Korean sunscreens have gotten really popular because they’re so lightweight and comfortable to wear. Here’s my favourite in each category: chemical, physical, hybrid, lightweight, and stick.
The video is here, keep scrolling for the text version…
Korean sunscreens are known for being very lightweight “commuter” sunscreens for everyday wear. They have really nice textures and sit nicely under makeup. They’re generally not designed for really sweaty exercise, or swimming at the beach.
Note that all of these are Korean sunscreens, and aren’t necessarily approved as sunscreens in other countries like the US and Australia.
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Favourite Chemical Sunscreen
My favourite sunscreen category is Chemical Sunscreens. My favourite is the BEAUTY OF JOSEON Relief Sun: Rice + Probiotics SPF 50+ PA++++.
I don’t think this is a surprise – the moment I tried this, it immediately became my favourite chemical sunscreen.
It has 4 chemical filters: ethylhexyl triazone, DHHB, iscotrizinol (DEBT) and bisoctrizole (MBBT). These are all “newer” (well, 20 year old) chemical filters that are larger and less likely to absorb through skin.
Kolmar has been making a whole bunch of sunscreens for lots of Korean brands based around this same core formula and they’re all pretty much bangers (I think that’s what the kids are saying…).
My skin is between normal and oily, and really prone to dehydration. This has the perfect amount of emolliency for my skin type. It’s moisturising and hydrating without being sticky or greasy.
It’s really easy to apply the right amount, which on my skin is about ⅔ of a ¼ teaspoon. It doesn’t feel like I’m just moving liquid around on my face, which happens with some sunscreens. It just feels like a cream-gel moisturiser, and glides on super smoothly.
Some people have mentioned that it’s a bit shiny, but I think that really depends on your skin – for me it looks really glowy, especially under makeup, I usually also use a very light layer of starch powder on top. It’s also hydrating enough on its own under makeup so it stays nice and even.
There’s no white cast on my skin, but the MBBT does show up a little white on darker skin. There’s no fragrance or alcohol if those are issues for you.
All of the sunscreens in this family have niacinamide and adenosine, which are used as brightening and antiwrinkle ingredients in a lot of Korean functional cosmetics. This also has rice extracts which are good for hydration and sensitive skin.
ROUND LAB Birch Juice Moisturizing Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA++++ is very similar to this but it’s perhaps a touch more moisturising. If your skin doesn’t like rice extract and prefers birch, which is meant to be good for breakouts, then that might be a better option. On my skin they’re virtually identical.
Favourite Chemical Sunscreen (lightweight)
There’s also the SKIN1004 Madagascar Centella Hyalu-Cica Water-Fit Sun Serum SPF 50 PA++++ which is the lightest version of this Kolmar base formula.
Some people do find the Beauty of Joseon and Round Lab sunscreens a bit heavy. I actually slightly prefer that – perhaps because my skin’s been quite dry lately from using a lot of retinoids.
This sunscreen dries down to feel like almost nothing. It’s still hydrating, but can’t feel it on your skin as much, making it particularly good for oily skin, hot and humid weather, or if you have sensory issues. It’s slightly dewy, and comes in a really nice flat pump tube, which is handy for tucking into your handbag.
In terms of actives, it has a whole bunch of plant extracts including centella and hyaluronic acid.
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Favourite Mineral Sunscreen
Onto mineral sunscreen. These are also called physical or inorganic sunscreens, and use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active sun-protective ingredients.
They can be really useful if you’re allergic to a common chemical sunscreen active, or if you’re looking for a really matte finish in your sunscreen. A lot of the time they’ll look a bit white if you apply the right amount. It can be a good thing, since on some people’s skin it has a subtle evening-out effect, like a tinted moisturiser. But on my skin, it tends to look a bit weird.
I generally don’t have a lot of luck with mineral sunscreens, but people always ask me for my recommendations – BENTON Skin Fit Mineral Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA++++ is my favourite so far.
