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We Tried It: At $21/oz, Is This Sunscreen Worth It?

A fair-skinned sun phobe puts this pricey SPF through its paces

As a kid, I despised being smeared all over with sunscreen. Along with mandated life jackets (thanks, Mom) and the span of scorching hot parking lot pavement (seriously, why is it so hot?!), it seemed like just another obstacle between me and the sandy, sunny beach.

Cut to adulthood: I'm a sunscreen addict (again, thanks, Mom). I've embraced my fair skin out of necessity -- even 20 minutes in the sun unprotected, and my skin blazes with a mottled, red-and-white sun rash. So, I've taken to hoarding sunblock. I keep it in my car, in all of my purses, and at my desk so I'm never without. As a sunscreen connoisseur, I've come to realize that not all sunscreens are created equal. There's some pretty alarming research about the effects of chemical sunscreen (hormone disruption and reproductive toxicity are just a few of the concerns), so I'm selective with my sunscreen collection. I recently tossed Neutrogena's Ultra Sheer Body Mist Broad Spectrum Sunscreen after finding out that its active ingredient, oxybenzone, is a chemical that may cause allergic reactions and throw your hormones out of whack. (The spray bottle also did an awful job of covering my skin.) I love Supergoop! Eye Cream Sunscreen for its antioxidant properties, but at $90 an ounce, anything but a free sample is out of my price range. Almost all of my makeup has sunscreen in it, but according to dermatologist Leslie Baumann, you need seven times the foundation normally applied and 14 times the powder to protect your skin the same way a sunscreen would. Sayonara, bareMinerals Natural Sunscreen. What I need is a sunscreen that isn't worth its weight in gold (though I am willing to shell out for the good stuff), is mineral-based (rather than chemical-based), and that also provides good coverage (broad spectrum, SPF higher than 30, UVA/UVB protection, all that jazz) while working with my makeup.

Related: 5 Things You Never Knew About Sun Protection

When Coola Mineral Face SPF 30 Cucumber Sunblock landed on our product table, I snatched it calmly volunteered to put it to the test.

First impressions: This stuff does not smell like sunblock. While I'm weirdly nostalgic about the smell of sunblock (brings back memories of the good ol' days of trekking across the scorching parking lot), that tangy scent doesn't always have its place in day-to-day life. Coola has a refreshing, spa-like cucumber scent, but it isn't over-powerful, nor does it linger. The formula itself is smooth and the texture reminds me of my Smashbox Photofinish Primer. It's silky smooth, like a cashmere scarf in bottled, protective liquid form. This sunscreen feels like a second skin, absorbing quickly. There was zero streaky white residue, nor did my face have that slightly iridescent, white glow that sunscreens sometimes leave in their wake. As the bottle boasts, it's truly a matte finish.

Related: 5 Best Multi-Tasking Sunscreens of 2013

Now for the makeup test. As someone who wears sunscreen every single day, my main gripe is that it doesn't pair well with makeup. The worst is when my foundation seems to wipe off my sunscreen, creating little specks of product that result in me having to wipe it all off and start over. I apply my foundation (I'm absolutely L-O-V-I-N-G Le Metier de Beaute Classic Flawless Finish Foundation) and (drum roll) it applies flawlessly. No smudging, no flecks of product balling up, just a perfect, smooth application. In fact, I used it like a primer. I may be in love. But before I start caressing the Coola bottle and referring to it as "my precious," I remember I need to check to see if the ingredient list makes this sunblock more harmful than helpful to my skin.

The ingredients are 70 percent organic, which is about as good as it gets when it comes to sun protection. The fact that I recognize most of the ingredients (Zinc Oxide, Rose Hips, Cucumber Extract, Shea Butter, Plankton, Starflower See Oil, Evening Primrose Extract, and Linseed Oil) is reassuring. The fact that many of these ingredients are also antioxidants that combat skin-damaging free radicals is cause for downright celebration.

Coola's website says the sunblock is also free of nano-sized particles. While that might not mean much to the average sunblock-wearer, it's an important requirement for a sunblock aficionado like me. Nano-particles are tiny (1/20th the width of human hair) particles that can get into the bloodstream and potentially damage internal organs. Couple this with the fact that their formula is made in the USA with solar power and recycled materials whenever possible, and you've got an all-around feel-good sunscreen.

This sunblock will definitely have a place in my medicine cabinet all year long. It's pricey ($36 for a 1.7 oz. bottle), but I'm willing to dole out for a sunscreen that'll save my skin.


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