We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: The best Korean sunscreens are simply better than Western sunscreens. This statement comes down to innovation. Because sunscreen is considered a drug according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its chemicals and components must undergo formal drug approval processes, stateside beauty brands are limited by what they can spike their formulas with. In fact, “there hasn’t been a new [chemical or mineral] approved for use in sunscreens in the U.S. since 1999,” according to cosmetic chemist Stephen Ko.
Our Top Picks:
- Best Overall: Thank You Farmer Sun Project Water Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA+++, $23
- Allure Best of Beauty Award Winner: Innisfree Daily UV Defense SPF 36, $16
- TikTok-Viral Pick: Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun: Rice + Probiotic SPF 50+ PA++++, $18
- Best for Minimizing Shine: Neogen Day-Light Protection Sun Screen SPF 50/PA+++, $32
- Best Mineral Sunscreen: Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day Mineral Sunscreen, $40
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Dr.G Green Mild Up Sun SPF 50+ PA++++, $22
- Best for Dry Skin: Round Lab Birch Juice Moisturizing Sun Cream SPF 50+, $28
- Best Under Makeup: Isntree Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel SPF 50+ PA+++, $24
In South Korea, sunscreen formulas are advancing rapidly due to quicker approval times. Their mineral sunscreens, no matter how much zinc oxide they contain, are completely transparent on all skin tones without the telltale, annoying thickness. Korean sunscreens of the chemical variety tout an equally transparent, grease-free finish. Plus, both feature ingredients found in your favorite serums and moisturizers, like Centella asiatica (known as cica for short), allantoin, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide to name just a few. So when you slather them on, you’re not only protecting your skin from UVA and UVB rays, but you’re also adding an extra layer of hydrating, brightening, and smoothing benefits.
You’ll notice PA next to SPF in many of the product names below. While SPF focuses on UVB light (which burns skin) and measures how protected you are from sunburn, PA is all about UVA light (which visibly ages us) and your protection from developing pigmentation, says Zion Ko Lamm, MD, a Charlotte-based internal medicine doctor who combines Korean skin care with wellness. She equates PA+++ to SPF 30 and recommends seeking out sunscreens with a minimum of each.
To take this measurement system one step further, Dr. Ko Lamm points out that Western sunscreens are formulated as a necessity by focusing on the immediate effects of the sun. Korean sunscreens, on the other hand, are part of a lifestyle. They defend your skin from the long-term effects of the sun.
If we haven’t proven our point just yet, perhaps these Korean sunscreen picks from K-beauty experts, dermatologists, as well as Allure editors in New York City and Seoul will. Maybe you’ll be more likely to use (and reapply) sunscreen if you love these formulas as much as we do.
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