As a beauty editor, I have two responsibilities in life: answering every frantic midday text that reads, "Help, I'm at Sephora, what do I buy?!" and telling the world to wear sunscreen every single day, no matter what. The problem is, though, that most American sunscreens actually kind of suck—okay, like, hardcore suck—in comparison to sunscreens across the world, and most people just don't know any better.
I preface this by saying yes, you still need to wear sunscreen, because it literally saves lives. But to understand why it still kinda sucks, despite its cancer-preventing abilities, and why I bought a tiny tube of sunscreen from Japan that took four full months to ship to me in a battered, war-torn box, you must first understand the difference between UVA and UVB rays. Blah, blah, jargon, jargon, I know, but this stuff is important if you have even the slightest desire to stop wrinkles, fine lines, dark spots, and, you know, aging.
Here's the basic gist: UVB rays are the rays that burn your skin and lead to skin cancer, while UVA rays are the rays that contribute to aging, leathery-looking skin and wrinkles. In a logical world, we'd be protected from both, though, right? Welp, in America's world, our sunscreens are only required by law to protect you from cancer-causing UVB rays, and that's it.
"But what about the wrinkles?!" I hear you shout. "What about the freckles and fine lines and dark spots?! What about my face?!" Unfortunately, your classic drugstore sunscreen won't shield you from any of that, because even if it does contain some trace amount of UVA protection (which you'll know by the vague label of "broad spectrum coverage"), the law doesn't allow brands to list exactly how much UVA protection it contains, leaving most broad-spectrum formulas questionable, at best.
It's not that American sunscreen companies want to watch the world burn—or, okay, age—they're just limited by the FDA, which regulates sunscreen as a drug, rather than a cosmetic, resulting in a ridiculously slow approval process for new ingredient additions, like the highly effective UVA-filters commonly used in European and Asian sunscreens.
If you feel shocked and betrayed right now, then hi, hello, welcome to my life. I have always diligently worn sunscreen on my face, but even after avoiding the sun for basically my entire life, I'm still awash with freckles and hyperpigmentation. So after trolling the subReddit r/SkincareAddiction skin for answers last year, I discovered the bullshit that is American sunscreens, and the magic that is Asian sunscreens.
Unlike American sunscreen companies, which use the common SPF-rating system (i.e. SPF 30, SPF 40, SPF 50, etc.) to tell consumers how much UVB protection they're getting, Asian cosmetics brands (and many European brands) rely on both the SPF-rating system and the Japanese Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) rating system, which lists the level of UVA protection in a product with a bunch of clearly labeled plus signs, ranging from one to four. Awesome, right?
But it wasn't just the UVB-protection that sold me, it was the fact that Japanese sunscreens are known for being the most silky, soft, and lightweight lotions that literally sink into your skin like water, leaving zero stickiness, white cast, or odor, with less of a likeliness to break you out. So, you know, the exact opposite of everything you've ever tried.
And though I found that the internet swears by any Asian sunscreen over American sunscreen, period, there was still one cult-favorite formula mentioned over and over again, across skincare forums and the beauty obsessed crowds: the Biore Sarasara Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+/PA++++, a $9 tube of Japanese magic with almost 900 five-star reviews on Amazon, with just as many intimately adoring comments.
"I used to never wear sunscreen because I hated the way it felt on my skin, but this sunscreen I don't even feel it 10 seconds after I apply it," wrote one user, while another commented, "I love that this is an option for me as a dark skinned black woman. Many brands of SPF that say they are invisible are a joke." After reading pages of testimonies, I bought two tubes and found myself excitedly waiting, for the first time ever, for a box of sunscreen.
I waited four long months. Despite free shipping and the cheap price, this stuff did not zip over the ocean and into my mailbox—it made a long, weather-beaten journey through hell, only to arrive on my doorstep in the fall, long after summer had died. (I later discovered I could have easily purchased it from a small K-beauty store in New York City called Oo35mm, but hey). And though I was holding my now-prized possession, I was still skeptical. Could this tiny tube really be worth the hype?
Uh, yeah, it really can be, and it is. As soon as I ripped open the package and splurted it on, I noticed a major difference. The texture was so thin and silky, almost like a serum-lotion hybrid, and the scent was faint and fresh. And within 12 seconds—yes, I literally counted—of rubbing it in, it had melted completely into my skin, leaving no evidence, not even a sheen or shine, that I had applied it at all. In a word, this shit was, and is, magical.
I've now worn the Biore sunscreen every single morning for almost a year, and my skin has truly never looked better. All of my old dark marks and hyperpigmentation from old zits have faded, and my skin tone has evened out. Overall, my face just looks healthier and happier, as if it's drinking more water, getting decent sleep, and finally calling its mother. Plus, it's completely free of cancer, which is a major plus.
Sadly, unless you're planning to move overseas soon, you'll have to either stock up Asian sunscreens in bulk, like me, or wait until the FDA approves new sunscreen ingredients. Which, let's be honest, probably won't happen until your face looks wrinkled and leathery on its own. At least there's Amazon, though, amirite?
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