The landscape of sunscreens in Korea has skewed towards a “safe ingredient” trend with the advent of Korean cosmetic analysis apps like 화해 (Hwahae) making potentially irritating/hazardous ingredients easier to be aware of as well as Korean beauty gurus (e.g. Director Pi) espousing the need for “good” ingredients.
Formulations with gentle ingredients are climbing the ranks of popularity and increasing in priority when brands release new products. Whether a complete zero-tolerance attitude is needed towards those ingredients is up for debate, but it has added to the ultimately beneficial skincare culture of ingredient awareness. Save for two, the sunscreens compiled below are free of PEGs and have their potentially irritating ingredients listed alongside.
Now, in compiling this list via a combination of Korean beauty review app rankings, Korean Youtubers, and Naver blogs, the ultimate consensus is that there isn’t one holy grail product that will tick the boxes for everyone. Choosing the right sunscreen has become as involved and personalized of a decision as buying a new car. Skin type, sensitivity, and even your makeup routine play a part in determining what you’ll want out of your sunscreen.
The three main types – physical, chemical, and physical/chemical combo – are all based on the mechanism by which they protect your skin from UV rays. No single type is superior – they each have their pros and cons. And it’s up to you to test out and determine what suits your skin and lifestyle best.
1. Cell Fusion C Laser Sunscreen 100
This widely beloved and lauded sunscreen probably carries the most cred in Korea. It is the most expensive sunscreen on the list, but it is also known as THE dermatologist-recommended sunscreen and popular Korean beauty app 화해’s 2017 best sunscreen award winner. This sunscreen applies like a face lotion, finishes with little to no white cast, and is well-suited for oily skin. It’s got a dewy finish on application but does turn matte.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Fragrance, PEG-8 Dimethicone, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Phenoxyethanol
2. eSpoir Water Splash Sun Cream
Almost like a primer in disguise, this goes on like a normal moisturizer and leaves your skin with a gorgeous pearly glow, making it excellent for daily use, especially for those who wear foundation. It’s moisturizing ability also works well for dry skin.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance, Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Lippia Citriodora Leaf Extract
3. Dr. Jart Every Sun Day Sunblock
The re-release of the popular Dr. Jart Every Sun Day Sunblock just touched down in Korea. Like its namesake, it’s a good daily sunscreen especially if you like a touch of that white cast effect to even out your skin tone. Application is smooth and moisturizing without leaving you looking like an oil slick.
Possibly irritating ingredients: PEG-8 Dimethicone, Phenoxyethanol
4. A24 Premium Sun Protection Cream
Now this is not necessarily a Korean sunscreen. It’s a US-based company but oddly enough seems to be much easier to find in Korea than the US. However, it is consistently one of the top 1 or 2 sunscreens raved about in Korea, so it’s worth mentioning when it comes to showing what is actually popular in Korea. The brand is all about non-gmo organic products, and this one is loaded with good ingredients to up its moisturizing capabilities. More physical than chemical, it leaves enough of a white cast to brighten your skin.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Shea Butter, Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Lavender Oil
5. Dr.G Green Mild Up Sun
With gentle ingredients and long-lasting coverage, Dr.G’s Green Mild Up Sunscreen has been a favorite in Korea year to year. It blends well, has little to no white cast, and leaves a smooth finish making it a good physical sunscreen choice for those who wear makeup. Good for oily and combination skin, it adheres to the skin well and is moderately waterproof.
Soak Insider Tip: Apply physical sunscreens with a cushion or in layers to minimize white cast.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Citric Acid
6. Make P:rem UV Defense Me Blue Ray Sun Fluid
One of the best values on the list, it comes in a hefty bottle for its price and has a smooth, milky texture that makes it suitable for body use as well. Though a physical sunscreen, it has little to no white cast and glides on like a lotion.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Sage Oil
7. Innisfree Blueberry Rebalancing Watery Sun Screen
Despite being a physical sunscreen, this sunscreen has done what few can do – a watery texture and utterly nonexistent white cast. It’s so lightweight it seriously feels like almost nothing. The watery application might be a bit finicky, so apply in layers for better absorption.
Ingredients: Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Lavender Oil
8. LabNo Cicaloe Relief Sun Milk
The workhorse of the bunch, this long-lasting sunscreen stays put on the skin well, has little to no white cast, and best of all is one of the truly waterproof sunscreens on the list. Its gentle ingredients (the brand’s philosophy is a watch list free ingredient product) and moisturizing ability make it good for dry and sensitive skin.
Ingredients: Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Orange Sweet Essential Oil
9. Etude House UV Double Cut Sun Gel
The lightweight sun gel is completely free of any tackiness leaving your skin feeling fresh and clean. It’s got plenty of ingredients good for moisturizing dry skin but doesn’t result in a greasy finish, making it suitable for oily and combination skin as well.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Fragrance, Phenoxyethanol, Alcohol
10. Make P:rem UV Defense Me Blue Ray Sun Gel
This sunscreen is the chemical version of Make P:rem’s popular line of sunscreens. For those looking for a water drop texture that goes on near transparently, this is your guy. Plus it’s a high performance one to boot: waterproof and long-lasting.
Possibly irritating ingredients: Fragrance, Alchohol, Citric Acid
11. B:REMEDIES UV Relief Moisturizer
This came out last year with a formulation in line with the trend towards safe, gentle ingredients. Great for everyday use, it’s going for a hybrid sunscreen-moisturizer with its lightweight texture and added Baobab seed oil and cactus oil for extra moisturizing strength.
Ingredients: Stearic Acid (comedogenic), Lavender Oil