The Asian Beauty Sunscreen Battle: We compared four to find the best daily sunscreen!
Over at the Project Vanity Community page, we often get requests for sunscreen recommendations. Everyone looks for the same qualities: no white cast, not sticky or heavy, and ideally without that distinctive sunscreen scent. By and large, Asian Beauty (AB) sunscreen formulas are the clear favorite, with most recos coming from Japanese and Korean skincare picks. Having so many options can be pretty overwhelming though, so let’s attempt to answer the billion dollar question: which sunscreen has the best formula?
I lined up four sunscreens that I currently have in my collection and are all locally available (and therefore, easily accessible). From Korea are Kim’s favorite Yadah Oh My Sun Block SPF35 PA++ (P425 for 50ml, Beauty Bar) and the Neogen Day Light Protection Sun Screen SPF50 PA+++ (P1,300 for 50ml, theskincarecurator.com). For Japan, I had to of course include the current crowd favorite, Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50+ PA++++ (P488 for 50ml, SM Beauty). And in case you haven’t heard, the Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV SPF50+ PA++++ (P790 for 40g, Canmake counters) is my personal HG but I will try very hard to not be biased.
Physical or chemical filters?
Due to medical conditions or simply out of preference, the kind of sunscreen filters used in a formula is a major consideration for some users. Products may have purely physical filters and purely chemical filters, but there are also formulas that use both types. Cosmetic chemist Michelle of Lab Muffin explains it in greater detail but here’s a quick breakdown:
Physical sunscreens provide literal coverage from the sun, which is why formulas that prominently feature zinc oxide and titanium dioxide can sometimes feel a bit heavy. They also have a higher tendency of creating a white cast.
Chemical sunscreens are better at giving higher and more photostable sun protection. They also don’t leave as much of a white cast.
I checked the ingredients list of each sunscreen using Skincarisma, which identifies the UV filters in each formula. Of the four, Biore is the only formula that purely relies on chemical filters, while the rest are a combination of both:
Yadah Oh My Sun Block - Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Octocrylene, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Titanium Dioxide
Neogen Day Light Protection Sun Screen - Zinc Oxide, Isoamyl p-Methoxycinnamate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, Titanium Dioxide
Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence - Ethylhexyl Triazone, Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine
Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV - Zinc Oxide, Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, Titanium Dioxide
Texture and scent
As with most AB formulas, all four sunscreens feel lightweight when applied. The Korean formulas have a creamier consistency, while the Japanese ones both feel like a watery gel. They absorb well into the skin, don’t feel sticky, and don’t cause issues for any makeup applied on top.
None of them have the typical sunscreen scent. Neogen and Yadah’s formulas smell pleasantly botanical, possibly because of the addition of botanical extracts like rose and raspberry (Neogen) and bergamot and lavender (Yadah). Biore contains orange, grapefruit, and lemon extracts and definitely smells like citrus, but it also contains added fragrance (it’s the only one of the four formulas to do so). Canmake doesn’t really smell like anything; there’s only a very mild candy-like odor that you’d only be able to detect if you deliberately sniff it.
Speaking of scent, this is where Biore began to fail for me. Despite the extracts and added fragrance, the high alcohol content of the formula is very apparent in the scent (it’s listed second on the ingredients list). This really put me off but since other people don’t seem to notice it, I may have either an extremely sensitive nose (which is true) or the product I tried had begun to degrade. Either way, the inclusion of citrus extracts already gives me pause as they are known to have a photosensitizing effect, so it seems risky to add them into a product that is supposed to provide sun protection.
Like Biore, Yadah also contains a drying alcohol (benzyl alcohol) but it’s much further down the ingredient list. The alcohol content is supposed to help the sunscreen formula set and dry quicker, but I didn’t find that to be an issue for the alcohol-free formulas of Neogen and Canmake.
I don’t know what ingredient/s trigger eye irritation but my eyes began to sting as soon as I put Biore on my cheeks (but not near my eye area). I also experienced stinging when I get sweaty while wearing Neogen and Yadah, but I’m able to apply Canmake over my eye area without any bad reactions.
Finish and appearance
AB sunscreen formulas are usually regarded for their lack of white cast, and that was generally true for all four sunscreens here. However, my side by side swatches showed that the Korean sunscreens actually have a tiny bit of white cast compared to the Japanese ones! I think that this might be due to using a creamy formula, which takes more time and effort to work into the skin compared to a gel formula.
Neogen and Yadah both leave my face looking a little shiny while Biore has a matte finish that makes it a popular choice for those with oily skin. Canmake has a dewy effect that makes my dry skin look moisturized, so this is my favorite finish of the four.
In the swatch photo, you can also see how the Biore sunscreen doesn’t look as wet as Canmake’s even though they are both watery gel formulas. That’s because the alcohol content makes it dry super fast!
