Summer is technically over and winter is probably coming, but don’t put your sunscreen into storage just yet. If you want to prevent the photodamage that speeds up the visible aging process and you don’t live in extreme northern latitudes, sunscreen will be your biggest ally whether there’s sand between your toes or a foot of snow on the ground.
Having a single sunscreen on hand is a great start, but not every sunscreen is suitable for every purpose. I keep a few different sunscreens around. That way, I can enjoy worry-free days no matter what I’m doing outside. For this post, I want to introduce you to the sunscreens taking up half a shelf in my bathroom cabinet. Maybe you’ll find one (or two or three) that fit your needs. And even if you don’t–since everyone’s skin is different and there’s no such thing as a universally perfect product–I hope you’ll come away with some ideas of what to look for as you hunt down your own stalwart sun defenders.
What I look for in sunscreens
Korean products make up the vast majority of my skincare wardrobe, but when it comes to sunscreen, I only buy Japanese. The reason is simple. Japan’s regulations allow sunscreens to be labeled up to PA++++, while Korean sunscreens are only labeled to PA+++. There may indeed be Korean sunscreens that provide UVA protection in the PA++++ range, but there’s currently no way to identify which ones do.
To prevent sunspots and premature sagging and wrinkling due to sun damage, UVA protection is what we need to look at. UVA radiation, as explained by the awesome Hoojoo Skincare blog, is primarily responsible for visible photoaging as well as basal cell carcinoma. And UVA radiation is fairly constant throughout the year and penetrates cloud cover. Yay.
That’s why the first thing I look for in a sunscreen is its UVA protection level. I don’t use sunscreens with less than PA++++ protection on my face, and I suggest you also look for a sunscreen with the highest level of UVA protection that you’re comfortable wearing and can afford to have on hand consistently.
Besides PA++++, I look for sunscreens that will stay put when I wear them. That means that if I’m going to be sweating my ass off in the sun, which happens more than I ever thought it would (thanks, Effexor sweats), I can’t wear a sunscreen that isn’t sweatproof. On the other hand, on a regular day when I don’t plan to go much farther than the corner store, I’d rather use a sunscreen that’s easy and comfortable and doesn’t require much fuss. But sometimes I have dry days, especially now that I’ve started prescription tretinoin. On those days, I want something highly moisturizing.
Finally, as much as I love all my face sunscreens, Japanese sunscreens tend to come in teeny tiny little bottles. That’s fine when I only use them on my face, neck, and chest, but the rest of my body needs protection as well. I’d go bankrupt if I tried to go full-body with any of my facial favorites. So I need a body sunscreen, too.
And this, people, is how I ended up with five different sunscreens. Let’s take a look at them!
Note: All the sunscreens below contain alcohol and chemical UV filters. If you are sensitive to either of these or any other ingredients in the linked ingredients lists, avoid or patch test before applying to your entire face.
Review Redux: 2015 Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++
Purpose: Daily use sunscreen.
Best for: Normal, combination, and oily skin types.
Some of you may already know that the 2015 reformulation of the Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence is one of my holy grails. This lightweight, non-greasy sunscreen dries fast and dries clear, with no white cast whatsoever and no thick, oily residue to rub off or interfere with makeup. Check out how it swatches.
Glorious. And on me, it dries down to a shine-free satin finish within 15 minutes of application.
The main drawback of my beloved Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence is that it isn’t sweatproof. As I’ve mentioned, I sweat a lot. I get sweaty very easily. It’s been getting worse lately as the weather here heats up beyond all reason. I used to be able to wear this sunscreen for a walk to the store or beach, but if I tried that now, it would melt off my face faster than it dried in the first place. I still wear this sunscreen a lot, but only on days when I don’t have plans to go far or exert myself much. It’s still the lightest, most invisible, and most comfortable full-protection sunscreen I own.
Mini-Review: Biore UV Perfect Bright Milk SPF 50+ PA++++
Purpose: Sunscreen for moderate outdoor activity.
Best for: Normal and oily skin types.
