Though I live in the largest, most urban city in America, my skin is marked by a categorically country feature: farmer’s tan. No, I don’t toil in the sun all day hurling bails of hay onto flatbed trucks, but I do wear short sleeves and it’s a hot and sunny New York summer, to say the least, so naturally, my face and arms get the brunt of the sun. What I’m left with when I take off my shirt is, well, the illusion that I’m still wearing a shirt.

And because the concrete smolders during the summer New Yorkers are naturally compelled to flee the pavement for nature upstate or Long Island, or at least simulated nature in the city’s man-made parks. My most recent escape was last weekend, at one of the city’s public, subway accessible beaches right next to JFK Airport.

My friends and I positioned our beach towels, dawned our swimwear and laid out with nothing more to protect us from the relentless sun than a thin layer of sunscreen.

What did I use to protect myself against the cloudless, 90-degree day? Well, this is where things get interesting.

Before I left my apartment, I applied Dermagenics Sun Savvy Solar Shield SPF 30, a product Marta gave to me to review a few months back. I applied the sunscreen to my face and arms, thinking I’d apply on my body later. The cream is pretty light-weight, very moisturizing, and was absorbed on my skin fairly effortlessly without leaving a cast. However, because I am bearded and have thick arm and leg hair, getting the sunscreen to my skin down through that forest proved fairly difficult, and it left a white residue in my beard which I had to rinse out. But according to Dermagenics, this sunscreen is water resistant, so despite my rinse, I figured I should still be protected.

When I got the beach, I planned on applying a layer of the Dermagenics sunscreen to my body. What I found out, however, was that my girlfriend instead packed Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen with hemp seed oil. And so began my unintentional side by side product test!

My girlfriend, who has extremely sensitive skin, initially loved how the product didn’t make her face react when she applied it. I liked it for the long list of inoffensive, natural ingredients contained like the preferred sunscreen active titanium dioxide, and highly touted inactives like hemp seed oil (its featured inactive ingredient) which is rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, sunflower seed oil, calendula flower extract, and witch hazel. Sodium borate, aka highly toxic borax seems an odd toxic note in an otherwise fairly benign product. But application proved difficult. Spreading Burt’s Bees on my hairy arms and legs was like trying to get potters clay down to the surface of a shag carpet. There’s no pain-free, easy way to do it. So, I did the best I could, and liberally applied the chalky, clay-like sunscreen all over my body, trusting my skin to Burt’s Bees feel-good reputation of being a big company with little company values.

After a dip in the salty Atlantic to cool off, the sunscreen was even harder to apply. Perhaps it was the salt on my skin, but the cream became less viscous and more clay like, and dragged along my skin pilling in little clumps. But alas, I did my best.

Following a few brown bag-concealed Mexican beers, some Frisbee tossing, and a walk down the boardwalk for amazing fish tacos, I went for another swim. Again, applying the sunscreen proved most difficult.

Upon leaving the beach, back in the subway car, my burn and my girlfriend’s became apparent. My shoulders, my back, chest, arms, shins and the tops of my feet were all cherry red.

Back home, in the mirror, it was clear that the Burt’s Bees just didn’t cut it. But what was unexpected, and what shocked me standing in front of the mirror after taking a much needed cold shower, was that my farmer’s tan had been inversed. Meaning: the one application of Dermagenics Sun Savvy Solar Shield early in the morning, which I had to wash out of my beard, even after two dips in the Atlantic, even after a full day in the sun, totally protected my face. My nose, understandably, was the only feature that got any color. What I was left with was a white face and the illusion of a red t-shirt.

Why was Burt’s Bees was so ineffective? Well, you can’t fault them for making a product that gets results at the toxicological determent of the user (for the most part). Perhaps in formulating the product to be so benign, so sensitive, and so packed with so many natural ingredients, they’ve forgotten the most basic function of sunscreen: to prevent sunburn.

This experience did, however, make me a believer in Dermagenics Sun Savvy Solar Shield. They take a bit more of a simplistic approach to sun protection. Most notably, they bump up the amount of active ingredients – 10% zinc oxide and 5% titanium dioxide. Unlike Burt’s Bees, who it seems try to blind consumers with a witches’ brew of extracts and oils, Dermagenics has carefully selected 16 fairly harmless, and seemingly essential inactive ingredients, mainly naturally derived chemical compounds, most of which are good soothers, moisturizers and thickeners, which are safe too. The all too common inclusion of phenoxyethanol, is the only ingredient to scoff at. Also, the cream features what Dermagenics terms “Floating Barrier Technology”, which apparently keeps the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide out of your skin.

So, by way of an entirely unscientific, yet totally convincing and painful trial, Dermagenics Sun Savvy Solar Shield ($45) beats the pants off of Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen with hemp seed oil ($15). I guess you get what you pay for.


Dermagenics Sun Savvy Solar Shield

Active ingredients: Zinc Oxide 10%, Titanium Dioxide 5%

Other ingredients: Purified water, Cetyl dimethicone copolyol, Polyglyceryl-4-Isostearate, Hexyl Laurate, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Isohexadecane, Capric Caprylic Triglycerides, Simethicone, Glycerin, Cetyl Dimethicone, Sodium Chloride, Sodium PCA, Phenoxyethanol, Isopentyldiol, Capryl Clycol, Allantionm (soothing)

Burt’s Bees Chemical-Free Sunscreen with hemp seed oil SPF 30 UVB/UVA Protection Non-Whitening

Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 8.58%

Inactive Ingredients: Water, cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil, glycerin, stearic acid, hydrated silica, fragrance, sucrose distearate, helianthus annus (sunflower) seed oil, beta-carotene, calendula officinalis (calendula) flower extract, crataegus oxyacanthus stem extract, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) extract, hydrastis Canadensis (golden seal) extract, symphtum officinale (comfrey) extract, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, acacia Senegal gum, sucrose stearate, aluminium hydroxide, alginic acid, xanthan gum, sodium borate, glucose, lecithin, sodium chloride, canola oil, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase. peroxidase.