We’ve said it once, and we’ll say it again: Korean sunscreen is just better than Western sunscreen. This statement comes down to the simple fact of innovation. Because sunscreen is considered a drug under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its chemicals and components must undergo formal drug approval processes, stateside beauty brands are limited in 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.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, sunscreen formulas are advancing rapidly due to quicker approvals. Their mineral sunscreens, no matter how much zinc oxide they’re composed of, are completely transparent on all skin tones without sunscreen’s tell-tale, 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 cica, allantoin, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide — just to name 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 hydration, brightening, and smoothing benefits to it.
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, a Charlotte-based internal medicine doctor who combines Korean skin care with wellness. She equates P+++ to SPF 30 and recommends seeking out sunscreens with a minimum of each.
And to take this measurement system one step further, Ko Lamm points out Western sunscreens are formulated as a necessity by focusing on the immediate effects of the sun. Korean ones, on the other hand, are a lifestyle. They defend your skin from long-term effects.
If we haven’t proven our point just yet, perhaps these Korean sunscreen picks from K-beauty experts, as well as Allure editors in New York City and Seoul, will. Maybe you’ll be more likely to use sunscreen if you love these formulas as much as we do.