Sunless Tan Express Sculpting Mousse
Coola’s Sunless Tan Express Sculpting Mousse has a feather-light foam texture that’s exceptionally easy to apply all over your body for streak-free results. As great as that is, the formula has a few issues that keep it from earning our recommendation.
Coola claims Sunless Tan Express Sculpting Mousse features their highest dose of dihydroxyacetone (aka DHA, the most commonly used self-tanning ingredient) to “fast track” your tan within 2-3 hours. That’s not quite as revolutionary as it sounds (we’ve tested other self-tanners that work within this amount of time), and more to the point, we actually found it took between 6-8 hours for the self-tanner to fully develop into its peak level of faux glow.
As for the color itself, it starts out as a natural-looking, sun-kissed hue, but as it deepens, the undertone skews a tad more orangey. The fairer you are to start with, the more noticeable that will be.
What is unique about this formula is how the airy, whipped-mousse texture distributes evenly, preventing streaks so you get a smooth-looking tan. If you’ve experienced streaky self-tanner in the past, you can appreciate that this benefit is a big deal. It absorbs into skin quickly but leaves a somewhat tacky feel until it completely dries down (15 or so minutes later).
Coola added a “natural piña colada scent” in an attempt to mask the telltale self-tanner smell, but the overpowering self-tanner aroma still comes through as the formula interacts with the amino acids in the uppermost layers of your skin.
Unfortunately, the added fragrance isn’t great news for skin, nor is the concentrated amount of skin-irritating witch hazel water + bergamot oil, a known sensitizer when skin is exposed to sunlight. (See More Info for the detailed explanation on how irritating ingredients impair skin).
As for Coola’s claims that the caffeine in this formula sculpts, tones and tightens, that’s far-fetched, but we acknowledge that this self-tanner “helps hide imperfections” on a cosmetic level.
The bottom line: You can find better self-tanners here.
- Air-light foam distributes evenly for streak-free results.
- Easy to apply to the entire body quickly.
- Contains irritants including witch hazel water, fragrance and bergamot oil.
- Skews a tad orangey as the color deepens (especially on fair skin).
- Cannot “sculpt” skin as implied.
We cannot stress this enough: Sensitizing, harsh, and fragrant ingredients are bad for all skin types. Daily application of skin care products that contain these irritating ingredients is a major way we unwittingly do our skin a disservice!
Irritating ingredients are a problem because they can lead to visible problems, such as redness, rough skin, dull skin, dryness, increased oil production, and clogged pores, and they contribute to making signs of aging worse.
Switching to non-irritating, gentle skincare products can make all the difference in the world. Non-irritating products are those packed with beneficial ingredients that also replenish and soothe skin, without any volatile ingredients, such as those present in fragrance ingredients, whether natural or synthetic.
A surprising fact: Research has demonstrated that you do not need to see or feel the effects of irritants on your skin for your skin to be suffering, and visible damage may not become apparent for a long time. Don’t get lulled into thinking that if you don’t see or feel signs of irritation, everything is OK.
Generally, it’s best to eliminate, or minimize as much as possible, your exposure to ingredients that are known to irritate skin. There are many completely non-irritating products that contain effective ingredients, so there’s no reason to put your skin at risk with products that include ingredients research has shown can be a problem.
References for this information:
Journal of Dermatological Sciences, January 2015, pages 28–36
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, August 2014, pages 379–385
Clinical Dermatology, May-June 2012, pages 257–262
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, June 2008, pages 124–135
Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 2008, pages 446–475
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003, pages 789–798
The fast-track to a healthy, natural glow. Sculpt away lazy days and reveal your inner goddess.
Strengths: Products provide broad spectrum sun protection; opaque, air-tight packaging keeps air-sensitive ingredients stable; two especially great sunscreens.
