There's no shortage of launches in the celebrity beauty category. Nowadays, it feels like anyone can launch a beauty line just because, especially with the money and resources available to most Hollywood stars. When endorsing a product and selling it to the masses is easier than ever, it's even more challenging for consumers, and for us, to sift through the clutter. However, the doubt doesn't apply to Winnie Harlow's newest venture. The supermodel has added beauty entrepreneur to her resume with her new skincare brand, Cay Skin, launching in April at Sephora.
The morning I met her, Harlow strutted out of Soho's dreamy, earth-toned Blank Studio. Naturally, it matched her beachy Cay Skin vibe. We discussed the brand, a project she's been quietly working on for the past few years. As a first-generation West-Indian American myself, I was excited when I caught wind of Cay Skin's launch. Harlow is vocal and proud of her Jamaican heritage, which I love, and—from one island girl to another—I was instantly intrigued.
The idea behind Cay Skin was inspired by an unfortunate moment during a shoot in the Bahamas. "It happened in 2018," she says. "I was shooting in the Bahamas sun for two days, and no one [on set] wanted me to reapply sunscreen because the ones we had left a blue or purple cast." Harlow sacrificed her skin and ditched sunscreen altogether during the shoot, and quickly suffered the consequences. "When I finished the two-day project, I got back to my hotel and my skin was so red and tight," she said. "Doctors had to come to the hotel room and give me injections for pain and inflammation. It was a traumatic experience."
The incident disappointed Harlow, but she was determined to create her own line to yield better results. "It's so important to protect your skin, and there should be products that work for everyone," she says. "That's really how the idea for Cay Skin came to life."
While dermatologists and medical experts have heavily emphasized the importance of protecting your skin from the sun, it's something Harlow has paid attention to for most of her life. "I would be visiting my dad for the holidays in Jamaica and he would always rub sunscreen into my skin with his rough hands," she says. "Not only was it a bad experience because of his mechanic hands, but I always had a purple cast. It made me not want to go outside a lot of the time. But that's just what we had to work with." Nevertheless, Harlow had a love for beauty from a young age, as she'd watch her mom sell Mary Kay and Avon products. "I always had a plethora of skincare products to choose from and I've always worn sunscreen even with limited options. This felt like a natural step for me," she says.
Still, as a person with sensitive skin and vitiligo (an autoimmune disorder and skin condition), Harlow knew sun protection wasn't something she should compromise after her 2018 mishap. "There's a notion that Black people are protected from the sun and that we don't need sunscreen," Harlow says. "That's a myth I want to squash."
While developing Cay Skin, Harlow knew she wanted to create enjoyable sun care products. The Cay Skin team landed on four products in its hero lineup. The Isle Body Oil SPF 30 is a hydrating sun-shielding oil that gives your skin a nice glow—it's ideal for beach days but suitable for any exposed skin on your body. Cay Skin's Universal Mineral Face Lotion is a daily hydrating formula that won't leave you pasty or sticky. Isle Glow Face Lotion is a personal favorite of mine, as it hydrates, protects, and highlights your skin in one swoop. I've been testing Isle Glow for a few weeks now and love using it to prep my face before light makeup. Isle Lip Balm, a clear formula with SPF 30 that smells like fresh coconut water, rounds out the collection. "It was hard finding SPF for the lips that wasn't drying," Harlow explains. "I wanted something that felt good on your lips that you'd actually want to use."
The thoughtfulness embedded in Cay Skin's brand DNA and product formulation is also present in its packaging. It features tan and cream colors, a personal nod to Harlow's skin, and people on all ends of the complexion spectrum. "I wanted to make sure everyone feels seen and represented," she says.
Cay Skin's formulations are infused with hydrating nectars, sea moss, and aloe vera—ingredients all representative of Harlow's Caribbean culture. "My mom would cut aloe vera and rub it onto my mosquito bites and sunburns when I was young," she says. "Incorporating those ingredients that aren't only true to me but beneficial to skin was crucial."
Sea moss or Irish moss (chondrus crispus extract) is a red seaweed that is found in deep water. It acts as a hydrator and antioxidant in skincare.
Most importantly, Harlow wants sun care to be a relevant part of the self-care conversation. "I thought about everyone—men, women, parents, and kids—while creating Cay," she says. "Many women, especially mothers, will forget to take care of themselves. A mom will run around to slather sunscreen on their kid but skip it for themselves. I want sun care to be an enjoyable moment you can have for yourself and share with people you love." After all, caring for your skin is a major part of showing it love and it's a mission we can all get behind.