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Coats of Many Colors : Vibrant Zinc Oxide Is Turning Heads as the Winter's Hottest--and Most Unlikely--Trend

December 14, 1986|PADDY CALISTRO

There was a time when a red nose on the ski slopes was something of a status symbol, proof that a schusser was ser about the sport. Then skiers realized that the pain and potential danger of sunburn weren't worth it. So they began smearing on the zinc oxide, the way lifeguards do. But spending a winter weekend with a snow-white nose was not every skier's cup of cocoa--even though everyone needs a defense against ultraviolet rays.

Today there's a choice. Zinc oxide creams in lavender, light blue, even turquoise, have made sun protection chic. Colored zinc oxide even hit the fashion big time when a cover of Elle magazine showed a sun-streaked beauty in a yellow bathing suit with matching yellow zinc oxide coating her nose and under her eyes.

Zinc oxide works because it is a complete sun block--no light gets through it. And it rarely needs to be reapplied. Unlike many tanning products, zinc oxide, a pharmaceutical ointment also used on rashes and burns, is water- and wind-resistant. However, it's far from invisible. Two young California skiers, Mike Rodgers and Tony Casella, went through tubes of the white stuff each winter before they got the idea to add non-staining colors and moisturizers to it. They call their creation Zinka. Two other products, Australia's Le Zink and Ozzie Bloc, also are on the market. Once only available in sporting-goods stores, surf and ski shops, colored zinc oxide now is cropping up in large drug and department stores.

Last winter, only a few colorful noses--mostly neon pinks and blues--dotted the slopes. Then the surfers discovered the stuff, and by summer it had become one of the rad fads on the beach.

Yellow noses with white or black zinc oxide-coated lips are now seen on the East and West coasts. Some surfers give themselves a cleft with a single vertical line of color on the chin. Beach bunnies stripe not only their faces, but also their clavicles, breasts and derrieres. In Europe, women and men in thigh- and fanny-baring bikinis make "sun tattoos" by drawing patterns or writing messages in zinc oxide before sunbathing. When the cream is washed off, the tanned-in graffiti remains.

But in winter, creativity with zinc oxide cream is limited to the face. The prediction for this year's look on the lifts? Pastel shades. Some skiers say that the change from bright to light is a result of a ski-patrol decision to nix the neon among its rescuers last season, because the sight of a multicolored patroller's face might be a shock to a downed skier.

This year's ski face may be more like a clown's--a trendy clown, that is--with humor at the nose and mouth. White lips are likely to prevail, perhaps dotted with lavender or a softened magenta. If the nose goes back to classic white as well, chances are it will be striped with yellow or accented with green. Cheekbones highlighted with blue may be ringed with white. Chins may be clefted with mauve.

Of course, colored zinc oxide is not for everyone. It's still mostly seen on junior high- and high school-age skiers. But last season, TV personality David Hartman was spotted on the slopes of Utah's Alta wiping traces of neon yellow off his nose. And now ski shops are displaying $5 tubes of Zinka next to the season's most expensive ski equipment, hoping to attract more mature skiers, too. Zinka spokeswoman Deidre Willette says that negotiations have just been completed for a licensing agreement between Coppertone and Zinka to mass-market colored zinc oxide. Since this unlikely trend adds such a spirited lift to sportif faces, it could be just a matter of time till it moves from the slopes to street wear.

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