Weaknesses: Majority of the products contain potential irritants and fragrance; misleading marketing claims about products not containing chemicals, but they do (every cosmetic ingredient is a chemical); sunscreen sprays are formulated with an alcohol base that can be damaging to skin; questionable SPF ratings on a few of the products; limited SPF options for those with dry skin.
The story of the Coola brand begins in 2004 when now-CEO Chris Birchby came up with the idea to create a simple sunscreen for surfers. As a former surf instructor who practically lived in the water, he understood the risks of sun damage. But those risks really hit home when both of his parents were diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, which mounting research has shown is largely due to unprotected sun exposure.
Birchby wanted his line to be sustainable, locally sourced, and organic. To some extent, his products do fit that bill, but not as much as the marketing makes it sound. There are plenty of synthetic ingredients in these products and the sustainable assertion doesn't have any standard of acceptability, so that's a loose claim at best.
Despite Birchbys surfer dude background, Coola brand sunscreens are not practical for surfers. The price tags are relatively high, especially if you are spending entire days outdoors at the beach or in the water. Given that you must apply sunscreen liberally and must repeat application after 40 to 80 minutes in the water, that's going to take a lot of sunscreen!
As a result, Coola is sold at spas and dermatology offices, as well as through various upscale websites. The line has expanded from traditional lotion sunscreen to include lip care, baby care, spray sunscreens, BB creams, and more.
One of the high notes of the Coola brand is that all of their products provide sufficient broad spectrum sun protection. Each formula also includes antioxidants and other skin-repairing or skin-soothing ingredients that benefit all skin types. The antioxidants provide added value when it comes to sun care because they help offset free-radical damage from UV rays.
Coola also did a great job on the packaging, offering opaque squeeze-tube or pump-style applicators that help keep the air- and light-sensitive ingredients (such as antioxidants) stable - no jars to be found here!
Coola also makes a big deal about their products NOT containing parabens and phthalates, but definitive research has shown that these ingredients are safe (click on their respective links for the full scoop); sadly, in some cases, fear sells better than facts.
They also call out that their products do NOT contain the somewhat controversial sunscreen active oxybenzone nor do their formulas contain nanoparticles, although those arent necessarily bad, either. Its always a sad day for us when we see yet another brand jumping on the bandwagon of maligning ingredients that research has shown arent the risk theyre making them out to be. It gives consumers the wrong idea of whats safe and whats not when theres rarely cause for concern.
What you should be concerned about are the volatile, fragrant, plant ingredients that Coola includes in many of their formulas, because these have the potential to irritate skin. Although this isnt the case with all Coola products, its a pretty common occurrence. An even larger concern is that several products contain alcohol, which, while organic, is irritating to skin when present in high amounts, and potentially more so when its combined with synthetic active sunscreen ingredients.
Another marketing platform for the Coola brand is their use of organic ingredients. First, we hate it when companies fib about their products containing no chemicals because these products are not zero chemicals. We explain more about this in the individual reviews.
Moreover, there is no substantiated research showing that organic ingredients are superior to non-organic or synthetic ingredients. Plus, there are no FDA-approved standards for labeling cosmetics products as organic or not; nor is there an agreed-on definition from the cosmetics industry itself. Get the full scoop here. And perhaps most telling that this is merely a marketing issue for Coola is that they don't really seem to think non-organic and/or synthetic ingredients are a problem, after all, they're present in almost all of their products!
As for the products themselves, there are a couple real standouts, such as Face SPF 30 Cucumber Matte Finish and Face SPF 30 Unscented Matte Tint Natural BB Cream. The rest range from questionable to problematic, mostly due to their potential to irritate skin, although in some cases that potential is small, which we point out in the reviews.
We really do appreciate the idea behind the brand, but until they drop the irritating ingredients we cant recommend the bulk of this line.
You can find Coola products throughout North America at spas, dermatology offices, Ulta, and Nordstrom, as well as on numerous websites. For more information about Coola, call 760.940.2125 or visit www.coolasuncare.com.
About the Experts
The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.
Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.