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Coola Suncare SPF45 Sport and a dilemma

Reviewed by Emily January 19, 2011 16 Comments
I was lucky to take a last-minute trip to sunny Puerto Rico last week to celebrate a sister’s birthday and get out of the cold.  In the process, I made (or so I thought) a discovery worthy of sharing with the TIA community—but on my return, I also found myself faced with a dilemma.

But more on that later.  First of all:  My main worry in getting ready for this trip wasn’t, remarkably, fitting into a bathing suit.  It was what to do about sun protection.  I have very few good habits, but one I’ve maintained fervently for the last twenty years is avoiding sun exposure.  I was panicked at the thought of subjecting my mid-winter-white, 55-year-old face and body to Caribbean skies.

So with only hours left to pack, I dashed to the most upscale of my local pharmacies and surveyed several shelves of elegant lotions and creams.  Maybe it was the tropical association evoked by the aqua blue tubes, but the Coola line caught my eye.   Looking more closely, I saw that Coola Suncare is from LA (southern California obviously a US sun capital); its packaging announced it free of paba, parabens, and petroleum; and it trumpeted its use of certified organic ingredients.  There were several options, both sunscreens and sunblocks, and I quickly selected the SPF 45 “Sport” moisturizing sunscreen--available in an unscented formulation (why do these products always smell like Juicy Fruit?), which closed the deal.

I expected a lot from this $32, five-ounce tube.  Coola touts its “eco-friendly” approach, vitamins and antioxidants, and anti-aging and anti-inflammatory ingredients, and says that Sport is “crafted with over 70% certified organic extracts including ginseng, evening primrose, and amica.”  After four days of walking on the beach, lounging by the pool, and rediscovering daiquiris as a food group, I wasn’t disappointed.

The product has a nice texture, absorbs well with a pleasant feel, and is duly moisturizing as promised.  (The beach was windy, too, so that quality was really put to the test.)  And I didn’t burn—not even a little.  I did get just a touch of color, but only just. I came home with skin feeling better than when I’d left.

The complete product line includes sunscreens and blocks for the face; body sunscreens and blocks (SPF 30); the “sport” offerings (longer-lasting, SPF 45) I sampled; lip balms; and what they call “lotion bars” for sun-exposed skin.  Coola also offers a sunblock for babies, and several kits and travel sizes.  The site provides additional information on the product line and philosophy (including its eco-friendly focus), links to lots of media coverage, a guide to retailers (more in the West than East; many spas), and online shopping.

But here’s the rub:  when I enthusiastically started to write this post to share my good news about Coola, I found an earlier piece Marta wrote on TIA in May 2009 about the safety and potential toxicity of several of the active ingredients in Coola (and lots of other brands)—see below—specifically, Octocrylene, Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, and Octisalate.  The write up on the first three certainly gave me something to think about, including effects like “reproductive toxicity” and increased production of free radicals, as well as environmental effects (like absorption by fish).  Read the whole post for the details.

What’s maddening, of course, is that no one knows how much of this stuff gets absorbed, and how much is truly dangerous. On the one hand, I hardly ever sit in the sun and seldom use heavy doses of all-over sunscreen (so how much damage can my very occasional use do?).  And overall, the penalty for forgoing sun protection altogether is clearly more severe than the risks of these ingredients.  On the other—this does not sound like it’s good for people or for the world around us!  And that’s the dilemma. Using Coola seems better than going without, yet now I’m unsure about unintended consequences—all the more since the brand seems to want to bask in an eco-conscious and natural (i.e., safe) glow.

I’d welcome advice on how to deal with this conundrum, and whether there is more research or new formulations on the horizon.  I’ve now read the TIA “Five Best” zinc oxide sunscreens post of June 2009 and I definitely look into those products.  But I’m hoping for an update at TIA before this winter (finally) ends and I can think about the sun again.

Ingredients in Coola Spf 45 Unscented Moisturizing Sunscreen:

Active ingredients: Octocrylene (Sunscreen) 7.50%, Octinoxate (Sunscreen) 7.50, Oxybenzone (Sunscreen) 5.0%, Octisalate (Sunscreen) 5.0%, Homosalate (Sunscreen) 5.0%, Avobenzone (Sunscreen) 5.0%

Inactive ingredients: Water (Aqua), C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Dimethicone, DEA-Cetyl Phosphate, Cyclopentasiloxane, PVP/Eicosene Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer, Glycerin, crylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer, Stearic Acid, Sorbitan Stearate, Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate), Panax Ginseng Root Extract, PEG-100 Stearate, Nylon-12, Glyceryl Stearate, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Allantoin, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E Acetate), Dog (Rosa Canina) Rose Hips, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter) Fruit, Beeswax, Borage (Starflower) Seed Oil, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Extract, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Oil, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Prunus Serotina (Wild Cherry) Bark Extract, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract, Lawsonia Inermis (Henna) Extract, Hydrastis Canadensis (Golden Seal) Extract, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Equisetum Hyemale Extract, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Zinc Oxide.

