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I know it’s more than halfway through the year, but when it comes to sun protection, it’s never too late to upgrade to something better!
It’s a knownfact that a lot of sunscreens don’t live up to their claimed protection levels, but thanks to the Korean sunscreen scandal last year, many Korean brands are now taking the initiative to submit their products for independent sunscreen tests.
Of all the sunscreens that have been tested, I’ll be sharing 5 that meet the criteria below:
Uses mostly next generation UV filters which are more stable and effective.
UV filters: Uvinul A Plus, Tinosorb S, Parsol SLX, Tinosorb M, Uvinul T 150, Uvasorb HEB Sun Protection: SPF 57.6, PFA 23.5/PA++++
I've already raved about this one, but it's pretty much perfect in every way: less than $10 per tube, no white cast, light lotion texture that layers beautifully over skincare and under makeup, and a natural finish that's not too dewy or too matte.
While it's not the lightest sunscreen, I've ever tried, it's still incredibly comfortable on the skin and will work for dry skin and oily skin alike. The only downside is that it's not water resistant, which is fine for every day wear, but if you'll be spending all day outdoors, keep scrolling.
UV filters: Uvinul A Plus, Uvinul T 150, Tinosorb M, Uvasorb HEB Sun Protection: SPF 52.5 and PA++++
While slightly pricier than the SCINIC, the Beauty of Joseon actually feels even more comfortable on the skin! Its lotion texture feels more moisturizing at first, yet quickly dries down to a natural almost satin finish, making it more oily skin friendly. If you have dry/combo skin like me you'll want to layer moisturizer underneath.
It has all the other pros of the SCINIC but also its con of not being water resistant. There is the tiniest bit of initial white cast, but goes away after a few seconds. Beauty of Joseon is cruelty-free.
UV filters: Uvinul A Plus, Uvinul T 150, Tinosorb M, Uvasorb HEB Sun Protection: SPF 55 and PA++++
My favorite one to use in the winter time because it feels like a soft cozy sweater for my dry skin. The lotion texture is similar to the Beauty of Joseon (and they happen to use the same filters too!), but unlike the former, ROUND LAB's will keep your skin moisturized all day long.
The finish is on the dewier side, but not oily, though oily skin types will want to skip their moisturizer entirely or use this only in the winter. There is a tiny tiny bit of white cast on application but goes away after a few seconds. ROUND LAB is also a cruelty free brand.
UV filters: Octisalate, Uvinul T 150, Tinosorb S, Avobenzone, Mexoryl XL, Mexoryl SX, MCE, Uvinul A Plus Sun Protection: SPF 50+, PPD46/PA++++ (previous generation), Boots Star ★★★★★
The only non-Korean sunscreen on the list, but its multiple iterations have been tested both by dermatologists and skincare enthusiasts alike, passing with flying colors each time. I've used this for years now, and its unmatched protection makes this forever my #1 holy grail sunscreen. The UV filters are just fantastic, and it includes 3 L'Oréal exclusive filters that protect against the entire spectrum of UV rays!
For something so potent, the texture is surprisingly not heavy. It won't be as light as the previous 3 sunscreens, but it still feels comfortable on the skin with no white cast, so it will work for all skin tones. It's also water, sweat, and even sand resistant, making it the perfect outdoor sunscreen.
Confession: I don't like mineral sunscreens. 99% of them leave a horrible white cast and/or have a weird pasty texture. They're also drying and prone to pilling. And I get that these are some of the shortcomings of working with physical UV filters, but it's just not a pleasant application experience.
With that said, this AXIS-Y one is the only untinted mineral sunscreen I will wear. Its only issue is a minor white cast which does fade eventually on my NC20 skin tone. Otherwise it doesn't pill, feels comfortable on the skin, and leaves a nice satin finish.
Personally I would always pick chemical sunscreens over mineral ones, but I know that some of you may feel the complete opposite! If that is you, I highly recommend checking this one out! AXIS-Y is also cruelty free :)
Texture wise you can see below that the 5 are actually pretty similar. None stood out as being particularly thick, though you can tell AXIS-Y (first one from the right) is the least opaque.
Next you can see the different sunscreens on an oil blotting paper, and below are the results after 30 minutes. AXIS-Y appears to be the oiliest but it’s necessary to balance out the powdery-ness of Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, otherwise the sunscreen would be way too drying.
La Roche-Posay is the next oiliest and it definitely feels that way on the skin as well, but that’s the trade off for the stronger protection.
I’m not surprised by the SCINIC results, as it does feel extremely light on the skin, but I was surprised to see that ROUND LAB, the moisturizing option, was comparable, while the Beauty of Joseon one is almost as oily as LRP!
Why I don’t recommend US sunscreens
For a first world country, we sure are behind in a lot of things, including the availability of next generation filters. Why do these filters matter?
They are incredibly photostable, which means they don’t lose their protection factor when exposed to UV rays (I’m looking at you Avobenzone!).
They have a great safety profile. Not saying that the current FDA approved filters are bad, but some have shown estrogenic activity.
They offer much stronger UVA protection, which is critical for preventing not only skin cancer, but fine lines, dark spots, and collagen breakdown – i.e. photoaging. All we have in the US is Avobenzone (notoriously unstable) and Zinc Oxide (hello 👻).
That’s why you’ll rarely find the FDA approved filters in European or Asian sunscreens nowadays, they’re outdated! Why use weaker, potentially harmful filters when you’ve got much better options? Even the EWG, who I disagree with on many issues, points out that American sunscreens are inferior due to the lack of filters available. Amen to that EWG.
(she/her) Skincare educator and researcher with 9+ years of writing experience on the topic. Also a health coach in-training who is passionate about evidence-based wellness 🧪. Learn more.
Skin profile - 30's,
dry/combination, focused on well-aging, hydration, and a healthy glow ✨