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July 1, 2010

SCAPE Sunblock Review

Today’s review starts with a confession: I almost never wear sunblock.

I know that violates a cardinal sin of outdoor athletes – not to mention dermatologists – but it’s always seemed like more hassle than it’s worth. I also benefit from having a relatively dark complexion (my Italian mother is beaming with pride right now) that makes me slightly less susceptible to sunburn during long days outdoors. I know that my genetic good fortune doesn’t protect me from risk of skin cancer, but that’s one of those medical dice rolls I feel comfortable making, at least for the time being.

On the other hand, in a classic example of “Do as I say and not as I do” parenting, I make my kids wear sunblock whenever they’re at the pool, beach, or long outdoor activities. So when I received an offer to test some new sunblock products, I knew exactly who my guinea pigs would be.

SCAPE – it stands for Skin Cancer Awareness Protection & Education – was developed by Dr. Nic Martens, a biochemistry PhD and accomplished endurance athlete who also happens to be one of the inventors of Neutrogena’s well-respected skin care products. This particular product line is a collaboration between Martens and Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander, and has been field tested by professional triathletes, surfers, runners, cyclists, and winter sports athletes at various stages of development prior to its launch in April 2010.

I’m not much of a biochemistry expert, but SCAPE claims to have an innovative polymer technology in their products that makes them unique in comparison to your everyday drug store sunblock. More specifically, SCAPE is reportedly five times more waterproof than any other product on the market, but still allows the skin to breathe for temperature regulation. It has an SPF of 50 with the highest UVA protection available, and is enriched with vitamin E and antioxidants to protect and nourish your skin. Best of all, it won’t clog your pores or rub off into your eyes.

Sounds pretty impressive, huh? You can see why I was so eager to try it – on my kids, that is.

I received three different products for testing: sunblock lotion, lip balm, and face stick. The sunblock has almost no aroma to it, and feels a bit less greasy to the touch than our usual Coppertone or Banana Boat stuff. Its water resistance seems pretty strong, but my kids did get a little bit pink after a long pool party recently, so I’d still recommend reapplying after a few hours of use.

SCAPE lip balm also has SPF 50, and has a pretty neutral scent and taste – not the overwhelming menthols or fruit tastes that most other brands force upon you. The only problem is that at the rate my girls go through lip balm, this could become a pretty expensive habit for them to pick up. But if you’re a grown up and can use it judiciously, it’s a very solid option.

I was probably most impressed by the face stick, primarily for it’s convenience of use. Normally when I apply sunscreen to the kids, I tell them to close and scrunch their eyes while I rub lotion from my palm onto all the little curves and bumps of their faces. The sun stick has a deodorant-style container, and glides smoothly (it reminds me a lot of BodyGlide, in fact) on the skin, giving the same UVA protection and SPF as the other products in this line.

Based on my lab sample of three kids, I’d say that each of these products is a strong option for outdoor athletes, with the lone caveat that the advertised water resistance doesn’t prevent you from having to reapply from time to time. They're a little more expensive than your average sunblock, but if you're smarter enough than me to take skin care seriously, they're definitely worth a try.

Aside from that, the hardest thing about using SCAPE might be finding it to purchase, as availability is still somewhat limited. The products are sold in a handful of specialty running and cycling shops, and the best online outlet is TriSports.com, where the 4-oz sunblock retails for $14.99, the lip balm for $3.50, and the face stick for $11.99.

*product provided by SCAPElabs
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at


Andrew 7/1/10, 6:22 AM  

I fear ( please correct me if I am wrong) that SCAPE uses Oxybenzone in their blocks, which several sources suggests is one of the worst chemicals, especially for children!

"After reviewing the evidence, EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices. They are stable in sunlight and do not appear to penetrate the skin. They offer UVA protection, which is sorely lacking in most of today’s sunscreen products. Mexoryl SX (ecamsule) is another good option, but it’s sold in very few formulations. Tinosorb S and M could be great solutions but are not yet available in the U.S. For consumers who don’t like mineral products, we recommend sunscreens with avobenzone (3 percent for the best UVA protection) and without the notorious hormone disruptors oxybenzone or 4-MBC. Scientists have called for parents to avoid using oxybenzone on children due to penetration and toxicity concerns"


wirehairedrunner 7/1/10, 7:23 AM  

Thanks for another great review. Like Andrew, I fear the ingredients of this product and many sunscreen products. Perhaps the main ingredients good be mentioned in future reviews, if you have space. Admittedly, I don't wear sunscreen either (and also have some darker skinned Italianish genes). For now I will stick to getting my daily dose of Vitamin D from the high desert sun, even if I do look a bit leathery.
-Kim, Boise ID

Donald 7/1/10, 7:47 AM  

Andrew: you're correct - SCAPE has an active ingredient of 6% oxybenzone. I'm not sure how this compares to other brands. I take it from your link that you're opposed to any kind of sunscreen?

It's an interesting conversation for sure. As I said, I'm not an expert on the biochemistry of one ingredient compared to another, but I've asked the SCAPE rep to comment here; maybe she can better address your concerns.

