January 7, 2021 update: This product is being discontinued and reformulated, so if you love it, I suggest stocking up now. Purchase links are at the bottom of this post!
December 22, 2020 update: It has come to my attention that I only gave this sunscreen a 3.8 out of 5 stars. Considering I’ve been using it nonstop since the time of this review and have gone through a staggering number of bottles of it, I’m raising my rating and updating my conclusion. New text is in bold below!
The last time I reviewed a Missha sunscreen, it didn’t go well for either me or the sunscreen. Luckily, I had managed to block those bad memories out for long enough that when I was panic-shopping Amazon for a last-minute sunscreen replenishment a few months ago, I was willing to give the readily available Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel a shot. I’ve emptied a handful dozens of tubes of this sunscreen now, and I’m sure I’ll empty more in the future. Here’s a review.
This post contains affiliate links, which allow me to earn a small commission on purchases made through those links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel Review
Sunscreen is by far the most important element of my daily skincare routine. Sun damage causes the vast majority of visible skin aging, including coarsening skin texture, deep wrinkles, blotchy pigmentation, and drastic loss of collagen and general elasticity. I’ve long said that the best way to prevent premature skin aging is by wearing sunscreen with high UVA and UVB protection in the recommended quantity every day. For these reasons, I’m very diligent and very picky about my sunscreens.
Purpose: Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel is an organic (“chemical”) sunscreen product with high UVA and UVB protection capabilities, meant for everyday use (as opposed to sport or in-water use).
Best suited for: Normal or oily skin without alcohol or fragrance sensitivities.
Do not use if: Your skin is prone to dryness or you are sensitive to alcohol, silicones, fragrance, or anything else in the ingredients list.
When and how to use: Apply as the last step in your morning skincare routine before makeup. Take a generous amount (1/4 tsp is the general recommendation, based on the dimensions of a large male face; I do a bit more than a nickel-sized amount of product, or three fingers’ length) and spread evenly over face. I highly suggest using my Three Fingers method, as seen in the IG video below, to achieve the smoothest and most even coverage. Let sunscreen set for 15 minutes before applying makeup.
Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel ingredients: Water, homosalate, alcohol denat., ethylhexyl salicylate, dipropylene glycol, silica, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, methyl methacrylate crosspolymer, bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, isoamyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, VP/hexadecene copolymer, acrylates/dimethicone copolymer, water, limonia acidissima extract, artemisia princeps leaf extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, chrysanthemum indicum flower extract, cinnamomum cassia bark extract, diospyros kaki leaf extract, morus alba fruit extract, pueraria lobata root extract, centaurea vyanus flower water, helichrysum italicum flower water, thymus vulgaris (thyme) leaf water, methoxy PEG/PPG-25/4 dimethicone, Bis-PEG/PPG-20/5 PEG/PPG-20/5 dimethicone, dimethicone, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, caprylic/capric triglyceride, sodium hydroxide, butylene glycol, cyclopentasiloxane, BHT, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-hexanediol, fragrance
Notable ingredients: Since this is a sunscreen review, I’ve highlighted the UV filters in the ingredients list typed above. The Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel uses exclusively organic, aka “chemical” filters.
It’s often said that chemical filters are more irritating to skin than inorganic/mineral/physical filters, but that, like so much else in skincare, is nowhere near universal. CosDNA doesn’t flag any of the filters in this sunscreen as known irritants. Personally, my skin has never had an issue with chemical filters. Many other happy chemical sunscreen users feel the same way. Others may find their skin can’t tolerate chemical filters, or at least some chemical filters. As with all skincare, YMMV.
(If you’re pretty new to skincare and find the idea of using a “mineral” sunscreen more attractive than a “chemical” one due to the descriptors, however, please don’t let the terminology put you off from trying a chemical sunscreen out. Everything is chemicals. Also, organic/chemical sunscreens tend to achieve levels of cosmetic elegance that physical/mineral sunscreens can’t match.)
