Vacation Sunscreen Review: Is This the World's Best-Smelling Sunscreen?

I vividly remember glancing over at my kids' faces one pool day, just as my wife called them over to get sunscreen applied. One scrunched their face, and the other let out an audible groan. I nodded to them in solidarity at the chore. It doesn't matter whether it's in spray-on or in lotion form, putting on sunscreen usually isn't enjoyable.

Sunscreen is a prime product to be upgraded. Smell? That's one way to improve it and that has the potential to impact whether people are eager to apply it or not. Vacation is a new classic sunscreen lotion with that exact goal. It even goes to the extreme of calling itself "The World's Best Smelling Sunscreen."

Vacation Sunscreen
The smell of Vacation includes classic sunscreen notes such as coconut and banana. TYLER HAYES

It's a seriously bold claim. So much so that I enlisted the help of friends and family to offer their noses in service, beyond my own. I was curious: Would we all like the scent of Vacation, and if so, would we agree it's the best-smelling sunscreen we've ever encountered?

The Vacation Smell

Vacation's slogan creates a heavy amount of hype in anticipation of its first whiff. Upon its arrival, I was anxious to inhale what the sunscreen had to offer. I squeezed a small amount of the lotion onto my finger and leaned in. The smell isn't particularly exotic or even unique. It is nostalgic, though. The creamy substance immediately elicits mental images of blue skies, sandy feet and exhausting days in the sun.

Initially, I interpreted Vacation's claim to "The World's Best Smelling Sunscreen" as its having the world's best smell as a sunscreen lotion. I now take that slogan to mean that it has refined the traditional sunscreen smell to its best possible scent.

Marty Bell, founder of Poolside FM and creative partner at Vacation by Poolside FM, says the lotion smells like 1986 to him. To help bring this product to life, he teamed up with perfumers Carlos Huber and Rodrigo Flores-Roux to develop the smell of the lotion.

"We sampled countless things that surround the memories of being poolside in summer and continued to tweak the notes until it was just right," said Bell. "We knew we had to tap into the familiar, while bringing it into the 21st century—it's that sunscreen smell you loved as a kid, but with a new sophistication. We set out to bottle the true essence of summer."

Vacation Sunscreen
Vacation's smell was developed by perfumers Carlos Huber and Rodrigo Flores-Roux. TYLER HAYES

In a sense, Vacation has taken the definitive smell of sunscreen and modernized it. This new attempt is clean, minimal and refreshing. Its coconut aroma is fairly obvious without being overpowering. It has a classic, return-to-the-past smell that lives in this lotion tube. If you have any sense of connection to the sunscreens of years gone by, I do think you'll enjoy Vacation's scent.

Outside Help

I was curious what other people thought of the smell, so I brought in some outside help. I sought out a dozen or so friends and family to give the sunscreen a try. I didn't tell them much ahead of time—I only asked for their thoughts on the scent.

Most people gave the smell an approving nod on a first sniff. No one particularly gushed over the scent, but no one said they didn't like it, either. Most people commented on its hint of coconut, with one person saying it was OK, despite not really liking the general smell of coconut. Those who rubbed it on liked its texture and overall feel. With smell often being very personal and potentially divisive, it seems like a good sign for Vacation that I couldn't find any haters.

Sunscreen Protection

Growing up and living in San Diego, I learned pretty quickly how necessary using sunscreen is. Either in lotion or spray form, regularly using sunblock is part of being able to enjoy the warm and sunny climate year round.

In trying to put Vacation through its paces, I took one for the team and worked from a community pool on and off for a week. I applied Vacation sunscreen lotion to one part of my arm, another brand next to it and nothing next to that. In this unscientific, anecdotal test, I was looking to see whether there was any noticeable difference between these areas after my time in the sun. I was also interested in whether Vacation felt different in some way on application or after basking in the rays.

Vacation Sunscreen
This is the look of Vacation before rubbing it in on my arm. TYLER HAYES

While I'm not a doctor, Vacation did work with Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a board-certified dermatologist and a vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, to create its sunscreen. The lotion is broad spectrum SPF 30 and water-resistant up to 80 minutes. It includes coconut oil, banana extract, aloe vera, niacinamide and vitamin E. It also claims to rub in fast and be streak-free on all skin tones.

That was true for me when I rubbed it on. It didn't leave hints that it had been applied. It felt more like a soft lotion than a thick cream. Its smell really comes alive while rubbing it on, too. It's also not overly loud with its scent, which fades away quickly, leaving only lingering hints of its presence after a moment.

After hours in the sun, I didn't notice much difference between the sections of my arm, other than the non-Vacation brand still had a faded white hue where I had rubbed it in. Later on in the day, back home and out of the sun, I could see the skin where Vacation had been applied was slightly less dark than the area where no sunscreen had been applied. Vacation had blocked at least some of the sun's impact. The results were visible by eye but weren't stark enough to be captured by a camera.

In the end, it's hard for me to objectively say Vacation works better or worse than any other sunscreen lotion. (Again, I'm not a doctor.) I never burned the times I used Vacation. It also didn't make my skin oily or streaky white.

Vacation Sunscreen
The lotion is soft and rubs in smoothly while not leaving any white streaks. TYLER HAYES

If Vacation performs as well as most other sunscreens, is it still worth indulging in? Ask yourself: Are you someone who might light a candle to bolster a feeling or curate a playlist to catch a vibe? I see Vacation as a leisure-enhancing equivalent. If you're that person, then find a place where you can relax, rub it on and sink into the moment.

Should You Buy Vacation Sunscreen?

Is Vacation the best-smelling lotion? Probably not. Is it the best smelling sunscreen scent? Possibly. There's a small distinction there, and as long as you don't get hung up on it, you shouldn't be disappointed.

In terms of the overall product, it delivers on its promise of being "leisure enhancing," if you let it. The look, the scent and the feel are all updated, modern takes on a sun-filled, carefree pool or beach day from the '80s. Everything here is on point. Really, Vacation created a time machine and disguised it as a bottle of sunscreen lotion.

Buy at Vacation.Inc.

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