korean sunscreens

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The best Korean sunscreens to add to your bag

There's more than one kind of sun exposure to avoid, y'all.

Aug 27, 2020, 12:12 pm*

IRL

Colette Bennett 

Colette Bennett

I hate to tell you this, but most U.S. sunscreens are not properly protecting your skin. Try Korean sunscreens and you’ll quickly see why.

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Korean beauty is very popular right now, so you may assume this is about some new fad. While its rise to prominence in the U.S. beauty market has helped to expose the physical differences between American-made sunscreens and Korean ones, the proof is in the data: Korean sunscreens (and Asian sunscreens in general) use a wider range of ingredients to fully protect the skin from both UVB and UVA rays.

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Why is Korean sunscreen better?

“SPF” refers to UVB protection. There is no UVA protection included, and this is the case with most sunscreens you’ll find on your local drugstore’s shelf. UVA rays are dangerous because you don’t feel them affecting your skin. (They turn skin brown, while UVB causes sunburn.)

Sunscreens made in the U.S., Canada, and Australia are considered a drug by the FDA, and using new chemicals in sunscreens requires a formal drug approval process. This creates a lot of hoops to jump through, so the U.S. has not approved any new chemicals for its sunscreens since 1999.

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Asian sunscreens do not have the same restrictions, so new chemicals that significantly improve the performance of the products are used regularly. “We are terribly behind the rest of the world in approving sunscreens that are superior to those we have,” Dr. Vivian Bucay, MD at the Bucay Center for Dermatology and Aesthetics, told Allure in a recent interview.

Korean sunscreens use a different rating system than the ones we use in the U.S. Rather than an SPF number, these sunscreens use a system called the persistent pigmentation darkening test, known as the PA system for short. The more plusses you see after the PA, the more protection you get from UVA exposure.

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Do Korean sunscreens feel different?

In addition to not being damaged by UVA rays every time you walk outside your house, Korean sunscreens often forego the gloppy, white-cast texture we’ve begrudgingly accepted as sunscreen in the U.S. for something far more favorable. You can expect lighter weight, a nicer smell, and much, much quicker absorption.

It’s worth noting that most Korean brands come in smaller bottles and cost a little more than your average Coppertone. But it’s worth it to not smell so nauseatingly tropical.

Our favorite Korean sunscreens

A’Pieu Pure Block Natural Sun Cream

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PA rating: +++
Good for: Normal to dry skin

You’ll see the term “sun cream” a lot more on Korean products, and Pure Block is just that: a lovely, rich cream that feels moisturizing. It absorbs quickly and leaves a beautiful dewiness behind. There is no white cast, and the product feels silky instead of greasy. This line features a waterproof version, as well as the Aqua Sun Gel, which feels cooling when applied. This is an ideal first product for the beginner to Korean sunscreen.

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Price: $7.60

IOPE UV Shield

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PA rating: +++
Good for: Dry skin, aging skin

IOPE is AmorePacific’s mid-range line, sitting pretty between Laneige and Sulwhasoo. This cream sunscreen absorbs quickly and goes on smooth with no greasy finish. However, some Amazon users report mild breakouts depending on skin type, so you may want to patch test it before you try it all over. That said, it’s an ideal pick for dry skin types who need extra moisture.

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Price: $21.57

Missha All Around Safe Block Essence

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PA rating: +++
Good for: Oily/acne prone skin

Oily skin types will wonder how they ever lived without Safe Block, which has green tea and tea tree extract to keep grease at bay. It’s also highly moisturizing and the smell is mild but pleasant. It’s built to hold up to water and sweat, so this is a really good one to toss in your bag and take to the beach.

Price: $7.50

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COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream

PA rating: +++
Good for: Sensitive skin

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If you experience redness even when you aren’t in the sun, Aloe Soothing Sun Cream is ideal for you. Lightweight and quick-absorbing, you can count on it for full protection from both UVA and UVB rays just like the others on this list. Don’t forget that reapplying is just as important as wearing it in the first place—keep one of these in your purse! (And no, the SPF in your makeup is not enough to count as a reapplication!)

Price: $15.99

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Neogen Day-Light Protection

PA Rating: +++
Good for: Dry skin, cold weather conditions

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I’m a big fan of Neogen’s products (the Biopeel wine peeling pads are one of my all-time faves). Its sunscreen offering maintains the high standard I know from the company’s line. This is a rich sun cream packed with vitamin E derivatives. It also has rose and blueberry extract, which makes it smell lovely. It is a chemical sunscreen which is worth keeping in mind if you favor physical sunscreens.

Price: $29

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Earth’s Recipe Waterful Sun Gel

PA rating: +++
Good for: Dry skin, cooling skin down

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This sunscreen is so deliciously rich it can act as your moisturizer! The consistency is more like a serum than the typical cream sunscreen and feels cooling when first applied. Best of all, unlike the majority of sunscreens sold in the US, it offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. You can be sure your skin is completely protected the next time you have fun in the sun.

Price: $23

Dr. G Green Mild Up

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PA rating: +++
Good for: Sensitive skin

Ideal for both adults and children, Green Mild Up is perfect for those from sensitive skin that need sun protection. This mineral sunscreen doesn’t have a thick white cast like many American-made sunscreens do, and it absorbs quickly according to Amazon reviews.

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Price: $16.97

Vely Vely Glacial Water Sun Cushion

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PA rating: +++
Good for: Wearing over your makeup

Ever wonder how to best reapply your sunscreen after you put your makeup on over it? This sun cushion from Vely Vely solves that problem perfectly by delivering the product using a cushion compact format so you can dab it on in a thin layer. It also cools the skin and gives you a glowy finish, which sounds like a mighty nice look while you’re poolside.

Price: $34

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Want to learn more about Korean beauty? Check out our guides to doing the 10-step Korean beauty skincare routine, the best sheet masks money can buy, and why Korean sunscreens are vastly superior to American ones. You can also dig through all our Korean beauty coverage right here.

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*First Published: Apr 22, 2019, 12:15 pm