I was actually pretty surprised by how well it performed on my skin. The white cast was a bit scary when I first put it on, but on my skin it mostly went away after about 10 minutes. There were a couple of little white patches left which I could also just blend in pretty easily.
It was really easy to apply the full amount of this sunscreen. There was a little bit of settling into the creases of my eyelids, but I have pretty oily eyelids so I wasn’t really surprised.
It has zinc oxide along with butyloctyl salicylate (an “SPF booster”), so you can also count this as a hybrid sunscreen. It has a bit of a minty herbal smell.
The Benton has a more dewy, slidey finish than most mineral sunscreens, which I really liked. Sometimes mineral sunscreens feel a bit like a clay mask or wood glue on my skin, and it’s impossible to blend out any white patches. But the slidiness of this made blending very easy.
I did find that it settled a bit into my pores after a few hours – not as much as most mineral sunscreens though, and I think if I used a hydrating toner underneath and had makeup on top, it wouldn’t be noticeable.
Favourite Combination or Hybrid Sunscreen
Combination or hybrid sunscreens is the third category of sunscreen. These contain a mix of chemical and physical sunscreen actives, and they mostly have features in between the two types.
There’s this misconception that combination sunscreens give higher protection, but that’s a myth – the final protection you get is given by the SPF. But there are a lot of aesthetic differences between the types of sunscreen that might influence which one suits your situation best.
JUMISO Waterfull Hyaluronic Sunscreen was a surprise favourite for me. It has a bunch of newer chemical sunscreen filters that less people tend to have reactions with. It also has titanium dioxide, which is a much stronger UV absorber than zinc oxide, so it tends to be used in a lower amount which makes the texture a lot lighter.
So this is a really good option if you’re allergic to some of the older filters, and it has less white cast, is lighter in texture and less drying than a lot of mineral sunscreens.
This sunscreen really impressed me – it was so comfortable on my skin that I forgot I was wearing it once and almost put on another sunscreen.
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Favourite Sunscreen Stick
My favourite sunscreen stick is the TOCOBO Cotton Soft Sun Stick SPF 50+ PA++++.
I talked about sunscreen sticks recently. They’re not really suitable as a primary sunscreen. But they can be great for reapplication, when you don’t really need a full reapplication – for example, if you’ve been in the office all day and you haven’t been sweating or moving around too much.
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Most of the sunscreen you applied in the morning will still be on your face, but maybe the layer isn’t as even anymore. Sticks are really good for this sort of situation because you can actually apply them over makeup without too much smudging.
I’ve also found these really useful for situations when I would just skip sunscreen.
For example, on the backs of my hands. I’m always a bit scared of having sunscreen on my hands because a lot of sunscreen ingredients can break down plastic, so I always wash my hands before touching my keyboard or driving. But then to get a sunscreen lotion on the backs of my hands, I would have to do a lot of careful choreography. Most of the time I’m in a rush, and that’s just not something I am coordinated enough to rush. Sunscreen stick works great for that!
Also sometimes I’ll get dressed and then realise my chest is exposed, but it’s kind of hard to apply a lotion thee without it getting on your clothes and possibly staining. And if there isn’t enough time to get undressed and apply sunscreen – again, a sunscreen stick is great for that. They’re also good for around your eyes if you have a sunscreen that stings too much if you get it near there.
The Tocobo Cotton Soft Sun Stick is my favourite sunscreen stick that I’ve tried. It glides on really smoothly, it has a matte, silky finish that works really well on my skin. It’s a chemical sunscreen so there’s no white cast.
It has a moderately strong cotton scent that sort of smells like laundry or clean shower gel from when I was a kid – I really like it. The shape is big enough that it glides on pretty quickly but also narrow enough that you can get it into weird places pretty easily.
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Let me know what you thought of these sunscreens if you’ve tried them, and if there are other sunscreens I should try!
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