Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense Sunscreen SPF 30

I started getting into skincare late last summer (I could no longer get away with I-just-washed-my-face routine) and since it has been a few months since, it's the harvest season (for skincare reviews)!

Through out many years of sunscreen-buying and wearing, I stuck with Japanese brands as they feel light on the face and not a nuisance to use. It only occurred to me last year, when I tried Josie Maran SPF 47 Moisturizer, that I might be allergic to chemical sunscreen. Basically, Josie Maran was the only one that I managed to use for more than 7 days in a row. Prior to that, any sunscreen would either give me teary eyes, terrible break out (La Roche Posay) or small red bumps (almost any other Japanese liquid, cream or gel) when I wear them for more than three days. Instead of slathering on SPF daily, I would only wear them when I am going out/when I decided that the protection is worth the bumps. During winter, I slack off from sunscreen altogether.

No wonder I tan so easily, "no matter how much sunscreen I used" (quoting my stupid ass self here). I was supposed to use it everyday!  Anyway, it feels like growing up in an unhealthy environment, you never realize it until you get out of it. Better now than later, right?
I picked up Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense SPF Sunscreen at Sephora after a very brief testing. I saw that it's an all-physical sunscreen and the pasty formula blended easily into the back of my hand, all without greasy shine or residue. If things work the same way on the face, as they do on my hand, it would make a less shiny alternative (to Josie Maran) that I could use daily.
 It is a Allure Best of Beauty Winner of 2015 (which is less and less relevant nowadays) and had a lot of good press online. Blogger praises usually means zilch to me when the product is provided for (I don't think I have ever wanted to run to the store to buy something after reading such review, no matter how "honest" and "unbiased" the blogger is). The customer reviews on Sephora and Paula Choice are very polarized so it doesn't seems to be a product for everyone.

Well, I certainly wasn't a convert. 
Hipster print on the inside. I wonder does it have gluten intolerance.
Ingredient: 20% Zinc Oxide, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Steareth-2, Ceteryl Alcohol, Steareth-21, Sea Water, Algae Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Haematococcus Pluvialis Algal (Astaxanthin) Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Sprout Extract, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice Extract, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Sclerocarya Birrea (Marula) Seed Oil, Acetyl Glucosamine, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Raspberry Seed Oil/Tocopheryl Succinate Aminopropanediol Esters, Tocopheryl Acetate, Tocopherol, Glycine, Sucrose, Lecithin, Silica, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Disodium EDTA, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Xanthan Gum, Propanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, Mica Carmine (CI 75470), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Water.

I put bold on ingredients that I don't get. Sea water, literal sea water (or 3.5% saline solution with sea salt)? Sourced from where and why? The Raspberry Seed Oil is claimed as one of the star ingredients that functions as natural sunscreen. Let's give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it actually works. Exactly how much does it help when it's listed after other emollients?
Now to the sunscreen - Drunk Elephant Umbra has a thicker lotion texture that isn't terribly viscous. As you can see in the picture, the Zinc Oxide powder is not finely milled at all (looking like a suspension instead of a well mixed solution): It balls up easily on the face when you rub it the wrong way (swirling is a no go, and watch what you have underneath) and it can be physically irritating as the chunky bit are have a scratchy feel on thinner/more delicate skin. The product doesn't have any added fragrance so it smells like what it's made with: Love, hard work and sweat, mostly sweat.

The first two times I used it on bare face, it hurt and gave me some itch and redness as the oil base gets absorbed, leaving the zinc oxide powder on top. I had it on for a few hours and as soon as I washed it off, my face let out a sigh of relief. Even with all the oil, I find it scratchy, drying and uncomfortable.

Since I don't have a habit of returning items, I put it aside and just used Josie Maran. When winter came, my skincare started to call for layers of lotions and thick cream. While the layers keep my skin happy and moisturized, it also made me look like a grease ball in the morning. The argan oil in Josie Maran (which itself isn't sufficient enough as moisturizer) made everything extra dewy and it takes half a day to fully dry up.

