How to Pick the Right Sunscreen

Skin cancer and aging are real threats. You may think that buying a nice-looking sunscreen is all you have to do but picking the right formula is extremely important, especially if you have oily/acne-prone skin. In this post, I provide a not-too complicated guide on how to pick a good one. I also share 2 products I found with the same ingredients list!

Summer is here! The sun is out every single day, and prolonged sun exposure is the behind things like wrinkles/aging, darkness in the skin (i.e. freckles, sun spots), and skin cancer. No, I’m not hating on freckles… they can be cute. But keep in mind that freckling is a sign that your skin is deteriorating. I’m not going to dive too deep into how the sun affects your skin in this post though, because that would take forever.

How much SPF do I need? What does broad spectrum mean?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) protects against UVB rays, the bad guys behind skin cancer. PA (Protection against UVA) aka broad spectrum, protects against UVA rays, the cause of aging (i.e. skin sagging, dark spots, etc.). PA is measured in the number of +’s indicated ( e.g. PA+++). UVB is therefore more immediately dangerous, but using a sunscreen that is both broad spectrum and has SPF is really important.

Skincancer.org introduces SPF pretty well: “Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours.”

Depending on your racial background, the rate of burning on the skin is different. I’m Chinese and like most oriental Asians, I tan easily but take a while to burn. If you burn easily then be sure to reapply more often or use something with higher SPF.

Any SPF over 45 is just excessive and unnecessary. Frankly, anything above SPF 60 is impossible and just doesn’t exist. SPF protection can be thought about in percentages: SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, and anything above SPF 30 blocks near 97-98%.

If you have oily skin/pore problems, buy a mineral sunscreen.

Mineral sunscreens use a mineral base to block sun damage. Look for Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as the primary ingredients (especially the first one). The short reason why is that they’re the only SPF ingredients proven with scientific research to be good for the skin.

Typically, mineral sunscreens will be labelled as such and the ingredients list will contain up to 15% of one or both these ingredients. Other sunscreen chemicals aren’t back by research and can irritate the skin.

What To Look For:

  • Blendability: self-explanatory.
  • White cast: SPF will sometimes make your face look white, like a ghost, depending on the formula of the product. It can be seen in flash photography, and sometimes even in-person. Generally the level of SPF aligns with the chances of a white cast.
  • Beneficial ingredients: the Asian skincare industry does a great job of including antioxidants and other friendly ingredients in sunscreen (i.e. Vitamin E, Aloe, etc.). Western brands very rarely do this unfortunately since they focus solely on sun protection and nothing else.
  • Price: Play to your budget – you don’t have to break the bank to be good to your skin, but if you can afford a $60 sunscreen then why not? Personally, I don’t like going over $45.
  • Waterproof: if you’re in an environment where you get wet often, you definitely need to look for a waterproof sunscreen. However, it’s extremely important to follow the reapplication instructions. If the packaging tells you to reapply every 2 hours, FREAKING DO IT! Sunscreen is still just a layer of product that can be wiped and washed off.
  • Tint: some sunscreens are tinted to act like a tinted moisturizer. BB and CC creams are great examples, and usually have high SPF and PA. But the tone isn’t for everyone all the time, so there’s the danger of having a shade mismatch.

Product Recommendations

Jouviance SPF 30 Lotion

This sunscreen is my greatest find of 2017 so far. It’s a mineral sunscreen, SPF 30 broad spectrum, free of alcohols/sulfates/parabens, and the first ingredient is grapeseed oil, followed by many other natural antioxidant ingredients. IS THIS A DREAM OR WHAT? 😀 As you can see in the third picture, there is a very minimal amount of white cast and it has melted  into the skin with no grease!

I do have some complaints though: 1. The pump applicator can take a couple of pumps to get the product into your hand, and 2. It doesn’t blend too easily into the skin. If you have a serum or something layered underneath this, there’s a chance that this sunscreen will pill off. On days where my routine is simple, I can apply this to my skin and have it absorb nicely with no issues.

This sunscreen smells like oranges and feels great. It’s very hydrating but not greasy. It cost me $36 at Beauty Boutique at Shoppers Drug Mart for 50ml. Highly recommend this!

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Sunscreen

This product is highly raved about for all its features: it’s a mineral sunscreen, high SPF, free of fragrance/parabens/oil, dries matte, feels light, etc. There are 2 things missing from this product: 1. It’s not broad spectrum so it won’t protect against UVA rays, and 2. It’s tinted (one shade only) so if you’re very pale or cool-toned, you might look a little orange. Besides that, the product felt very lightweight and blended out easily when I tried it in-store. Why didn’t I buy it? The ingredients in the Jouviance lotion were way more appealing. This product absorbed a little better and dries more matte, but I considered the trade-off and I’m happy with my decision. Be really careful not to confused this with the brand’s other Anthelios products.

Other Recommendations:

Just gonna toss in some other ones I’ve either swatched in-store/researched/heard good things about but can’t 100% speak for, as I haven’t put them to the test:

  • Missha Sunscreen series: Missha is a leading K-beauty brand that has a very expansive line of facial sunscreens. They’re often called sun milk/essence because of how light they feel on the skin. There are many formulas and if you can get your hands on one, I highly recommend you buy it.
  • Avene Mineral Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+: feels very light on the skin, absorbs easily. It’s also broad spectrum and the brand is known to be great for very sensitive skin. It wasn’t my first choice because it’s 4% Zinc Oxide and 6% Titanium Dioxide… I prefer one with mostly Zinc.
  • Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 42 For Face: does everything in the book, minus the antioxidant ingredients. It’s 12.5% Zinc Oxide (yay!) and frankly, I trust everything that Shiseido makes. It’s more expensive though, which sucks.
  • Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence: this is a world-famous award winning sunscreen from Japan, and I hear it’s one of the most comfortable ones to use. It’s lightweight, SPF 50 and PA++++. It’s not waterproof, though.
  • Etude House Sunprise Mild Airy Finish Sun Milk: super affordable because it’s a Korean brand, but is apparently one of the best facial sunscreens you can get. No antioxidant ingredients but at SPF 50 PA+++, it’s a pretty good choice.

You can also include SPF in your other products

Another option is just to pick a face moisturizer or foundation with SPF in it. There aren’t any rules when it comes to this; usually it’ll be SPF 15, which is enough for your face.

Closing Recommendations

The most important thing is that you pick a mineral sunscreen with enough SPF and PA to protect yourself. If you have access to Asian brands, I highly recommend them over Western brands because they’re generally more affordable, are better for your skin, and feel more comfortable. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa, so know your own skin and treat it well.

You may think I’m being over-dramatic and silly about sun protection, but the long-term damage will show after a few years. When your sun spots and wrinkles are more visible, you’ll wish you just used sunscreen instead of having to spend bare $$$ on serums and maybe even cosmetic procedures. Sun Tzu said that “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” It’s always better to prevent a problem than to solve one!

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