Cracked, blistered lips are no fun—they feel bad, and look worse. But most of us hesitate to use chemically-laden chap stick or colors that even a lab rat would shun. The alternative? A tinted lip balm made with non-nanoparticle zinc oxide for ultimate sun protection, with all-organic additives like extra virgin olive oil (yes, olive oil!), comfrey, lavender, yarrow, and peppermint oil (which gives it a lip-smacking flavor). And there’s vitamin E to help with skin repair. The color comes from natural minerals, such as Elemental Herb’s Tinted Lip Balm. And did we mention color? No garish oranges or roller-rink reds here; we like the Copper Canyon, a pale bronzy-brown with a shiny hue. Also topping our list is Red Rocks, which hearkens back to the towering sandstone cliffs of Utah and Colorado. There are six mellow, natural-looking shades to choose from, and the small cylindrical containers slip easily into the small pocket on your running shorts, bike jersey, or ski jacket.
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This is best sun protection for a mountain man on the face of the planet. I live with five-o’clock shadow and sunscreen creams just don’t rub in well, they make me look like a grey-haired ghost. Keihl’s Cross-Terrain applies quick and clear and comes in a burly hockey puck-style container that I can leave in my pack or pocket to get smashed around during a tumble or a long travel and won’t leak or burst open make a mess. Its viscosity provides protection from extreme winds and is a worthy lip balm, so I don’t have to carry two items. In a pinch, after weather forced a retreat from Half Dome, I used it to lubricate some extremely chaffed body parts and found some clutch relief. SPF 50 means I put it on once, even at the highest altitudes, during the longest surf sessions and in the most extreme elements.
Sunburns hurt. And while it’s easy to slather on sunblock when you’re lounging poolside, it’s difficult to reapply when you’re charging the waves on a boogie board or furiously battling the current on a stand-up paddle board. We test sunscreens year-round, in all types of conditions, on all types of complexions. Skiers, snowboarders, and red-headed paddle boarders all used the Gator Gel, and none of them ended up with cheeks that resembled dried strawberries. In fact, the Gator Gel sunscreen ranks as a top choice for long days on the water and slopes. The thick concoction is especially good when carrying the tube isn’t convenient (like when you’re wearing a skimpy bikini and swimming out to a deserted island). For full disclosure—the Gator sunscreen is pretty sticky and takes some elbow-grease to rub into your skin. But it absorbs well, and stays on so well that it then requires scrubbing with soap to remove. The packaging attests to a full eight hours of protection—we err on the conservative side and reapplied every four hours, just in case. We recommend the 40+ Gel for surfers as it literally sticks like glue. The 40+ lotion rubs in easier and absorbs more quickly, but requires more frequent applications.
There’s more to sunburn than the red skin and blisters, which makes testing sunscreen a challenge. Over the years, we’ve developed a fairly good protocol. Dividing our exposed epidermis into two equal sections, we apply a “control” sunscreen—one we’ve used for several seasons—to half the skin. On the other side, we slather on “potion X,” a process that sometimes leaves us looking like overzealous sports fans: one side pale, the other bright pink from lesser products. This time, we compared Elemental Herbs Sunstick with several drug store brands, and fortunately for our testers, no skin was hurt in the process. Elemental employs a potent zinc-oxide base (sans the ghostly white pallor) and is anchored by all-organic products like avocado, coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, tapioca, and sesame seeds—and yes, the ingredients reads like a start of a heavenly lunch. Better still, it is coral-safe, and fairly water and sweat resistant (we applied it every hour to be safe). The clincher: The Sunstick’s handy, no fuss applicator. Shaped like a super-sized lip balm, the Sunstick is easy to store in a pocket, pack, or purse, with no danger of a loose lid, goop mess, or even getting any under your finger nails.