On my way to work, I often found my hair stuck to my face, looking like a catfish. I wasn't going to be a sunscreen slacker again  (I am determined to fade all those marks this time around) so I looked at my huge tube of Drunk Elephant, decided to give it a second chance.
This formula works quite well when my skin is in decent condition (not thinned out or flaky) and with a thick occlusive layer underneath.  As long as I take my time, spreading the sunscreen outward, it doesn't ball up and it leaves a satin finish, enough white cast to brighten my face a bit and it provides some coverage. 

I have read some reviews on Sephora saying the key to even finish is to use a size of pinkie tip, because that's "All you need" NOT...

"A little goes a long way" should never appear next to sunscreen (and contraception). Every morning, I use two big globs and hope for the best. Sometime it balls up, sometime it doesn't. Sometimes it's scratchy, sometime it's not. The drunk elephant has weird temperament indeed. 
 All blended on my wrist. The sheen is mostly from the Mica and it can leave face shimmery (by the end of day when everything else is absorbed).

I don't think Drunk Elephant Umbra is a well formulated product and it's certainly not for every skin type. The SPF is pretty low and even if the ingredients don't cause sensitivity, it can be physically irritating. I managed to use it for 10 straight days and felt that it's just something that can be dealt with, if you already spent money on it. 


  1. Awww...Japanese sunscreens give you red bumps? Did you use the waterproof formulas or those that don't require a cleansing oil to remove?

    1. To think of it, it wasn't Japanese sunscreen (they tend to be all chemical), I get red bumps with Shiseido, Sekkisei, anessa and biore (Those are more recent purchases) and American just give me stronger reaction so I stopped using them right away.

      I never use cleansing oil(I do use oil based cleansing balm with drunk elephant)so I am not sure but now I have one that I am not reating to, I am certainly not going back to test them...

  2. That stinks. :( BTW, Neutrogena just released a Zinc Oxide only sunscreen line called Sheer Zinc. I picked up the spf 50 face version and it has 21.6% ZnO with no oils.

    1. I don't mind some oil actually...I think I have tried a Neutrogena pure and free sunscreen many years ago it was one of the worst:White cast, drying and itchy as hell...Their chemical ones never not sting so now I am avoiding the brand altogether. But I will look up the reviews just for fun?

      Josie Maran works surprisingly well for me so I will stick to that for a while. I like it when it's not extremely cold or extremely hot.

    2. Oh yeah Pure and Free was the worst. This new formulation seems promising. I'm waiting on a hormonal breakout to clear up then I'll start testing it.

  3. I hate that about sunscreens, I can't stand when they don't rub in or when they nearly rub in they start to ball up. I also have the problem where they will make me very shiney, but my skin underneath will feel dry, itchy and irritated. The lo shine la roche posay one I tried never blended in. I've tried the Anessa gold one and it was really nice, but I could smell the alcohol in it and got too scared to use it on my face since I'm pretty sensitive. Works really nicely on my neck though. Hopefully one day we can all find that high spf that blends in well (even when you use a lot like you are supposed to) and isn't too sticky.

    1. I feel like for sunscreen it would be hard to find a perfect one (even harder if the person can't use chemical filter). I suppose it will be either greasy or drying in order for them to cling onto skin and stays on...

      I use Japanese ones for my neck and limbs so I wasn't wasting them but I won't want to use drunk elephant since it's so damn scratchy (skin on neck are more delicate too)...

      If it gets too humid this summer and everthing fails, I will start wearing beach hat everywhere.

  4. Bleh I hate sunscreen that balls up. Recently the sides of my cheeks have been dry so I've been experimenting with different sunscreens, no success so far

    1. I switched back to Josie Maran after the 10 days forced trial and my face hasn't been happier! I did start a new routine (barrier repair one) now I don't have flaky skin any more.


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