Sunscreen is a must because of its ability to prevent skin cancer and photo-ageing. However, did you know that Asians are a lot more conscious about suncare than Westerners?
In fact, studies from the US and the UK show that 40 to 60 per cent of their populations don’t wear sunscreen at all. Asians, meanwhile, have earned the reputation of being anti-sun because of a wide array of sunscreen offerings in the region, as well as the seeming obsession with sun visors (much to the fascination of the internet) and umbrellas whether travelling or just taking a casual stroll in their neighbourhoods. So it comes as no surprise that Asian sunscreens — Japanese sunscreens, in particular — are on a different level from the rest. But how exactly do they differ and why are Japanese sunscreens better?
Product formulation and regulation
Starting off with the basics: American sunscreens are regulated by their Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as over-the-counter drugs, which limits a lot of what can and can’t go into the product. Japanese sunscreens, on the other hand, are regulated as cosmetic-grade products, which allows for more flexibility in terms of product experimentation, testing, innovation, and of course, distribution. This is why Western sunscreens also tend to have the same lotion-like consistency, whereas Japanese sunscreens tend to have more variation on viscosity, added skincare benefits, and more.
Since American sunscreens are marketed as drugs, they are attributed to being topical for skin cancer prevention. While it is similar to Japanese sunscreens in this aspect, the Japanese sunscreens' cosmetic-grade level requires it to be marketed to consumers as suncare aid but not necessarily a sole protective/preventive product.
On Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and Protection Grade for UVA (PA++++)
SPF is the parameter used to gauge protection against UVB rays, which is the main cause for sunburn and/or skin cancer. Meanwhile, UVA protection must also be taken into consideration, as it is the one responsible for more surface-level damage and ageing. That’s where Protection Grade for UVA or PA comes in, which is a UVA protection metric developed by Japan. PA doesn’t differ much from the West’s ‘Broad Spectrum’ UVA and UVB protection metric, but because 'broad spectrum' is more general, the UVA versus UVB protection ratio in the formula is not always specified. Meanwhile, Japan’s SPF + PA rating is a lot more specific about its performance as both a UVA and UVB shield.
Present global regulations also allow Japanese sunscreen manufacturers (along with some European and Australian companies) to hit the current highest standard possible for Sun Protection Factor (SPF) valued at 50+ (with some even bearing SPF values that can go up to 70 or even 100). Meanwhile, American sunscreens are often just around the range of SPF 15 to 30, due to strict FDA approvals.
In simpler terms, the higher the SPF and PA in the formula, the better. And the more pluses (+) after PA, the greater the efficacy. A quick sweep of Japanese sunscreens would immediately tell you that SPF50+ and PA++++ is the most basic and exhaustive standard — which equates to UVB protection of up to 50 times and above and up to 16 times of UVA protection — followed by both drugstore and luxury brands. But more on our top picks later.
Tight market competition, innovation and variety
Despite its similarities to allowable SPF standards with Europe and Australia, Japan’s competitive demand on sunscreens also continues to challenge companies to come up with ways to innovate consistency and variety. We’re talking lightweight formulas; added moisturising values; distinct product lines for men, women and children, and even eco-friendly components in some cases. Even German brand NIVEA, whose products sold in Japan are made by NIVEA-Kao Co. Ltd., has its very own Japan-focused NIVEA Sun Super Water Gel sunscreen. The product is specifically and exclusively made for the Japanese market — you can find it only in Japan. That's how much brands recognise the hype of sunscreens in the country.
Ready to see for yourself why Japanese sunscreens are a cut above the rest? Here are some of the most well-known sun savers from the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence is a drugstore favourite at JPY700/~USD6.50. Its watery consistency makes this sunscreen comfortable to wear even in humid weather and under your makeup. It’s also traceless and has a slight cooling effect upon application, which makes it perfect for a busy day out.
Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence, priced at JPY740/~USD7, is also not once to miss if you're looking for a tinted sunscreen that brightens your complexion, all while keeping you safe from the sun all day.
If you prefer mist-type Japanese sunscreens that can double up as your setting spray, Kose’s Suncut Suncreen Spray is the one to check out. At JPY500/~USD4.70, this easy-to-spritz sunscreen is invisible once applied, making it perfect for face, body and even hair sun-protection.
Anessa's Perfect UV Sunscreen Aqua Booster, JPY1500/~USD14 (25mL) to 3000/~USD28 (60mL), is also worth raving about for its strong waterproof formula that’s non-sticky, doesn't give off a white cast and is moisturising. If you’re eco-conscious, this one boasts a coral-safe ingredient list too.
Allie Extra UV Gel is another Japanese sunscreen to try out if you want strong waterproof formulation and great suncare protection while keeping the skin hydrated and radiant. Totally worth it for the JPY2300/~USD21.50 price tag.
If you prefer different sunscreen formulations and textures for your bare face, to wear under-makeup and your whole body, Shiseido's Ultimate Sun Protection line (ranging from USD25 to 50) that comes in a cream, a stick and a lotion version is what you'd love to add to cart.
Now that we've spilt the 411 on why its better, would you trade your current suncare pick for a Japanese sunscreen?
Speaking of J-beauty, check out these indie Japanese beauty brands worth your attention.