I’m sorry, Biore fans, but the only good things I can say about this formula is that it dries quickly, it dries matte, and it offers the cheapest option for SPF50 PA++++ level protection at P9.76 per ml. Because of the high alcohol content though, I really don’t recommend this if you have dry, acne-prone, or sensitive skin. If your skin doesn’t have a negative reaction to alcohol and you love this sunscreen, stick to what works for you!
Yadah is the most affordable option at just P8.50 per ml but it has a lower level of protection at just SPF35 PA++. It’s enough for daily use that involves minimal sun exposure, though! Just make sure to apply it well to avoid getting a white cast.
While I appreciate Neogen’s alcohol-free formula, it’s really expensive at P26 per ml! Like Yadah, it also needs to be worked well into the skin to prevent white cast, and I feel that a sunscreen this pricey shouldn’t require as much effort to use.
Finally, it’s not hard to understand why my heart belongs to Canmake. I think paying P19.75 per ml is worth it for a formula that I adore in every way, and is totally deserving of the “cosmetically elegant” moniker! My sun-protected eye area is grateful since I don’t have an eye cream with SPF.
Do you agree with my verdict, or wanna fight me for hating on Biore? What do you think is the best AB sunscreen formula? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments.
Photography by Nicole Quindara, with background images by whitney retter
Yadah ingredients: Water, Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, Butylene Glycol, Cyclopenasiloxane, Glycerin, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Titanium Dioxide, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Octocrylene, Cyclohexasiloxane, Methyl methacrylate crosspolymer, Cetearyl Alcohol, Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia Fruit Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia Water, Anthemis Nobilis Flower Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Diospyros Kaki Leaf Extract, Glycol stearate, Triceteareth-4 phosphate, Glyceryl Stearate, Potassium cetyl phosphate, PEG-100 Stearate, PEG-2 STEARATE, Silica, Acrylates/ C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, Glyceryl caprylate, Aminomethyl propanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Dimethicone, Propylene Glycol, Ethyl Hexanediol, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Phenoxyethanol, Benzyl Alcohol, Dehydroacetic Acid, Opuntia Humifusa Flower/Stem Extract, 1, 2-Hexanediol.
Neogen ingredients: Water, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine, Zinc Oxide, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Hexanediol, Isoamyl P-Methoxycinnamate, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Titanium Dioxide, Cetearyl Alcohol, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glyceryl Stearate, Peg-100 Stearate, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Phyllanthus Emblica Fruit Extract, Rubus Idaeus(Raspberry) Fruit Extract, Vaccinium Angustifolium (Blueberry) Fruit Extract, Euterpe Oleracea Fruit Extract, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/Vp Copolymer, Carbomer, Lippia Citriodora Leaf Extract, Rosa Damascena Flower Extract, Tocopheryl Acetate, Angelica Archangelica Root Extract, Beta-Glucan, Hibiscus Sabdariffa Flower Extract, Artemisia Absinthium Extract, Arnica Montana Flower Extract, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Alumina, Gentiana Lutea Root Extract, Achillea Millefolium Extract, Litsea Cubeba Fruit Oil, Citrus Limon (“Lomon”) Fruit Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Cedrus Atlantica Wood Oil, Disodium Edta, Potassium Hydroxide, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis(Orange) Oil, Aluminum Stearate
Biore ingredients: water, ethanol, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, lauryl methacrylate/sodium methacrylate crosspolymer, alkyl benzoate, bisethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate, dimethicone, ethylhexyl triazone, silica dimethyl silylate, dipropylene glycol, xylitol, dextrin palmitate, acrylates/ c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, polysilicone-9, glyceryl stearate, aminomethyl propanol, vinyl dimethicone/ methicone silsesquioxane crosspolymer, agar, isoceteth-20, c30-45 alkyl methicone, polyvinyl alcohol, c30-45 olefin, sodium hydroxide, butylene glycol, propylene glycol, sodium hyaluronate, royal jelly extract, citrus aurantium dulcis fruit extract, citrus grandis fruit extract, lemon fruit extract, phenoxyethanol, edta-2na, bht, fragrance
Canmake ingredients: Water, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (Octinoxate), butylene glycol, diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl benzoate (Uvinul A Plus), zinc oxide, methylheptyl ester of lauric acid, titanium dioxide, dimethicone, bis ethylhexyloxyphenolmethoxyphenyl triazine (Tinosorb S), polymethylsilsesquioxane, cyclopentasiloxane, sodium hydroxyethyl acrylate / acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer diisostearyl malate, hydroxide Al, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, stearic acid, phenoxyethanol, polyglyceryl-3 polydimethylsiloxiethyl dimethicone, polyhydroxystearyl acid, jojoba ester, xanthan gum, arginine, hyaluronic acid, alpha-glucan, phytic acid, saxifraga sarmentosa extract, glucosylceramide, cherry leaf extract, job’s tears seed extract, morus alba root extract, onethera biennis seed extract, silver oxide, Queen of the Meadow flower extract, bilberry leaf extract, artichoke leaf extract