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The Only Skin-Care Products You Need on Vacation

Photo: Rio Viera-Newton

You may have noticed some posts from our friends at the Strategist on the Cut. They’ll be dropping in every now and again, sharing their expertise on the basics you don’t have time to research and the weird and wonderful things you don’t yet know you need.

It’s that time of year when everyone is trying to escape New York — where we’re currently stuck in a forever winter — for greener or sandier pastures; I’ve gotten three OoO messages today alone. Because of that, or because summer is, in theory, on its way, friends and readers are now constantly asking me about sunny-weather skin care. Specifically: When you’re on vacation or spending long days in the sun, how do you integrate sunscreen into your routine without breaking out?

My answer is simple: Despite my fierce allegiance to the ten-step K-beauty system, when you’re on vacation or just know you’ll be spending a drastic amount of time outside, it’s best to minimize your routine and just let your sunscreen do its thing. For those of you who, like me, are acne-prone, I understand that selecting a sunscreen can be scary enough as it is. Subtracting your serums and masks and allowing sunscreen to dominate your routine may seem a step too far. But listen, if I can ditch a couple of my acne-fighting products and rely on a sunscreen for a week, so can you.

In my quest to locate the perfect sunscreen for my complexion, I made a point to avoid ingredients like oxybenzone, a reaction-causing chemical often found in sunscreens, and any kind of fragrances. With those parameters, I’ve found a collection I trust.

So, below, a couple of my MVP sunscreens, plus the other products I use in my chopped-in-half vacation routine.


I’m the kind of person who, no matter how many hats I wear and how often I reapply sunscreen, always manages to get sunburnt. For the past few months I’ve been actively looking for a product that has UV protective properties and won’t break me out. This sunscreen is $34, which means I didn’t particularly want to buy it. But I’ve always liked Drunk Elephant products and was intrigued by this sunscreen’s high content of zinc oxide, which protects the skin from UV rays and has healing properties. I tried it out on a day I knew I’d be in the beaming sun for hours, and immediately knew it was special. My skin, which hadn’t seen sun in months, was not burnt anywhere, and I didn’t get a single blemish after using it. I used it daily for a week and didn’t break out once. It’s also packed with marula oil and antioxidants that give your skin a nice, healthy glow. I’ve read a lot of reviews of this product, and people seem to either love it or hate it (the people who hate it complain that it’s too shimmery). Personally, I can’t get enough of it.

Another great sunscreen that I’ve written about before is the Cosrx Aloe Sunscreen. Not only is aloe vera an anti-inflammatory and anti-redness wonder ingredient, Cosrx’s entire philosophy is to create affordable products for the acne-prone. With SPF 50, this sunscreen will ensure that your skin is as protected as it possibly can be.

This Neutrogena sunscreen is completely neutral. It doesn’t have any blemish-fighting properties, but I promise it won’t break you out. Put simply: it’s a great, safe product to try if you’re wary of sunscreens.

Products that pair well with sunscreen

Cosrx Snail Mucin

This is the only active product I keep in my routine when I’m on holiday. I find it does a perfect amount of gentle blemish-busting and skin repair while also ensuring that my skin stays hydrated after long days of sun exposure. I pat this into my skin after washing with the Cetaphil gentle cleanser.

This product is beloved by many and was highly recommended to me recently by makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes. It’s incredibly nourishing, healing, and hydrating for skin in general, but when it comes to sunburns, this is next level. On my recent vacation, as one does, I accidentally forgot to reapply sunscreen on the bridge of my nose, which resulted in a catastrophic strip of badly burnt skin. I smothered my nose in Skin Food, went to bed, and the next day, it really wasn’t that bad.

When I’m out in the sun for extended periods of time or swimming, my lips essentially shrivel up into raisins. I like to use Aquaphor for quick, light, effective relief. I also love that I can apply it to other parts of my face that need some TLC. Plus, it’s supposed to stimulate hair growth, so I like putting it on my eyebrows as well.

If you want to bring a trusty sheet mask with you on a trip, my beloved My Beauty Diary Aloe Vera mask is a great complimentary product to give extra nourishment and glow while also reducing any irritation or redness. It’s a great 15-minute post-sun treatment, if you want to go the extra mile.

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The Only Skin-Care Products You Need on Vacation