Cay Skin Review
Supermodel Winnie Harlow launched a sun care brand to protect your skin this summer
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Sunscreen is one of my favorite beauty products to test as Reviewed’s beauty editor. If you’re cringing at the thought of slathering your face and body in gloppy, white paste, that’s exactly why it’s a product I jump at testing—I want to find one that won’t make anyone’s face contort.
Any sunscreen launch captures my attention, but when it comes from a supermodel with smooth, glowy skin, there’s an extra layer of intrigue. This is the case with Winnie Harlow’s Cay Skin, which launched in 2022 with sun protection products for the face and body.
What are we wearing?
What is Cay Skin?
Fashion model Winnie Harlow rose to fame after participating as a contestant in the 21st season of America’s Next Top Model. Her inspiration for Cay Skin came from her experience getting a sunburn and sun damage from an outdoor photoshoot in 2018. The model-entrepreneur has vitiligo, a “disease that causes loss of skin color in patches,” according to Mayo Clinic. Cay Skin's site states that Harlow experienced a permanent change in her vitiligo after receiving the sunburn, which led to her wanting to create “better-for-you skincare and suncare protection.” The brand aims for its products to “keep all skin tones glowing and protected throughout the year.”
The line consists of the Isle Glow Face Lotion SPF 45 ($32), Isle Glow Body Lotion SPF 45 ($38), Isle Body Oil SPF 30 ($32), and Isle Lip Balm SPF 30 ($14). To test them, I used each product either on its own or, in the case of the face lotion, layered with makeup some days. Warning: This review gets worse before it gets better.
Isle Glow Face Lotion SPF 45
What it claims: First and foremost, the 1.5-ounce SPF face lotion uses chemical sunscreen ingredients avobenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene to protect the skin against UVA and UVB rays. It also contains niacinamide, nectar, and sea moss to hydrate the skin. The lotion claims to have a pearlescent finish that gives the skin a natural-looking glow, and it can be worn alone or under makeup. The product description doesn’t list a fragrance information or label this as fragrance-free, and the ingredient list doesn’t contain perfume.
What it’s like to use it: I felt excited when I dispensed two or three pumps of this into my hand and saw its tan, glowy formula, but it also looked separated—an oily substance ran underneath a mousse-like texture. I disregarded this and rubbed the solution in between my fingers to combine the ingredients. As I applied it to my face, I liked the pearly finish it gave my face, and I was relieved that the color blended well into my pale skin.
The real trouble for me started as I massaged this into my skin and felt the formula pilling under my fingertips. I noticed this sensation whether I applied it on top of skincare, like the Skinceuticals C E Ferulic serum, or on bare skin. To give it a full wear test under makeup, I did my best to blend it in, rolling any “crumbs” that formed down my neck and wiping them away with a towel. I applied different foundations on top of it throughout testing and didn’t notice any issues with my makeup sitting on top of it, which only added to my confusion. I also wondered: If the sunscreen was at least partially rubbing off my face, how protected was my skin from the sun? I can’t answer that, and I wouldn’t want to find out.
Isle Glow Body Lotion SPF 45
What it claims: This 3.4-ounce, fragrance-free body lotion protects against the sun using avobenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene. In addition to the same sea moss and “hydrating nectar” present in the face lotion, the body iteration contains sunflower seed oil to soothe and moisturize as well as cocoa seed butter to improve texture and protect the skin’s moisture. It also has a pearlescent, tan hue that should provide a glow to the skin.
What it’s like to use it: I’m happy to report that this didn’t pill up on my skin the way the face lotion did. (Though I can’t explain why.) It applies much smoother and is easy to spread on the body.
Unfortunately, I’m not complaint-free for this one either: The “instant island glow without the glitter or white cast” only makes good on that second promise. When I remarked that I was testing a new sunscreen for work, my friend pointed out how shimmery my arm looked in the sunlight. Though the shimmer specks are tiny and gold rather than large, iridescent sparkles, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d just stepped out of Twilight series, rivaling Edward Cullen’s sparkling vampire skin.
All that said, I don’t hate this. It’s easy to blend out and indeed provides an illuminating finish to my skin, for better or worse, and I don’t think it would bother me to sparkle in the sun for a beach day or hike. But when I’m out to lunch or spending an afternoon running errands, it’s a bit much.
Isle Body Oil SPF 30
What it claims: The Isle Body Oil contains avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, and octocrylene for its sun protection ingredients. Beyond that, it uses a blend of oils, such as squalane, argan, grapeseed, coconut, and meadowfoam seed, to moisturize the skin. Unlike the prior two products, it has a "warm vanilla and amber fragrance."
What it’s like to use it: Though this oil contains SPF, I opted to apply this at night in place of a body lotion, as that’s how I’ve used body oils in the past. I described the formula to a friend as feeling like a “dry-touch oil” because it doesn’t feel greasy or thick like others I’ve tried, such as Bio Oil. It also imparts a sheen on the skin without appearing overly shiny—I don’t want to go to bed or out in public looking like an oil slick. I felt comfortable crawling under the covers within an hour of applying this and didn’t feel like my legs were sliding against each other or sticking to my sheets, which I appreciated.
As for wearing this outside, I would try it, but I’d probably want to apply at least a thin layer of sunscreen underneath it, as the oil is runny and clear, which makes it hard to tell if I’m fully coating my skin. This product gets my approval, but with the caveat that you should plan to thoroughly apply it before sun exposure.
Isle Lip Balm SPF 30
What it claims: The lip balm claims to be “kissable SPF to protect your pout.” It contains avobenzone, homosalate, and octisalate for sun protection as well as moisturizing aloe, sea moss, and vitamin E. It claims to have a non-sticky finish that leaves a clear sheen on the lips. Vanilla brown sugar is the “flavor” ascribed to this product.
What it’s like to use it: Of the products I tried from Cay Skin, this is the one I could see myself using the most. The balm feels thick and sticky upon application but comfortable once I rub my lips together to massage it in. I like the slight sheen it gives my lips and I think it’d be easier to layer on top of a lipstick if you wanted some color, though I didn’t try this.
Despite being right under my nose, the fragrance isn’t at all bothersome—it’s lightly sweet and fades as I wear it. If you’re a real stickler for stickiness, you should know that it doesn’t pass my hair test, i.e., my hair suctions to the balm. I’d prefer that not be the case, but the SPF it provides is a decent tradeoff to me.
Is Cay Skin worth it?
It’s a reluctant "maybe" from me
My thoughts on Cay Skin ebbed and flowed throughout the few weeks I was testing the line. I liked the finish of the face lotion, so I wanted to love it, but the pilling is enough of a red flag that I wouldn’t recommend you spend $32 on it. Instead, I’d recommend trying the Supergoop Glowscreen Sunscreen, which is available in two pearlescent colors, “Sunrise” (champagne) and “Golden Hour” (bronze), to match your skin tone.
The body lotion presents its own issue for me with the ultra-shimmery finish, but I like how easy it is to rub in and comfortable it feels once on. But again, you don’t need to spend $38 for a comfortable body sunscreen. Because you need to use a lot of sunscreen to coat your whole body, I recommend going for a more affordable option, like the Banana Boat Ultra Sport Sunscreen Lotion.
The two products I’d say are most worth giving a try are the body oil and lip balm, as their benefits outweigh the drawbacks. That said, I don’t think you need to spend $32 and $14, respectively, for those two types of products, either.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.