Tuck 7/1/10, 8:35 AM  

Lack of sun exposure in children is one of the biggest public health problems in the country.

"Although precautions do need to be taken, regular, moderate amounts of unprotected sun exposure is absolutely necessary for good health. Independent scientific research has shown that whether you live in a sunny or not-so-sunny climate, but expose yourself to sun, then your increased production of vitamin D due to UVB radiation will help lower risk of a host of debilitating and fatal diseases including colon, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and depression."


The UV Advantage site is run by the leading researcher on vitamin D. His credentials and his research are all on the site.

Danielle in Iowa in Seattle 7/1/10, 10:00 AM  

So is there any good reason why the lip balm is better than any other lip balm with sunscreen? It's not outrageously priced, but if it is so hard to get, is it worth the extra effort to find?

SCAPE Athlete 7/1/10, 1:56 PM  

If you have any further questions about our products, Dr. Nic Martens, your local retailer or anything else feel free to contact us via our website and you can also sign up for our monthly newsletter at http://www.scapelabs.com.

Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter for chances to win free SCAPE products!

mweston 7/1/10, 4:22 PM  

Having to reapply every few hours doesn't sound very compatible with endurance sports, if there is a clock running.

A couple years ago I did some research and settled on Elta Block (SPF 30). The ingredients are Octyl Methoxycinnamate (7.5 %), Octyl Sallicylate (5.0 %), and Zinc Oxide (4.5 %), though it's been too long since I did the research so I can't recall why I thought this was good. In any case, it usually seems to last all day (sweating, not swimming) for me. I use it any time I'll be out for more than a couple of hours (or even shorter if the sun is especially intense).

My Life and Running 7/1/10, 7:19 PM  

Disappointed to hear it contains oxybenzone. Being fair skinned I have to wear sunscreen always. I've been looking for a tri-d & approved sport screen that the EWG approves of. Please let me know if you find one!

Donald 7/1/10, 8:06 PM  

Hi All -

The SCAPE rep sent me this e-mail which she said is directly from Dr Martens, and asked me to post:

"From a scientific perspective Oxybenzone is a safe and very effective active ingredient. It has been used over decades across the world without any known side effects.

Unless you eat sunscreen (it actually tastes really bad!) the amount of Oxybenzone potentially absorbed is not harmful. The benefit you get however is very clear - less risk of skin cancer.

Let me know if you have any further questions."

I'll continue to forward follow-up questions and comments to the rep. Thanks for all of your input!

Donald 7/2/10, 10:42 AM  

One more item of interest from Dr Martens:

EWG Sunscreen Report Misleading

Andrew 7/3/10, 4:35 AM  

A fair conversation and thanks for hosting it. However, I read the HuffingtonPost article and their take on the EWG is a little different than mine. If I recall correctly, they don't dismiss all man-made chemicals as bad. I thought they made a point of saying that some of them were more acceptable than others. It just happens that 1 of the 4 chemicals that SCAPE has chosen is on their unfavorable list.

Andrew 7/3/10, 4:46 AM  

Here is the problem I have with the HuffingtonPost article. Look at my first quote here, where the EWG does recommend one chemical over another, and then read the HuffPo article that says:
"I think it's very sad," Draelos says. "A lot of their sunscreen recommendations are based on very old technology, and some of the best sunscreens on the market have newer chemicals that are much more effective. A lot of their opinions are not keeping pace with technology and an understanding of the science of these formulations. The nuances of sunscreens are very important."

You also have to consider the source. The EWG is a research and advocacy group that tries to change public policy and industry standards, largely through consumer-friendly tools and databases similar to the sunscreen report. The EWG's critics, largely members of industry, have argued that they often over-exaggerate data to promote its political agenda, which it does explicitly through a separate lobbying group.

The bottom line is they don't like man-made chemicals and would never recommend a product containing a chemical with "unknown" health effects. That's why you won't find sunscreens containing anything other than zinc and titanium, from brands such as Badger, California Baby, and Loving Naturals, on its list. Among its most hated: oxybenzone, an ingredient common to many sunscreens that in some studies has been linked to cancer. But there's no consensus on that."

A couple of points...
1. They in fact do recommend Avobenzone over Oxybenzone.
2. The article accuses EWG of missing the nuance of sunscreen in an article that uses overly broad generlaizations to dismiss their findings (if not even getting them wrong)
3. The quoted doctor in the article is on the advisory board of a company that makes skin products, some of which contain this chemical.

I don't know the "right" answer, but when people make broad accusations about the EWG motivations but then are on the advisory board of a skin care company it seems disingenuous.

carmen 7/14/10, 8:27 AM  

check this out before u start slathering stuff on ur babies... or urself for that matter, tho i tend to make pragmatic compromises for myself when necessary...
well written independent analysis of the toxins and alternatives in sunscreens... basically, if its not toxic, its probably going to require some effort to be effective and probably wont be sport/waterproof. however, i personally am of the opinion that the rise in skin cancer is just as likely (more so) due to the chemicals/makeup we put on our skin to prevent sunburn, tanning, and bug bites... just a thot to consider...

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