Of more concern in the ingredients here is the alcohol denat. that occupies the third slot in the list. My personal stance on alcohol in skincare is that as long as your skin isn’t sensitive to it, it’s generally fine but can be problematic if it’s quite high up in the ingredients list. Here, it is up quite high in the ingredients list.
In a sunscreen like this, the alcohol is presumably present to thin out the texture of the product and speed up drying time. This much alcohol can be drying, however. As noted in the “Do not use if:” section above, if you have dry skin, you may want to pass on the Missha Aqua Sun Gel. The Aqua Sun Gel also contains silica, another drying ingredient.
There are a number of botanical extracts lower in the ingredients list. These may add some extra antioxidant protection to the sunscreen, though I don’t really consider them that notable. They’re probably not present in significant amounts.
In K-beauty jargon, a sun “gel” sunscreen has a lighter and more watery consistency than the denser, heavier sun creams. Many of my favorite sunscreens are gels. I appreciate their weightlessness and how quickly they set. Missha Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel is the epitome of a sun gel. It comes out of the tube a bit runny, spreads easily over skin, and dries rapidly to a totally clear and neutral finish.
No white cast, and, after about 10 minutes or so, no shine. In fact, by the time I put makeup on, I can’t even feel any sunscreen on my skin at all. It disappears so completely that sometimes I get nervous. Did I put on enough? Should I put on more? A second layer? Usually I don’t, but the thought sometimes crosses my mind.
The soft matte finish lasts all day for me, and since the sunscreen practically vanishes after application, it doesn’t interfere with my makeup, either.
That total lack of oily residue or shine comes with a drawback, though. I bet you can guess what it is.
Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel can be quite drying. There are sunscreens that let me totally skip moisturizer in the morning, like the A’Pieu Pure Block Daily Sun Cream* that I reviewed at Beautytap a while back. The Missha sun gel is not one of those sunscreens. I tried it on a bare face one day and regretted it half an hour later, as my face began slowly tightening into a desiccated husk. Putting it on over a purely water-based moisturizer doesn’t work much better, either.
I had to experiment a bit to find a moisturizer of just the right weight to layer under it: light enough to dry down quickly and cleanly, but with enough fatty content to buffer my skin against all that alcohol. COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream works well. Lately I’ve been using the SEKKISEI Emulsion under it, and that works perfectly.
The Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel smells strongly of alcohol mixed with a sort of sharp, artificial floral fragrance. The alcohol is definitely the dominant note. The scent fades by the time the sunscreen is dry, but I found it startling the first few times I used it.
Despite these drawbacks, I find myself returning to this sunscreen time and time again. The extreme cosmetic elegance of the product combined with the UVA and UVB protection in the highest ranges allowed on Korean cosmetics labeling make it an easy choice.
Now, almost two years after I started using it for the first time, I feel even more confident about its UV protection. The SPF labeling on products may not always be reliable, but our skin itself provides feedback in the form of freckling, tanning, and burning when inadequately protected. I’ve now used the Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel through two SoCal summers and many sunny beach days. I’ve gotten sunburned shoulders and bikini tan lines, but my face, neck, and chest, where I use the Missha sunscreen, haven’t changed color in the slightest, and no new spots have shown up anywhere I apply it. This is despite my frequent use of photosensitizing actives like AHAs and tretinoin. As an added bonus, the Missha sun gel is often way easier to find on my usual shopping channels than the A’Pieu sun gel that I also love.
It’s not perfect. It dries the hell out of my face if I’m not careful. But with a little attention paid to the moisturizer I use underneath, Missha Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel gives me strong everyday sun protection in an incredibly cosmetically elegant product. I’ve tried several other sunscreens since then and haven’t found anything I’ve loved nearly as much.
Rating: 3.8/5 4.5/5
1 – This should be taken off the market, or this failed at its one primary job.
2 – Caused me some problems or doesn’t work very well; would not buy again.
3 – Meh. Neither great nor bad.
4 – Pretty good. Would buy again unless I find something better.
5 – I’ll never be in the market for a replacement unless this one is discontinued.