This summer, I discovered a love of frolicking in the surf with my son. I also discovered how poorly my precious Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel and my Biore Aqua Rich Watery Gel fit into my new beach lifestyle. While amazing for everyday use, neither of these sunscreens is water-resistant, and frequent reapplication makes both extremely cost-prohibitive for beach use. I can’t slack off on body sunscreen the way I used to, either, since I’m using photosensitizing actives on my arms and legs.
I wanted the freedom to play in the water with Young Master Fiddy like a deranged mama seal with a high-energy pup, so I needed to improve my body sunscreen game without breaking my bank account. That’s why I ended up tossing a big yellow bottle of Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion (SPF 70) into my cart during a grocery run one sunny, desperate day.
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Western skincare products and the K-beauty routine
BUT FIDDY, you say, NEUTROGENA SUNSCREEN? THAT IS NOT AN ASIAN PRODUCT! HOW COULD YOU?!?!?!?!?! And I totally understand if that’s what you’re thinking.
It can be easy to assume that K-beauty and AB skincare bloggers who use a lot of Asian products do so exclusively (and, if you’re new to this scene, easy to assume that Asian or Korean products are automatically better and should be used exclusively). After all, we typically only talk about the Asian products we use, because, well, that’s what our blogs are about, as my fellow Snailcaster Snow pointed out in her recent post on K-beauty and cultural appropriation. For me, however, I think the time has come to start talking about some Western products. Not many, but a few.
I’m ready to talk about some Western products now because a product doesn’t necessarily have to be Asian in origin to belong in my beauty wardrobe, and I don’t think a product needs to be Asian in origin to belong on this blog, either. It just has to fit into my K-beauty-inspired skincare philosophy. That philosophy is all about layering targeted treatments for your individual skin concerns in order to create an extensively personalized skincare routine to achieve your skin goals. It’s also about sun protection. Lots and lots of sun protection. Here’s where the Neutrogena sunscreen comes in.
Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 Review
A couple of years back, I had a truly terrible experience trying to use Neutrogena’s Ultra “Sheer” “Dry” Touch sunscreen in the recommended 2mg/cm2 amount on my face. I didn’t think I’d ever go back to this brand’s sun protection again. Just goes to show how much I know.
Purpose: Neutrogena Beach Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 is a broad-spectrum, water-resistant chemical sunscreen that protects skin from UVA and UVB radiation in very active or very wet outdoor conditions.
Best suited for: Body skin; skin that can tolerate chemical UV filters.
Do not use if: Your skin is sensitive to chemical UV filters, silicones, silica, or anything else in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: At least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure, apply generously over all uncovered skin and let dry. Reapply after every 2 hours of sun exposure, after 80 minutes of sweating or swimming, after towel drying, and/or after any activity which might result in product being wiped off of skin.
Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 inactive ingredients: Water, styrene/acrylates copolymer, dimethicone, potassium cetyl phosphate, benzyl alcohol, silica, diethylhexyl 2,6-naphthalate, dimethicone/PEG-10/15 crosspolymer, trisiloxane, cetyl dimethicone, beeswax, ethylhexylglycerin, sodium polyacrylate, xanthan gum, ethylhexyl stearate, acrylates/C12-22 alkyl methacrylate copolymer, behenyl alcohol, trideceth-6, disodium EDTA, glyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, caprylyl glycol, chlorphenesin, fragrance
Notable ingredients: Since this is a sunscreen and we should have no expectations for it beyond protecting our skin from sun damage without irritation, breakouts, or other skin troubles, let’s just look briefly at the UV filters Neutrogena uses here.
It’s often said (sometimes by me) that US sunscreens are inferior to Asian and European sunscreens. The more limited selection of UV filters the FDA has approved for use compared to those available for Asian and European sunscreen formulations means that US drugstore brands like Neutrogena typically don’t make the most cosmetically elegant sunscreens or offer the highest quantifiable UVA protection. They have less to work with, and sunscreen formulation is a particularly complex and confusing beast. I had to get help from a cosmetic chemist friend, Stephen of Kind of Stephen, just to make sure I wasn’t passing on myths or misinformation in my quick overview of sunscreen filters below!
What Neutrogena is working with in the Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion is a handful of chemical (a.k.a. organic) UV filters. These typically result in a more cosmetically elegant formulation overall: reduced white cast and greasiness compared to sunscreen products made with the physical (a.k.a. inorganic) UV filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. But of course there are trade-offs. Chemical filters can be more irritating to some people’s skin, and avobenzone, one of the more common chemical sunscreen ingredients, breaks down with UV exposure if not properly stabilized with another chemical filter. Fortunately, while Neutrogena does make use of avobenzone in the Beach Defense lotion, the brand stabilizes it in its trademarked Helioplex broad-spectrum avobenzone and oxybenzone blend.
Theoretically, as long as you use sunscreen correctly, you can expect the full benefit of the advertised UV protection. The question is whether the sunscreen can be used correctly without being so dreadful that UV damage seems like a more reasonable option.
