“I have my flaws, but embrace them and love them because they’re mine.” Those are the bold and confident words of Winnie Harlow, fashion model, spokesperson, and activist known for having a prominent form of the skin condition vitiligo, which is caused by a lack of melanin, which is the pigment in the skin. It appears as pale, white patches.
In 2018, Harlow made a fatal mistake by skipping sunscreen on a photo shoot to avoid having a white cast on her skin. She wound up with severe burns that required emergency medical attention, and her vitiligo pattern was altered permanently. The model was inspired to put a positive spin on this physical and emotional life-changing experience by launching CAY Skin, sun care products that all skin types and tones can benefit from.
The model used the downtime during the pandemic to test products, wrangle investors, and develop her own product line that launched on March 1, 2022. In less than a year, many formulas have already become award-winning beauty editor favorites.
So, what sets CAY Skin suncare apart from other brands? Let’s take a closer look at the brand values, ingredients, and formulation facts.
Harlow’s goal was to create accessible, clean suncare that doesn’t clog the pores, leave behind a white cast, or feel heavy on the skin. All the products are vegan, cruelty-free, silicone-free, non-comedogenic, and dermatologist-tested.
CAY Skin is Certified Carbon Neutral. Carbon neutrality refers to a commitment to continue reducing carbon dioxide emissions and investing in methods to offset those that remain. This is important because when carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, it traps heat and alters our climate, resulting in the detrimental effects we see and feel, like wildfires, droughts, and heat waves.
- The brand is also committed to partnering with environmental, non-profit organizations to minimize its carbon footprint.
- 75% of primary product packaging comprises a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled content. Secondary packaging (think shippers and cartons) is made from 100% FSC-certified (or responsibly managed forests) paperboard.
- Most of the product packaging, including containers, is recyclable. Instructions for how to dispose of the components are listed on the product pages on the brand’s website.
Formulation Facts: Key Ingredients in CAY Skin Products
- Sea Moss: The brand incorporates sea moss, a nutrient-rich seaweed, in many of its products to pay homage to Winnie’s Jamaican heritage. Of course, the ingredient boasts several skin-loving benefits, too. Sea moss can help your skin produce collagen and keratin, which helps strengthen its barrier, improve elasticity, and soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Nectar: A tropical plant-based nectar is another staple ingredient that provides immediate and long-lasting hydration.
- Niacinamide: Otherwise known as vitamin B3, niacinamide may increase the antioxidant capacity of the skin, maintain the skin barrier and help reduce the appearance of signs of aging such as pigmentation, yellowing of the skin, and fine lines.
- Ferulic Acid: FA is an antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radical damage in the skin. It may help to reduce the appearance of premature aging and UV damage. It also has mild protective and reparative abilities against the sun.
- Watermelon Fruit Extract: Due to its high concentration of lycopene, it is an excellent ingredient for anti-aging skin care products. Lycopene has demonstrated potent antioxidant activity, which can help defend the skin against UV-induced damage. Research suggests that lycopene protects the skin through its ability to decrease inflammation, promote cell renewal, and inhibit DNA damage following UVB injury.
- Sunflower Seed Oil: Helianthus annuus or sunflower seed oil is mainly used for its potential to provide benefits such as decreasing inflammation and replenishing the skin barrier. It’s also often used to help improve a product’s texture and sensory feel by acting as an emollient.
- Cocoa Seed Butter: Cocoa butter is a fat-rich ingredient used to hydrate and moisturize the skin. This hydrating property comes from cocoa butter’s protective barrier on the skin’s surface, similar to the skin’s natural barrier. Cocoa butter also provides phytochemicals, naturally occurring plant compounds that protect the skin against UV damage.
- Avobenzone Sunscreen: Avobenzone works by absorbing UV rays protecting the skin from severe sunburns and melanoma, and helps to shield the skin from damage to healthy skin cells and collagen. Like most sunscreens, avobenzone absorbs the UV rays and converts them to energy that is less damaging to the skin. Avobenzone and similar ingredients are often called chemical sunscreens; they can also be called organic sunscreens.
- Octisalate Sunscreen: Octisalate helps filter UVB rays from the sun. It’s also used to improve the water resistance of the sunscreen formulation.
- Octocrylene Sunscreen: Octocrylene is a thick colorless ingredient; it is very chemically stable and can be used as an additive to cosmetics to preserve any natural chemical degradation that can occur when skincare products are exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods. Octocrylene is classed as a chemical sunscreen because it protects the skin from UV damage. Octocrylene is also thought to have skin-moisturizing effects because of its emollient properties.
