How a $10 bottle of body lotion inspired a cult of loyal fans

Summer in a bottle.
Summer in a bottle.
Image: AP Photo/Ahmed Azakir
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I can’t remember the first time I used Skin Trip body lotion, but I do remember when I recognized it was more than just a moisturizer. It was summer, bottled. It was an easy kind of sexy. It was simply good, and utterly un-fancy.

I was in the bathroom of a friend-of-a-friend called Kate, on a college road trip with a girlfriend, following a band around southern California. (This makes it sound like it was the 1970s—but while I did my best to dress that way, it was actually the 2000s.)

We were crashing in Long Beach with Kate, a wavy-haired blonde who was a couple years older, living with her boyfriend, and impressed me with her ability to lend us clean towels. There, in her bathroom, was this lotion.

Skin Trip.
Skin Trip.
Image: Mountain Ocean

A simple, cylindrical, clear plastic bottle, labeled with a white sticker and a logo that appeared to be hand-drawn, in lettering that recalled a surf shop: Mountain Ocean SKIN TRIP, it read, with the word “coconut” sandwiched in the middle. It came from Boulder, Colorado, and bordering the label were mountains and flowers that would have looked at home on a Grateful Dead sticker.

The lotion inside the bottle was exactly the same as it is today. Milky white and pleasantly runny, it slides easily onto one’s skin, and absorbs within seconds. Its aroma is unmistakably coconut, as promised, but packs nothing near the wallop of Hawaiian Tropic—which has its charms, to be sure, but has no place in an office or city. Not so with Skin Trip. One has to be close—like, nose-on-your-skin-close—to smell it. A generous 8-fluid-ounce bottle costs around 10 bucks, depending on where you get it.

When I lived in California and spent most of the year in the sun, Skin Trip was my go-to body lotion. I’m not sure what happened when I moved to New York. Maybe its subtle coconut scent just seemed out of place when frigid winter fell. I may have embraced more buttery body creams to stave off radiators’ dehydrating heat. Maybe it made me miss California too much. But like an album once played on repeat that fades from memory, Skin Trip just fell out of my routine.

Then, years later, in my South Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood, I wandered into The Grand Street Bakery, a dimly lit, cavernous shop filled with vintage Levi’s, thermal undershirts, floral dresses, and concert tees. There on a table, along with some candles and Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap, was that old familiar bottle: Skin Trip.

I think I may have exclaimed its name out loud, as if I’d run into an old friend.

Back home, the lotion slathered as easily as ever onto my skin and made me feel clean, nourished, and sunny. I kept going back for more, even though it was a little more expensive than it would have been online. I had bonded with the store’s owner over Skin Trip, and it gave me an excuse to visit and browse.

Now these boutiques are popping up in cities like succulents, and alongside their delicate single earrings, pottery, and slubby cotton dresses, you’ll often find Skin Trip. But it has also found its way well beyond this neo-hippie market: I was surprised to find it on the website of The Line, an upscale Manhattan shop which places the lotion, for $11, alongside $100 body oil. And you can buy it at Wal-Mart.

The company’s founder, Karen Benjamin, said since launching the product with her husband Tom in 1971, she has never changed the lotion’s formula or label, or advertised. But more and more people are buying the stuff.

“It is kind of a secret cult,” she explained in an email. ”It reminds them of pleasant things, experiences or places. We are happy that we make so many people happy.”