This Is the First Sunscreen That I Don’t Hate

After discovering Skinnies Sungel, our writer no longer dreads lathering up for a day outside


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One of my best friends during adolescence was a Swedish guy who had a tanning addiction. He was traumatized by the dark Nordic winters of his childhood and would overcompensate by doing all the things that dermatologists tell you not to do. He actively avoided the shade. Sometimes, when riding in the backseat of a car, he would roll down the window, close his eyes, and angle his face into the light like a turtle, risking decapitation for a quick blast of UV exposure. I must have been impressed by his dedication, because, alas, I also picked up some of his tanning enthusiasm. I’ve always hated sunscreen and was willing to let my friend convince me that the stuff was secretly bad for me. But while he had the advantage of a swarthy complexion, I’m at the mercy of my Irish genes. When we’d hit the town after a day of languid roasting, we’d roll up as Charles Bronson and Lobsterman.

Two decades later, I’m pleased to say that I’ve outgrown such folly. These days, I’m fairly good about lathering up when outside for an extended period of time. I guess the skincare die hards have finally gotten to me with their ominous messaging about how excessive sunlight can damage my hide in ways that are undetectable early on but will come back to haunt me later in life. Or maybe it’s just that I’m more aware of the fact that, despite what the skeptics say, sunscreen is a valuable form of melanoma prevention. And after recently discovering Skinnies Sungel, I now hate wearing it a little bit less.

The big selling point with Skinnies, which was launched in New Zealand in 2010, is that you do not need very much of it. The product is, in essence, sunblock in concentrated form: the company claims that a mere “pea-sized blob” is sufficient to protect your face, neck, and ears. (I usually go with a marble-sized dollop; after my misspent youth, I’m hedging my bets.) Unlike your traditional SPF lotions, which tend to be white and runny, Skinnies has a firmer, paste-like consistency and goes on clear. Most of the time, I’ll have a few days’ worth of beard stubble, which acts like Velcro when I’m trying to schmear on regular sunblock. Part of my longstanding antipathy towards the stuff comes from the fact that, even after several minutes of diligently massaging it into my face, I’ll still have white streaks. Skinnies is virtually invisible. In addition to its discreet application, it dries very quickly, so you don’t have to spend half an hour languishing in the shade while your friends prance around in their vitamin A-infused ecstasy.

Skinnies comes in an SPF 30 “lifestyle” iteration (water-resistant for up to 40 minutes), as well as an SPF 50 “sport” edition (reef safe, water-resistant for up to four hours). It’s on the pricier side: the SPF 30 version retails for $32 for 3.4 ounces, while the same size tube of the SPF 50 product goes for $49.95. That might seem exorbitant, but because you really only need a tiny amount, those 3.4 ounces can go a long way. While it can obviously be used for full-body protection, I would recommend saving Skinnies for your face and neck and bringing an additional (cheaper) product along when hitting up your local nude beach.

(I also wouldn’t get too hung up on the labeling. I know it sounds radical, but you actually don’t need the sport-edition sunscreen to do sports. I’ve used the SPF 30 version for several sweaty outdoor workouts and haven’t had any issues with stinging eyes or accidental burning.)

In case you’re wondering, my Scandinavian friend was eventually cured of his habit after another sun-worshipping zealot gave him a salve that was supposed to accelerate the tanning process, but which ended up temporarily turning him into a raisin. Thanks to Skinnies, I hope I can avoid a similar fate.

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