CAY Skin: A Review of the First 7 Products
Isle Glow Face Moisturizer SPF 45
This antioxidant-rich moisturizer also doubles as an excellent makeup base. However, thanks to an illuminating nude pearl blend, it gives the skin an immediate luminous appearance, so you may even want to skip the foundation.
- The SPF of 45 is a combination of avobenzone (3%), octisalate (5%), and octocrylene (10%) sunscreens.
- Key ingredients include barrier-strengthening sea moss, nourishing tropical plant nectar, soothing niacinamide, brightening Kakadu plum, and skin-soothing sunflower seed oil.
- Isle Glow Face Moisturizer helps to filter blue light as it includes blue light protection.
- The formula is silicone-free, dermatologist-tested, non-comedogenic, and vegan. It’s free of oxybenzone and octinoxate and is suitable for sensitive skin as it’s non-irritating — it’s even safe to use around the eyes.
- It’s suitable for daily use — with or without makeup.
- Apply to the face 15 minutes before sun exposure. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or perspiring.
Isle Lip Balm SPF 30
This hydrating, soothing daily lip balm features UVA/UVB protection to protect the delicate lip area. Despite its long-lasting quality, it goes on clear and won’t leave a heavy, sticky finish.
- It’s formulated with avobenzone (3%), homosalate (10%), and octisalate (5%) sunscreens.
- The formula contains nutrient-rich ingredients like sea moss, aloe stem cells, and vitamin E.
- The lips’ moisture barrier becomes strengthened with regular use.
- Isle Lip Balm is dermatologist-tested, silicone- and benzene-free, vegan, non-comedogenic, and safe for sensitive skin. It’s void of oxybenzone and octinoxate.
- Apply evenly to lips 15 minutes before sun exposure; reapply throughout the day.
Isle Glow Body Oil SPF 30
We love that this hydrating body oil quenches dehydrated skin without leaving behind a greasy film. Instead, it provides a healthy-looking glow. The skin immediately becomes more nourished and protected from harmful UVA/UVB rays.
- Ultra-hydrating squalane, argan, grapeseed, coconut, and meadowfoam seed oils help strengthen and protect your skin’s moisture barrier.
- Avobenzone (3%), homosalate (10%), octisalate (5%), and octocrylene (10%) sunscreens provide superior UVA/UVB protection.
- Isle Glow Body Oil is formulated with a subtle, naturally-derived, warm vanilla and amber scent.
- It’s dermatologist-tested, vegan, benzene-free, void of oxybenzone and octinoxate, silicone-free, suitable for sensitive skin, and free of synthetic fragrance.
- Apply all over the body 15 minutes before sun exposure; reapply every two hours or immediately after towel drying. Note that the product is not water resistant, so you’ll need to use an additional product when swimming or sweating excessively.
Isle Glow Body Lotion SPF 45
This lightweight yet hydrating body lotion provides all skin tones with a beautiful, illuminated, pearlescent glow while protecting the body with an SPF of 45.
- It’s formulated with the brand’s go-to key island-based ingredients, including nutrient-rich sea moss, skin-smoothing sunflower oil, and nourishing cocoa seed butter.
- Avobenzone (3%), octisalate (5%), and octocrylene (10%) sunscreens provide superior UVA/UVB protection.
- It’s dermatologist-tested, vegan, cruelty-free, benzene-free, void of oxybenzone and octinoxate, silicone- and paraben-free, and suitable for sensitive skin.
- Apply liberally all over your body 15 minutes before sun exposure. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
- For an added boost of hydration, Winnie suggests layering Isle Glow Body Lotion SPF 45 with Isle Body Oil SPF 30.
Deepwater Lip Mask
Deepwater Lip Mask is the ultimate rescue treatment when you’ve spent too much time in the sun. The non-sticky formula deeply replenishes the lips to restore moisture and suppleness. Lips appear plumper and more youthful-looking.
- Key ingredients include antioxidant-rich hibiscus, soothing aloe stem cells, hydrating and nourishing sea moss, and protective vitamin E.
- It’s formulated with the same signature vanilla, brown sugar flavor found in Isle Lipe Balm SPF 30.
- Deepwater Lip Mask is dermatologist tested, vegan, silicon-free, and safe for sensitive skin.
- The formula can be used daily but is most effective when applied to clean lips overnight — wake up to a softer, plumper pucker.
Deepwater Body Cream
You will obviously not need a body cream formulated with SPF when it’s time to hit the sheets. You will want to use a restorative, moisture-rich formula like Deepwater Body Cream. Despite its light texture, it’s a workhorse for deeply moisturizing sun-exposed skin.