Organic ingredients: Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annus (Sunflower) Oil, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Cucumis Sativus ( Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Beeswax (ORGANIC Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter)
  • May 3, 2013

    by Luke

    Thank you so much for sharing this info, as I will NOT BE TRYING it now, because of this ingredient "Avobenzone" which can cause irritation and I DO NOT SEE COOLA have a body fragrance fre emineral for spf30 or above, plesae correct me if im wrong but it ain't there, maybe the face?

    Found one on ewg, natures gate aquablock spf50 thinking of trying.

  • February 24, 2013

    by Kathy

    On sale right now at My Habit.com for HALF PRICE! I did the research and no affiliation whatsoever with the product.. Just a good deal if u like the product.

  • April 8, 2011

    by Noel

    I am soooo anti chemical based sunscreens for sooo many different reasons it isn't funny! Disregarding the amount of product needed to be applied to actually achieve the level of protection, one of the main reasons I am so avidly against chemical sunscreens is based on the way they work. On a VERY basic level, these sunscreens absorb harmful rays from the sun. There isn't a substance in existence that has the ability to absorb infinite amounts of anything! Also the fact that after 2 hours upon application, the levels of protection that would prove to be beneficial are utterly dissipated, hence the need to reapply! Plus the actual amount needed to achieve that level of SPF??? Does anyone really apply a teaspoon?????

  • January 28, 2011

    by Jennifer

    I would also love to test the Nutra-Lift, as I have sensitive skin & have yet to find the perfect sunscreen for me! Living in the Northwest means that I am exposed to more rain than sun,but I am heading to Arizona in February, where I can test the Nutra-Lift for several days!

  • January 26, 2011

    by Cat

    I'm oily still, even at my age! I need a sunscreen that will prevent sunburn is long lasting and is not going to make me shinier! Bring on the Nutra-Lift Maximum Sun Protection challenge! I need it asap for the Rolex 24 in Daytona, FL beginning this Saturday! It's really a four day mostly outdoor event but my skin can't usually take all that exposure! It's shaping up to be a sunny weekend!

  • January 26, 2011

    by summer

    Pretty please with sugar on top :) I am leaving in exactly 12 days for a 2 week vacation with my family to the caribbean and would love to put this bottle of protection to the test. I use several of the line's hair products and some other skincare items and I have been impressed by them all as well as the ingredients. I'm sure this one won't disappoint either.

  • January 26, 2011

    by Kelly Tirman

    I find it hard to find good mineral sunscreen that works well and doesn't have nasty chemicals. Thanks for the review and good to see that the company is being proactive.

  • January 26, 2011

    by Angela

    It's snowing in Philadelphia, but summer is around the corner. I have used Coola and liked it very much. It's always tricky when you have oily skin. I would love to test Nutra-Lift.

  • January 23, 2011

    by Emily

    Thanks for the info about Badger, Jentri! It's so cold here in NYC that it feels like Vermont--so yes, it's wonderful to be talking about sunscreen in January! I look forward to the return of the sun and a chance to check out Badger. Thank you!

  • January 20, 2011

    by Badger Jentri

    Hi Emily!

    Being in New Hampshire (and watching the snow fall), it delights me to no end to be talking about sunscreen right now!

    Badger makes mineral sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB with the mineral zinc oxide in a base of pure organic plant oils, beeswax, vitamin E and nothing else! We use simple, minimally processed, powerfully pure ingredients that work. We carry the EWG's best score for sunscreen safety and efficacy, and have for several years now.

    Our sunscreens are tested for SPF, Water Resistance, UVA Protection (US, EU & Japan), are Certified Natural by the NPA, and officially Contain Organic Ingredients (as certified by the NSF). This year we're releasing a Baby Sunscreen that is pediatrician tested, and all of our sunscreens are being switched to uncoated, non-nano Zinc (and we have the testing to back that claim up, as well). And we're having them tested for biodegradability, but we haven't gotten those tests back yet! :)

    The reason I mention all of the testing and certifications is because we're trying to make it easier... We’re having all of this testing done so that, at a glance, you know EXACTLY what you’re getting from us. We don’t put anything on our labels that we are unable to back up with test results – and that’s the difference between being natural, and marketing your product as natural. That is the reason why people (like Angela) recommend us to you.

