Product Review: Beach holiday essentials

I’ve just come back from Crete, Greece, where despite the fact the country is in the grip of the worst economic crisis they’ve ever faced remains a great place to spend a relaxing holiday in. The weather has been very favourable, ranging from 24 degrees celcius to 30 degrees most days, with the sea temperature a pleasant 23-25 degrees celsius most days.

The 5-star Aldemar Royal Mare hotel in Crete, Greece. Photo by Cynthia Wamwayi.

In the past, the term holiday has been synonymous with skin and hair damage. In fact the last time I was in Greece — Karpathos in 2004 — I managed to completely shed the skin off my shoulders and upper back thanks to the mistaken belief I held at the time that I did not need sunscreen beacause of my African background. My hair has also seen its fair share of disrepair, thanks to salty seawater, chlorine in the hotel pool, the sun and once, in Miami where I was desperately trying to salvage hair that had been matted by a combination of water and dust, a flat iron.

So you will understand why I was not taking any chances this year. The first things I threw into my luggage while packing last week were the Swimcap by Phillip Kingsley, Kiehl’s Activated Sun Protector Sunscreen for body and face and Aubrey Organic’s Swimmer’s Normalizing Shampoo and Conditioner. After using these products almost daily for the past 8 days, I’m ready to share them with the rest of the world.

The SwimCap by Phillip Kingsley

The SwimCap was developed by trichologist Phillip Kingsley for the  American synchronised swimming team who in 1984 were about to take part in the first ever synchronised swimming competition in an Olympic games. Because of their constant exposure to chlorinated water, they needed a barrier between it and their tresses. It has since become a holiday hair care staple thanks to its efficiency in not only keeping chlorine at bay, but also salty seawater and the sun’s harmful UV rays, which combined have been known to make post-holiday hair feel like straw.

I tried the 75ml travel size, which, considering I have very thick, shoulder-length hair is more than enough for a week’s holiday. It’s a very thick white paste which literally takes over your tresses like a a bodyguard. Hair feels heavy and coated after application, which is not surprising considering castor oil is the second ingredient after water in the formulation blurb. My hair can handle it, but judging from how heavy it is, I’m not sure it’s for fine-haired beauties, but I digress. I slather it on thick and make sure it is evenly distributed throughout my head, walk about for 15 minutes to make sure it is completely absorbed before heading to the Aegean sea for a long-anticipated swim.

Result?  I swim all morning, rinse my hair in fresh water afterwards before going about the serious business of being a tourist in the afternoon. When the evening rolls around, my hair does not feel like its been through the ringer like it usually does. Instead, it feels soft and pliable, like it’s just been conditioned, which makes sense, since the Swimcap actually contains a lot of the ingredients you’d find in a deep conditioner or a hair masque (the aforementioned castor oil, olive oil, glycerin, cetearyl alcohol and dimethicone among others).

But what gives me pause for thought is some of the other ingredients that have gone into the making of the product. The Swimcap contains parabens, which I have been successful at gradually  eliminating from my skin and hair regimen in the last six months or so. The product has not been modified in the least since it was debuted in the 29 years ago, presumably because it has become a cult classic among those in the know, but I find myself wondering why they just couldn’t make the product without the methylparaben and propylparaben based on what we now know about them?

Verdict: Definitely a product I’ll be investing in for beach holidays, or whenever I’d like to go for a swim back home in London. I would use it more regularly, though, if the product formulation was updated to exclude parabens.

Aubrey Organics Swimmer’s Normalizing Shampoo and Conditioner for Active Lifestyle

I loved this product combo. It had its work cut out for it: salty seawater AND chlorine-exposed hair, sun-stressed tresses that had been walked to the nearby village of Hersonissos and back during the hottest time of the day (so they were also sweaty) and remnants of a very oily product (see above) to boot.

I didn’t think it would cut the mustard.

In making the shampoo, Aubrey Organics substituted the very harsh and stripping surfactant Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and its  cousins (SLES, ALS, ALES) for the gentle decyl glucose. SLS goes to town on oil and dirt and would have luuuurved an opportunity to banish all the stuff that was currently holding a party on my head to hell, never to be seen or heard from again. I have, however, spend the majority of my life using shampoos and conditioners containing harsh surfactants, and experiencing hair that kept breaking after being stripped off of its precious little natural sebum so I wasnn’t about to invite any harsh surfactant to the party. But is the gentler shampoo just as effective at cleaning my hair?

It turns out it is. Granted I have to use a lot of it and shampoo twice before conditioning it with the Aubrey Organics Swimmer’s Normalizing Conditioner, but the product combo managed to remove the oil from the SwimCap and the salty sea water, restore my hair’s natural pH and replenish moisture lost in the course of the day. Best of all, it does this with an ingredients list that reads like a dream. Both shampoo and conditioner are made from organic, vegan  products such as rice extract (removes chlorine), shea butter and aloe leaf juice which deep condition and restore moisture balance, amino acid complex and horsetail which strengthen and protect hair fiber. Verdict? This one goes firmly into my staple products cabinet.

Kiehl’s Activated Sun Protector Ultra Light Sunscreen For Body and Face

I’ve been a faithful user of Kiehl’s Creme de la Corps since 2007 when I first got hold of the cult classic Creme de Corps body lotion, which leaves my skin smooth for daaaays. I am patiently awaiting the day when the lotion formula will be modified to exclude parabens though.

Kiehl’s Activated Sun Protector is a high-end sunscreen which like the Creme de la Corps does not come anywhere near being a natural/organic/botanical products, since it has quite a number of different chemical sunscreens present in the formula. It doesn’t claim to, either. But it is worth noting that there is no Titanium dioxide, a physical sunblock agent, no parabens, and also that it contains three antioxidants thought to provide protective effects against sun-related aging: Goji Berry (traditional Chinese medicine), Vitamin E, and Einkorn wheat (trivia: one of the earliest cultivated forms of wheat ~7500BC). A good start, in other words.

This sunscreen comes in a For Body and For Face version, as you can see from the sub title. Both are non-comedogenic and safe for sensitive skin. The formula is described as ultra lightweight, oil-free, and paraben free. Upon application, the sunscreen goes on comfortably, and has a light lotion-like feel compared to your average sunscreen. It does not leave any of that characteristic greasy shininess that you get from other cheaper brands, but it does have a slight white-film effect on those with darker skin tones. My significant other, who is a fair-skinned red-head who burns easily did not notice any of the white-film effect on his skin, and avoided getting sunburnt thanks to the SPF 50 in this sunscreen. Verdict? Loved it, especially because Kiehl’s has removed all of the silicones and parabens from this new sunscreen line, but nevertheless wary of all the chemicals/synthetics.

These products were sent to me for review by Phillip Kingsley, Aubrey Organics and Kiehl’s respectively. However, care has been taken to ensure all the opinions expressed in this review are entirely mine and not influenced by a third party.

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