When I know I need to wear sunscreen that’s a little more hard-wearing than the Biore Watery Essence–for a trip to the park with the kid, for example, or a walk to the supermarket and back–I reach for Biore’s UV Perfect Bright Milk. This is another lightweight (well, all of my sunscreens are lightweight) and fast-drying sunscreen, but one that’s more sweat-resistant.
Biore UV Perfect Bright Milk dries matte and, because of the physical filters it contains, does have a white cast. The white cast and flat matte finish is minimized here with a bit of iridescence and a light, peachy tint, but darker complexions may find it too pale unless worn under makeup. On the plus side, the silicones in this formulation make it a fantastic makeup primer. UV Perfect Bright Milk also offers long-lasting shine control. I do find this sunscreen slightly drying on my normal/tretinoin-addled skin, so I always make sure to wear a more moisturizing cream underneath than I would with the Watery Essence.
Biore UV Perfect Bright Milk is $8.80 on Amazon Prime (affiliate link).
Mini-Review: Biore UV Perfect Face Milk SPF 50+ PA++++
Purpose: Sweat-resistant and water-resistant sunscreen for more intense outdoor activity.
Best for: Normal and oily skin types.
When I know I’ll be out and about at max sweatiness (how ladylike), I go straight for the true bad-ass of my sunscreen wardrobe, Biore UV Perfect Face Milk. This sunscreen does not play. Though it’s just as liquidy and light-feeling as the UV Perfect Bright Milk, I find it significantly more sweat-resistant. It stays put even on the back of my neck where I get sweatiest (so dainty and feminine I am)., and it stays matte no matter what.
It also has white cast for days. Luckily, like the UV Perfect Bright Milk, the UV Perfect Face Milk makes a wonderful primer under makeup and provides even more oil and shine control than the Bright. I do find this sunscreen very drying and so always use my donkey milk cream or another rich moisturizer underneath.
Biore UV Perfect Face Milk on Prime (affiliate link).
Mini-Review: Shiseido Senka Aging Care UV Sunscreen/Senka Mineral Water UV Essence SPF 50+ PA++++
Purpose: Moisturizing Sunscreen
Best for: Dry, dehydrated, normal, and combination skin types.
Finally, there are days when either the weather or my face (or both) are just too dry to deal with any even remotely drying sunscreens. On those days, I’m so glad I restocked my old favorite, which I’d forgotten about for ages. Senka Aging Care/Mineral Water UV Essence is a smooth, rich, moisturizing sunscreen loaded up with hyaluronic acid and ubiquinone to ease dry skin.
While this sunscreen does contain alcohol, I neither feel nor smell it at all in the formulation. It’s actually moisturizing enough for me to wear without any moisturizer underneath, even when I or my climate are having a dry day, and it leaves no white cast. The trade-off here is that it doesn’t dry matte, like most of my other sunscreens. It isn’t overly heavy or shiny, but it does leave an emollient layer that I can feel and, if I haven’t put makeup over it, that I can see as well. Still, I like dewy skin in the first place, and the comforting moisture this provides more than makes up for the insignificant shortcomings of its finish.
Shiseido Senka Aging Care/UV Mineral Water Essence is $8.99 on Amazon Prime (affiliate link).
Micro-Review: Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel SPF 50 PA+++
Purpose: Everyday use body sunscreen
Best for: All skin types
CosDNA ingredients list and analysis
Of course I’m not going to let my arms and legs burn and shrivel up unprotected in the sun, but neither am I rich enough to invest in my specialized facial sunscreens in quantities large enough to put on my body every day. For that purpose, I just use the Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel, which I find to be very similar in texture and finish to my Biore Watery Essence, but in a bigger bottle.
Fast-drying, no white cast, no oily residue. White cast and that nasty, greasy layer of un-dried sunscreen have always been my biggest reasons for neglecting UV protection on my body. The Nivea solves all of that. It doesn’t offer quite the same levels of protection as my facial sunscreens, however, leading to arms and legs that are always a little darker than my face, neck, and chest, but I can live with that.
And there you have it: my five-sunscreen collection, all easily purchased online and, compared to most US-made sunscreens, a joy to use, with far greater protection.
What sunscreens do you use? Are you looking to try anything new?