When the AB See link party (for bloggers and readers alike) took on the topic of sun protection, that was the push for me to finally–finally, midway through the summer–post a roundup of (almost all) the Japanese sunscreens that I’ve tried in the last two years. All of them are SPF 50+ PA++++, which is apparently hard to formulate well because I’ve had way more misses than hits!
These are the sunscreens reviewed in this post, in order of preference:
- Solanoveil Watery Essence
- Solanoveil Watery Gel
- Nivea Protect Plus Skin UV Cream
- Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV
- Sun Bears Strong Super Plus
- Shiseido Senka Mineral Water UV Essence
- Sunkiller Perfect Strong Moisture
- Hada Labo Perfect UV Gel in Pink Beige
- Sunplay Super Block
- 50 Megumi Morning UV Protection Cream Review
- Shigaisen Yohou UV Cream
- Privacy UV Mist
- Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist (bonus non-Japanese sunscreen)
Product links are to Ratzilla Cosme‘s site, which has English ingredients lists and links to where you can buy them on Rakuten or Amazon. I bought most of these just by searching Amazon or eBay.
For reference, I tested all of these in the summer when my skin is normal/balanced and a few in the winter when my skin is dry. After my morning moisturizer, I applied 1/4 teaspoon (to the extent practical), let dry (again, to the extent practical–I can’t wait 15 mins.), and then applied makeup as usual (mineral powder or cushion foundation). Some of the photos below show what 1/4 teaspoon looks like in my palm. And yes, it’s more than you’d think!
From first to worst…
Repurchase? Yes! A moisturizing cream that allows me to cut out the separate step of applying moisturizer. Although this is my personal fave because of how well it moisturizes and works under makeup, it remains super shiny. A touch of powder eliminates the shine, but this is not the choice for folks who don’t wear makeup or who want a dry-touch sunscreen. Full review here.
Repurchase? Yes! I used this loyally for almost a year because it’s the only sunscreen where I’ve been able to wear 1/4 teaspoon without it drying out my skin, greasing up my skin, or messing up my foundation application. Goes on slick and shiny, but let it dry for 5 minutes and be rewarded with a soft, satin sheen and inhumanly smooth skin. The smooth, satin finish makes for a good primer. Full review here.
Repurchase? No, but I’d use it up if someone gave it to me. Next to my #1 pick, Solanoveil Water Essence, this (discontinued) Nivea sunscreen was the closest I had found to a moisturizer+SPF in one. I still experienced some dry patches with this, so moisturizing the driest areas was still necessary. On the plus side, the finish was a natural satin sheen.
Repurchase? No, but I’d use it up if someone gave it to me. (Currently using it on my neck and chest. 👍) The irresistible name and packaging aside, Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV is a lighter gel-cream that very lightly moisturizes (lighter in consistency and moisturizing capabilities than #1 Solanoveil Watery Essence and #3 Nivea). I can’t use this without moisturizer (especially in the autumn and winter), but oilier skins might be able to. This left a strong sheen on my face–not as shiny as Solanoveil Watery Essence, but definitely enough that I would need to powder.
Repurchase? No. This is a thin milk (shake well first) that I initially thought was working out well, leaving a smooth velvety finish as if I’d applied primer. But with cumulative use, I noticed my skin getting drier and drier. And that was in summer, when my skin is at its oiliest.
Repurchase? No. This never seemed to fully dry down, leaving a cushy, squishy layer that caused cushion foundation to gunk up on my skin. And when I tried skipping moisturizer in hopes that the sunscreen would dry down, my skin just turned dry and flaky during the day, so it didn’t offer enough moisture.
Note: On Amazon, this is listed as Shiseido Senka Aging Care UV Sunscreen, but reviews may call it Shiseido Senka Mineral Water UV Essence.
Repurchase? No. As with the Shiseido Senka above, Sunkiller Perfect Strong Moisture never really dried down, leaving a squishy film on my face that caused gunking and pilling with makeup. Even applying powder didn’t cut the damp feeling by much. The consistency is a gel-lotion that I think you had to shake up IIRC.
Repurchase? No. I didn’t expect much from a tinted sunscreen, and well, it met my expectations. Applying anything close to 1/4 teaspoon is overkill and causes pooling in large pores and flaking around my nose. At the same time, it doesn’t cover any marks the way that foundation would. Instead, it very subtly evens out skin texture and skin tone (assuming you have fair skin along the lines of NC/NW15). But this is hardly the all-in-one timesaver that it could be. You’d have to treat this like makeup (apply way less than 1/4 tsp) and rely on another sunscreen for sun protection!
Repurchase? No. I bought this after Ratzilla named this as a Best Pick, describing it as fast absorbing and moisturizing. On my skin, I had the opposite experience. It wasn’t moisturizing enough to replace moisturizer (I tried this in the winter and summer), and it left a gummy, clammy feeling that lasted for the whole day. No matter how many layers of powder I’d apply, it was as if the cream just absorbed the powder and became one with it—so then skin would be gummy, clammy, and dry. I couldn’t even use this as body sunscreen. And don’t get me started on the weird bucket packaging.
Repurchase? No. Shigaisen Yohou intrigued me because it uses only physical sunscreen filters (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), which seems rare in a Japanese PA++++ sunscreen. But as you can tell from the white-flash photos above, such high protection comes at a cost: enough ghostiness to star in the next “Ghostbusters” movie.
I tried to apply 1/4 teaspoon but hadn’t even applied 1/4th of that amount (so…like 1/16th tsp?) when I saw the whiteness building on my face and pooling in my nose pores. I tried to blend out that teeny amount on my face, but the dry formula (yes, it’s a cream that’s dry) wouldn’t blend out at the edges, leaving telltale white edges if you looked closely. Over the next couple of hours, it dried out my skin like nothing else–and again, that’s with only 1/16th tsp.
12. Privacy UV Mist and 13. (Bonus!) Supergoop Defense Refresh Setting Mist
Repurchase? No. The eternal dilemma: how to re-apply sunscreen when you’re wearing foundation? The common dealbreaker with these two mists was their imprecision. When using a skincare mist for spritz and giggles, it’s fine to be imprecise and just generally aim down the center of your face. When using a sunscreen mist, it’s worth a few extra spritzes to ensure coverage on the sides and top of your face as well.
But both Privacy and Supergoop disappointed in how they ended up on my clothes (ahem, my nice dry clean-only clothes) and in my hair. Luckily, Privacy wiped off easily, but Supergoop left a sticky residue on my hair and my clothes, even after I tried wiping it off.
Privacy UV Face Mist is a thin, wet mist (like a hydrating mist) with a powdery smell. Multiple spritzes just left my face looking shiny and feeling sticky. Supergoop, which is rated only PA+++, wasn’t inherently shiny but didn’t mattify either. The formula was thicker than Privacy and smelled slightly of rosemary for the first few seconds. Overall, a giant meh for both.
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Thanks for reading and good luck on your sunscreen search!