Sunscreen one of the most important anti-aging and healthy-skin steps in a skincare routine. You should absolutely be wearing sunscreen every day if your face is going to see or be near the sun at all. No exceptions.
If you hate sunscreen because it breaks you out or causes irritation, it may be due to using the wrong kind. You see–and I didn’t really know this until about 6 months ago–there are two kinds of sunscreens: chemical and physical. They work very differently from each other and some people just can’t or don’t like to wear one or the other.
Physical vs Chemical
Physical sunscreen is often called sunblock: it contains minerals like zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide that sit on top of the skin to deflect the suns UVA and UVB rays. Because they sit on top of the skin, physical sunscreens work as soon as you put them on, but that also means they rub off more easily.
Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, need to sink into the skin, which can take 20 minutes and should be applied that far in advance of when you go outside. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays. This means that your skin can actually feel warm and/or get red when using a chemical sunscreen because your skin is actually absorbing the sun’s rays. Additionally, in order to get broad spectrum coverage, chemical sunscreens have to combine multiple ingredients, which invites more possibilities for skin irritation.
People with sensitive skin may gravitate towards physical sunscreen because the ingredients don’t absorb into the skin, and they are often less irritating. However, some people don’t like physical because of white cast.
Here’s a great breakdown of the differences between the two.
The Other Details
In order for you to get the SPF protection written on the bottle, you need to use about a 1/8-1/4 tsp of sunscreen on your face, depending on how large of a surface area you have to cover (no judgement). Manufacturers use the ratio of 2mg/cm2 of surface area to test the efficacy of a sunscreen. So, you could (and some amazing users on Reddit have), measure the surface area of your face to see just how much you need, specifically. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or math skills, stick to between 1/8-1/4 tsp.
Chances are, you’re probably not using enough. It’s a good idea to actually measure that out to see how much it is.
The fact that you should use this much sunscreen is, in part, why you can’t rely on your moisturizer/bb cream/lotion/cc cream/foundations with SPF. You aren’t going to put that much of it on your face. Therefore, you’re not going to get that full SPF protection that they claim on the bottle.
It’s also important to consider other products in your routine and how they might affect your sunscreen usage. AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) make the skin photo-sensitive. If you use AHAs, you must use sunscreen or you could cause damage to your skin. If you’re going to be outside for long periods, you need to to reapply often. Oppositely, Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) is a photo-protective, which means it boosts the effectiveness of your sunscreen.
Ok. Now that the finger wagging and warnings are out of the way, I’ll get into the multi-product review of the sunscreens currently in my rotation. I’ve tried a number of them–god bless free samples!–and these are the ones I’ve been impressed with so far.
Caveat: The following sunscreens are what I use on a daily basis. It’s important to note I am inside a lot mainly because I don’t like the outdoors, specifically the sun. I live in Minnesota, where we get about a good 5 months of “hey, let’s go outside!” type of weather and even then I prefer the shade.
I think of the following sunscreens as insurance in case a random ray hits my face as I sit inside reading or as I walk from my car to the frozen yogurt shop. These will not do if you’re eyeing up doing physical exertion out-of-doors.
If you are one of those people who for whatever reason likes to do physical activities outside where you sweat a lot, you should do further research on sunscreen reapplication (the general rule is every two hours) and what kind of sunscreen will work best while you…do those things.
The Rating System
There are two components to Asian sunscreens that may be confusing when you first start reading the labels.
- SPF (Sun Protection Factor): indicates the level of protection from UVB rays.
- PA++++: indicates the level of protection from UVA rays (found on Asian brands of sunscreen)
The PA+ system is actually a Japanese measurement of ranking that is based upon the Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) reaction at 2-3 hours of sun exposure. The more plus signs after the PA, the more protection from UVA the sunscreen provides. PA++++ is currently the highest.
For this reason, many folks in the AB (Asian beauty) community prefer Japanese sunscreens because of their high SPF and PA protection. Korean sunscreens, however, are are slowly catching up, and I’ve been seeing higher PA+ protection from them as well.
The Sunscreens (which you’ve been patiently waiting for me to get to)
Cosrx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF 50 PA+++: The best for soothing and moisturizing. It takes a bit longer to absorb than others, but they have more alcohol. The Cosrx Aloe Sun Cream does have more of a cream-like texture. I think people with oily skin could actually forego a cream and just have this as their last step. This does not leave a white cast and is pretty moisturizing for a sunscreen. It is a combination physical and chemical sunscreen.
The Cosrx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream was the first Asian sunscreen I really loved but was lured away by the next few sunscreens on this list. I came back to it a few weeks ago, though, and fell in love with it all over again. This is a really solid choice, especially for those with sensitive skin.
Shiseido Senka Aging Care SPF 50 PA++++: This is a creamy, moisturizing chemical sunscreen that absorbs very quickly and leaves no white cast. It’s a great choice for drier skin but probably wouldn’t be great for oily skin. It sits well under makeup, but never really gets to a matte finish. It definitely can give a nice dewy glow. Its consistency is right in between the Cosrx and the Bioré: it’s about as thick as an emulsion.
Bioré Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50 PA++++: At this point, the Bioré Watery Essence (a chemical sunscreen) has cult status in the AB community: it has incredibly fast absorption and dries down to a great primer for makeup. It leaves zero white cast and actually dries down to a matte finish. It’s a bit runnier than the other sunscreens I’ve tried, and has an interesting light lemony scent. It’s great for oiler skin, but can be drying because of the alcohol content.
I use it on mornings when I’m running behind because it dries so quickly. I have to use a drop of oil in my bb cream, then, to offset the drying tendency of the sunscreen.
Papa Recipe Bombee Soft Sun Stick SPF 50 PA+++: Like a mini deodorant in shape and size, this chemical sunscreen stick is perfect for travel because it’s a stick not a liquid. Plus, it absorbs quickly. This would definitely be better for drier skin since it is pretty moisturizing, and I could see this being a bit greasy for folks with oily skin. It definitely doesn’t dry as matte as the Bioré. This could also be because I tend to swipe too much on because I’m paranoid I’ve missed something because it goes on clear!
Did I mention that it smells like honey!? You can tell this product has honey and propolis in it by how it sits–and absorbs–into the skin.
I got the Papa Recipe stick from Memebox, where it’s currently sold out. So, the link above is for the only other place I could find it, Amazon.
Tarte Tarteguard 30: The only physical sunscreen that I’m afraid I can give any review of is Tarte’s. It didn’t leave a terrible white cast and it wasn’t really that drying. It was fine under makeup. (Ha–do you love my glowing review?) It’s pricey, though. It is sold at Sephora, so if you have one nearby, you can stop in and get a sample.
What’s your favorite sunscreen?