- The unique formula contains several of the brand’s signature key ingredients (sea moss, aloe stem cells, etc.), skin-brightening Kakadu, and revitalizing niacinamide. The delicious scent is courtesy of the brand’s naturally-derived blend of grapefruit and vanilla extracts.
- It’s dermatologist-tested, silicone-free, void of synthetic fragrances, vegan, and safe for sensitive skin.
- Massage all over the body after showering or sun exposure. For best results, use it daily.
Deepwater Dew Body Serum
This replenishing and illuminating body serum instantly softens and revitalizes the skin while leaving behind a healthy “golden-hour” glow. It quickly absorbs into the skin and doesn’t leave behind a sticky film. It’s perfect for a night out on the town.
- Along with signature sea moss and aloe stem cells, the serum is formulated with an enriching, skin-plumping omega oil blend that includes grapeseed, olive fruit oil, camellia seed, and sunflower oils.
- Deepwater Dew Body Serum is silicone- and fragrance-free, dermatologist-test, vegan, and suitable for sensitive skin.
- Apply all over the body, particularly to arms, legs, and décolletage. Thoroughly massage the product into the skin and allow it to set before putting on clothing. The serum can be used with or without a body moisturizer.
Our Final Verdict
Overall we think CAY Skin provides clean, efficacious suncare products suitable for all skin tones. We appreciate that the brand uses a blend of sunscreens to provide the ultimate UVA/UVB protection, whether in or out of the water.
- We value the consistent use of critical go-to key island-based ingredients, including nutrient-rich sea moss, skin-smoothing sunflower oil, and nourishing cocoa seed butter, along with additional evidence-based additives like niacinamide, vitamin E, soothing sunflower seed oil, and brightening Kakadu plum.
- CAY Skin is Certified Carbon Neutral and committed to partnering with environmental organizations. 75% of primary product packaging comprises a minimum of 30% post-consumer recycled content. Secondary packaging is made from 100% FSC-certified paperboard. Most of the product packaging is recyclable.
We also appreciate that the brand is cruelty-free, vegan, dermatologist-tested, and void of harmful ingredients, including synthetic fragrances. On a fun note, we love the addition of the pearlescent glow (but not teenage sparkle) in some of the brand’s products.
What are some alternatives to CAY Skincare?
While we strive to provide accurate reviews, the reality is that only some products or brands are for everyone. The good news is that you have options.
Deep Science is affiliated with Carrot & Stick and Formulyst. While we stand behind our brands, we’re not here to tell you what to put on your skin — that’s up to you. However, we still believe it’s worth sharing a few alternative products from our lines and other top-rated picks.
- Carrot & Stick The Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is derived from and formulated with mineral sunscreen; no harsh chemicals can harm the skin and the environment, including our oceans. It’s formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to protect the skin against the harmful effects of UVA and UVB, which can hasten the effects of skin aging. It also contains natural hydrators and antioxidants, including vitamin E, green tea extract, and Hawaiian kukui nut oil to keep skin nourished and smooth. No greasy feel after application, and the water-resistant formula delivers protection throughout the day with reapplication.
- Elta UV Clear Sunscreen is the brand’s most popular sunscreen. This broad-spectrum sunscreen calms and protects sensitive skin types prone to discoloration and breakouts. The silky, lightweight formula is fragrance-free, oil-free, paraben-free, and non-comedogenic. The formula contains zinc oxide and octinoxate, which provides broad-spectrum SPF 46 protection.
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 55 provides powerful broad-spectrum protection due to the combination of four chemical sunscreen ingredients (avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, and oxybenzone). While these chemical sunscreen ingredients won’t leave a white cast like mineral sunscreens, research has shown that they absorb through the skin and into the bloodstream. The formula also includes several emollients and silicones to give the product a soft, silky skin feel.
- SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense Daily Sunscreen for the Face SPF 30 is a nourishing, moisturizing, oil- and fragrance-free sunscreen that’s ideal for all skin types — especially oily and sensitive. Active mineral and chemical sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide and octinoxate, which work synergistically to protect against UVA and UVB rays. Despite its thick and luxurious texture, it absorbs quickly without leaving any white residue or a greasy feel.
Yes. All of the brand’s SPF products provide broad-spectrum protection, meaning they contain ingredients that help block both UVA and UVB rays.
However, the brand formulates its SPF products to comply with Hawaii’s ban on coral-harming chemicals. Due to their adverse environmental effects, you won’t find octinoxate or oxybenzone actives.
“The Effect of Lycopene Preexposure on UV-B-Irradiated Human Keratinocytes”
“Mediline Plus Vitiligo” Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015;40(1):17-22. doi:10.1111/ced.12455.