The wonders of K-beauty are nothing new to beauty obsessives. When it comes to makeup, skin, and hair care products coming out of South Korea, the textures are more innovative, the ingredients more advanced, and the technology always ahead of what brands are working with stateside. Korean sunscreen is no exception—in fact, it's likely the most advanced sun protection in the world. We asked Alicia Yoon, founder of K-beauty curator Peach & Lily, to break down why you should be buying Korean this summer (and all year round).
K-beauty sunscreens offer more options.
"It depends on the formula, but Korean sunscreens offer much more variety," says Yoon. "The Korean FDA (and the EU regulators!) have approved many more kinds of SPF filters than what is approved in the U.S., and Korea is always pushing the boundaries on texture innovations and formula stability as the market is hyper-competitive and demanding." This is especially important for women of color seeking formulas that won't leave a chalky white cast on the skin.
Korea's vetting process is super rigorous, which means better protection and better skin tone.
The SPF rating on U.S. sunscreens is obviously important, but the Korean system goes the extra mile to ensure your formulas are doing the work. Yoon notes that the PPD and PA rating system grades the strength of the UVA protection in more nuanced ways compared to the U.S.'s Broad Spectrum test.
"The Broad Spectrum rating system is a pass or fail system. As long as ninety percent of the UV absorption falls under a set measurement, the SPF can be labeled as broad spectrum. There is no way to tell how high or low that broad spectrum or UVA protection is," says Yoon. In Asia, the process is more extensive.
"The PPD (Persistent Pigment Darkening) rating system is used for UVA rays," explains Yoon. The amount of time it takes for skin to tan is compared to unprotected skin. If there is a PPD rating of 20, similarly to the SPF rating, it means that the skin takes about twenty times longer to tan compared to unprotected skin."
Following? Good. And in Korea and Japan, the process—the PA, or Protection Grade of UVA—is more simplified, but no less accurate.
"There are 4 grades in the PA system: PA+, PA++, PA+++, PA++++ and each plus sign covers a range of the PPD test. The highest number of +'s offers the most UVA protection." So while you're shopping, look out for sunscreen bottles with as many plus signs as possible," she says.
Korean sunscreen ingredients are more advanced.
According to Yoon, the U.S. is seriously behind on updating its toolkit for healthy sunscreens.
"They haven't updated the list of FDA-approved filters for more than 20 years, so I'm really excited for the day that more SPF filters get approved so that we can have more access to delightful textures and SPF that truly doesn't leave a white cast." But in the mean time, read on and find a silky, effective Korean option imbue some much needed Eastern influence on your daily routine.
This lightweight formula won't disrupt your makeup, so feel free to slather it on. It has a smooth matte finish, contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to create a physical barrier from the sun, and is formulated without sulfates, SLS, or SLES, which can cause irritation and acne.
The sheer number of five-star Amazon reviews on this baby are impossible to ignore. It glides on like a silky, dolphin-smooth serum thanks to water capsules filled with hyaluronic acid, royal jelly extract, and citrus. And just because it's comfortable doesn't mean it isn't putting in work. It's truly waterproof and provides 80 minutes of carefree sun defense.
The silky, porous powder this formula contains gives it its milky texture and blurring finish. And it's not just meant to prevent burns: it actually helps correct tone and dark spots as you wear it.
If you're too sensitive for long stretches under the sun, the nurturing ingredients in this option will help keep you comfortable. Green tea, cica, and sunflower seed oil reduce signs of irritation like redness and soothe the skin while it's protecting you.
This hydrating sunscreen from Thank You Farmer contains African walnut oil and bamboo extracts for extra moisture. It's also formulated with aloe extract to minimize irritation and hollyhock root, which keeps inflammation at bay.
If you have sensitive skin, this pick from Dr.G is right up your alley. It's hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and contains ceramides that soothe your skin.
Finding a formula that contains zinc oxide that doesn't leave a white cast is tough, but this everyday formula delivers. All skin tones can rock this lightweight sunscreen, both under makeup or bare-faced.
Iope is known for its sensitive skincare, and this UV-protector is no different. The liquid strengthens skin on contact without adding stickiness to a (probably) already sweaty face.
This cult-y brand is known for its super-effective snail essence (!!!) but its sunscreen is just as covetable. If you're prone to burning, the aloe in this SPF50 option will help ease the pain, and prevent more damage from happening.
This gel is practically a dream for makeup wearers: it sinks into the skin undetectably so your foundation can glide on without pause, and it imbues powerful SPF50 protection.
The hero ingredient in Rootree's offering is what makes this formula so special. Korean Dendropanax extract, a botanical indigenous to Korea, has been used for its soothing and hydrating benefits in traditional herbal medicine for centuries. An extra brightening boost from niacinamides and antioxidant-rich Japanese citrus fruit sudachi doesn't hurt, either. Added bonus: this is one of Yoon's favorite formulas.
Another Amazon darling, this milk contains 100 percent mineral ingredients, including soothing mistletoe and aloe vera and Barbados cherry to strengthen the skin. And come on...dropping less than $15 on a hi-tech formula like this is a no-brainer.
Aloe vera, watermelon extracts, and berry blossom complex give this magnifying formula a nourishing kick so your skin is hydrated without looking high-shine.
This is beach day protection if we've ever seen it: Its watery texture means it sinks into skin almost instantly, and feels totally weightless even on your sweatiest days.