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EXCLUSIVE: Winnie Harlow Launches Cay Skin

The beauty brand is available via direct-to-consumer and will soon launch at Sephora.

Winnie Harlow has launched Cay Skin.

The beauty brand — two-and-a-half years in the making — is focused on skin care, specifically sunscreen.

“I’ve tried it all,” Harlow, 27, said of the product category. “I have worn sunscreen my whole life, especially having vitiligo and being from the Caribbean. My parents have always slathered sunscreen on me, you know, so it was something that was really dear to me and true to me.”

The Canadian model, born Chantelle Brown-Young in Toronto, was four years old when was diagnosed with vitiligo (when pigment-making cells stop producing melanin, which creates a loss of skin, hair or eye color). Harlow, who first appeared as a contestant on Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model” in 2014, has become a prominent figure in fashion and embodies a new standard of beauty in the industry.

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With Cay Skin, named after the islands as a nod to her roots in Jamaica (where she spent her summers), she aims to share products “for everyone under the sun,” as the tag line reads. Her “aha moment” for creating the brand, she said, came after an experience during a beach photoshoot in the Bahamas in 2018.

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“It was from sun up to sundown for two days straight,” Harlow explained. “And I’m Caribbean, but that Bahama sun is different, like blazing hot, and I did not realize that. I got onto set, and I had applied sunscreen before I even left because sunscreen has always been such a big thing for me. But when I got there…no one wanted me on set to reapply sunscreen because the more I would put it on, I’d be purple. I’d be blue. I’d be silver. It was not a good look for the photo shoot. And so I complied.”

The same transpired the next day, and when she got back to her hotel room on Day Two, she had a severe burn.

“I was so red, so swollen and in so much pain,” she went on. “They had to call doctors to come to my hotel to give me injections for inflammation, for pain. It was really, really bad. And after that day, my vitiligo started to become more patchy. It used to be perfect circles of white and the line of the brown and the white on my skin just flowed. And then the brown started patching on the white and the white started patching in the brown.…It was really bad sun damage.”

For launch, she unveils four products — with sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white or colorful cast: a $34 mineral face lotion with SPF 55; a $32 “glow” face lotion with SPF 45; a $32 body oil with SPF 30, and a $14 lip balm with SPF 30. Out Tuesday via direct-to-consumer, the brand will also be available online at exclusive retail partner Sephora on March 22, followed by 251 Sephora stores on April 1.

Products — formulated with ingredients that include sea moss and nectar, as well as actives like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid — meet Sephora’s “clean” standard, are reef-safe, vegan, cruelty-free, non-comedogenic and dermatologist tested.

Cay Skin
Cay Skin launches with four products. Courtesy of Cay Skin

“It’s sticky, makes you gray, especially if you have a darker skin tone,” Harlow said of the average, widely available sunscreen. “It looks horrible on our skin. I just saw this gap in the market.”

Cay Skin is a partnership with Kim Perell, chief executive officer and founder of 100.co, an AI-powered brand incubator.

“She’s family now,” Harlow said. “She’s such a boss. She’s someone I really look up to.”

The two have tapped Cassandra Devor as CEO (previously the senior vice president of marketing at Charlotte Tilbury).

With the sunscreen market evolving to include more variety and brands offering protection without a white cast, what makes Cay Skin stand out?

“I think you’ll see that Cay Skin will disrupt sun care from a packaging standpoint, from a look and feel, from our campaign imagery, from the ingredients that are in the products and from the way we went about creating formulas that are for everyone under the sun,” Devor said. “Our mineral formula has a universal antioxidant tint that’s yellow, and we found that that yellow was really the best way to blend in seamlessly and invisibly on all skin tones. It’s plant-based, provides extra protection against environment stressors but also helped the product to blend in seamlessly. So, we went about creating a mineral formula in a way that nobody else has.”