You may have noticed that the header image for this post is a gratuitous close-up on some hardcore white cast. It’s almost as bad as how Laneige Triple Sunscreen* looks after drying down. White casts can be deceptive, though. There are white casts that stick around and turn every beach day into an unintentional geisha cosplay day*, and there are white casts that look bad upon application but then vanish, leaving no white tint behind. Surprisingly (for me, at least), Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 belongs to the second category.
When first dispensed, the Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion is a thick, smooth white lotion. It’s quite thick compared to something like a Japanese “water gel”-type sunscreen but spreads much more easily than most physical sunscreens, and even when applied generously, that hardcore white cast vanishes within minutes.
Since the Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion uses only chemical filters, it doesn’t create that intense flashback effect (a.k.a. Surprise Ghostface) when photographed. Also nice is its very minimal scent. When first smeared on, the product smells lightly of sunscreen, but after a few minutes, the smell fades with the white tint.
For all those reasons, the Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 is more cosmetically elegant than I expected, both for a US drugstore sunscreen and also for a sport-strength sunscreen. It isn’t perfect, though, nor is it even close to being cosmetically elegant enough for me to consider it as a face sunscreen. If applied generously, as directed, it will dry down enough to stay put but leaves a thick, shiny, and moderately greasy-feeling residue, at least for me. This holds true whether I put the sunscreen on in one thick layer or in multiple thinner layers as Stephen helpfully recommends.
Applying in two or more thinner layers does help with drying time, though. The Beach Defense SPF 70 lotion takes quite a while to sink in and settle down on skin, 20 or so minutes in my experience and my (coastal yet arid) climate. Splitting the day’s dose up into two or more portions won’t shorten the “drying” time, but it does shorten my perception of the total drying time by giving me something to do instead of just pacing around trying not to touch things for a third of an hour or more. As a bonus, people who apply their sunscreen in multiple layers tend to receive better protection overall!
I’ve alluded several times to the need to apply this sunscreen (or any other sunscreen) generously. If you’re serious about sun protection, this is a must, since applying less than 2mg/cm2 will result in a drastic, nearly exponential drop in SPF. One of the reasons that finding acceptable sunscreens is so challenging is the fact that many sunscreens (especially, but not just, Western sunscreens) look and feel like shit when used in the correct quantities.
(This is also why powder sunscreens and sunscreen in makeup are next to useless, by the way.)
I generally eyeball the thickness of my sunscreen application to make sure I’m putting on enough, or at least close to enough, product. With the Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70 lotion, I can generally do so without problems. One issue I’ve noticed, however, is that when I accidentally go just a tiny bit overboard, that protective layer of product will pill up so much that it looks like I put peeling gel ALL OVER MY BODY and then decided to let it rub off all day. Just a touch too much of this sunscreen causes my arms and legs to gradually develop a layer of white flakes, leaving a trail of balled-up sunscreen wherever I go, like a UV-phobic version of Hansel and/or Gretel. The product also temporarily turns white again if hit by water, which can look…strange.
I do err on the side of caution when it comes to sunscreen, though. I’d rather use too much than too little. If you’re less extreme than I am about sun protection, you may never experience the pilling and shedding or the Return of the White Cast.
Even when I haven’t used the Beach Defense SPF 70 lotion to excess, I find the sun protection it gives more than adequate. Actually, this product does a much better job of shielding my skin than I’d expected given that it’s a US product without clearly marked UVA protection levels.
I’m being more diligent about body sunscreen this summer than I’ve ever been before for a couple of reasons. One, I’d like to fade my years-old farmer’s tan and be all one color from head to toe for once in my life, instead of an NC15-NC35 patchwork. And two, my efforts to fade that tan now include chemical exfoliation on my arms and legs, using photosensitizing AHA products. Without adequate sun protection every time my limbs see the sun, they’ll get even more sun damaged than they’ve ever been before.
Freckling, tanning, and burning are the only signs of sun damage immediately visible to the naked eye, so they’re the markers I use to judge whether any given sunscreen product delivers enough protection. Absence of burning even after extended periods of time indicates enough UVB protection, measured as SPF, but that’s only the beginning. Any sunscreen product will provide the SPF on the label when used as directed. I’m more interested in the freckling and tanning, some of which comes from UVB but the rest of which comes from UVA radiation, which is responsible for most visible skin aging due to sun damage and which oxidizes and darkens already-existing melanin in the skin. Even some PA+++ Japanese and Korean sunscreens don’t absorb and convert enough UVA radiation to prevent my skin from freckling or tanning. Neutrogena Beach Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 does, however, even with my photosensitizing near-daily AHA use. I’ve been using this sunscreen for a couple of months now and am confident in its broad-spectrum UV protection.
Conclusion: It’s not a perfect sunscreen by any means, and I wouldn’t use it on my face due to its fairly heavy residue and tendency to pill if overapplied, but as a sport-strength body sunscreen, Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70 is surprisingly usable. It’s also much cheaper per ml in the US than comparable Japanese sunscreens, making it more practical for frequent full-body use at the recommended quantities. I’ve gone through several bottles of it and will use up at least a couple more by the time this summer’s over.
Where can I buy Neutrogena Beach Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion SPF 70?
Neutrogena sunscreens like this one are widely available at drugstores and big box chains in the US. You can also buy it online:
What body sunscreen do you use, and how diligent are you about it?