    I can understand that you feel that sun exposure by and large would be worse for you than the “chemical soup” in some sunscreens. The truth is: we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that the best protection is to cover up, and for the parts that are not covered up it is best to wear a mineral based (physical block) sunscreen.

    Here's a little more information on Badger's sunscreens, if you are interested: http://www.badgerbalm.com/t-about_natural_organic_sunscreen.aspx

    Please feel free to contact us at any time – like I said, I love talking sunscreen (especially in January).

    Warmly,
    Jentri jentrip@badgerbalm.com

  • January 19, 2011

    by Emily

    Wow! First of all, thank you so much to Angela for the tip about Badger and Devita...I will be sure to check both out. They sound great!
    And I was very impressed that Chris Birchby responded in such detail. Thank you. I'm really excited to hear about the new physical sunblock products and will be sure to try them. It's great when companies respond in this way to direct consumer feedback--especially at such length. I did notice that Coola appeared to be a small brand run and owned by a couple, which I will admit adds to its appeal! Thanks so much.

  • January 19, 2011

    by Dennis

    Their Cucumber Mineral Matte sounds delightful. I might have to give it a run when my Mychelle runs out.

  • January 19, 2011

    by marta

    Hi Chris, thank you for your detailed response. Its great that you are being so responsive to the market and evolving your products.

  • January 19, 2011

    by Chris Birchby

    Hi Emily,

    Thank you for trying out our COOLA Suncare SPF 45 Sport Unscented Sunscreen! I'm very happy it protected you in the sun; it truly works great.

    I understand your concerns regarding SPF chemical active ingredients and want to share some COOLA inside info with you and your readers. Recently we launched our Natural Sunblock line, including 6 different mineral SPF products for the Face, Body, Sport, and Baby. These products use only physical sunblockers (Titanium and Zinc) - no chemical actives. It has taken several years to perfect and test the formulations - which we believe are the best available! They are all at least 70% certified organic (of the inactive ingredients) and sourced and manufactured locally in southern California. Our Mineral Baby is 80%+ organic and 100% natural, something I believe no other sunblock company can claim. The EWG gave us their highest ranking for sunblock: http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/product/330379/COOLA_SPF_45_Mineral_Baby_Moisturizer_Unscented/
    All of our Natural Sunblocks incorporate our unique method of independently trapping Titanium and Zinc actives and evenly spacing them, creating the most transparent and effective application on your skin (we do not use nano-particles). COOLA manufactures in small batches. As a result we’re fortunate to be able to reformulate often, and take advantage of the latest developments in sun science!

    We are currently phasing out our chemical active ingredients in the few products that still have them. As a small company (my wife and I are the owners), we are able to make these quick adjustments (although nothing in sunblock manufacturing is relatively quick, because of all the testing). In the meantime, COOLA Sunscreen’s unique formulations include Cetyl Phosphate, which helps prevent sunscreen actives from migrating into the skin (by mimicking skin lipids) while allowing natural, water-soluble, moisturizing extracts to penetrate. Unfortunately, oxybenzone has long been the most effective UVB/UVA protecting ingredient approved by the FDA. COOLA looks forward to the FDA approving other effective UVB/UVA sunscreen actives in the future.

    COOLA is dedicated to the healthiest sun protection. Thank you for letting us share this information with you and your readers. Happy Sun-Blocking and have a great day!

  • January 19, 2011

    by Angela J

    Hi Emily,

    I love Badger Sunscreen 30 http://www.badgerbalm.com/p-372-spf-30-for-face-body.aspx for all-over protection and Devita for my face. They're both physical suncscreens and work really well to moisturize the skin without leaving a heavy, greasy film or a garish, white cast. Devita has been reviewed and well-received on TIA a few times, so you can do a search to find out more about it. They're both available at Whole Foods and other organic stores/food co-ops, as well as natural pharmarcies or online.

  • January 19, 2011

    by ha

    Since this product is on amazon, I just wanted to share today's great deal with everyone.

    http://dealery.com/oakland/20-amazoncom-gift-card/

    I'm not getting any benefits for it, just wanted to share with the community.

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