cream in a stick.) And like the Vetra, it left a similar white residue, which made me a little self-conscious at the resort.
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