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Hopefully, by now you’ve been schooled in the importance of wearing sunscreen, and fingers crossed that you’re doing exactly that and in fact are wearing sunscreen—every. single. day. There is no better way to protect your complexion—not only from an aesthetic perspective to ward off signs of aging like spots and wrinkles, but even more importantly to prevent skin cancer.
But have you ever given any thought to trying a Korean sunscreen, perhaps? There’s no denying that K-Beauty is way ahead of us when it comes to prioritizing skincare. After all, Korean women are well-known for their impressive 10-step skincare routines and using a litany of different products religiously every day. And you better believe sunscreen is paramount among them. “Sunscreen may be one of the most important pillars of K-Beauty,” says K-Beauty expert and CEO/founder of Beautytap, James Sun. “K-Beauty is all about improving healthier skin instead of covering it up, and we know that sun damage creates inflammation, premature aging, and dehydrates your skin.”
So, what sets Korean sunscreens apart from the standard stateside stuff? First of all, expect to see a different rating system when it comes to protection levels. Whereas in the U.S. we use SPF—which measures how well a formula protects against UVB rays—Korean formulas use a system known as the persistent pigmentation darkening test. This measures how much UVA radiation someone can be exposed to without the skin tanning or darkening. This is indicated by ‘PA+’; more plus signs you see in front of that PA, the higher the protection level. Then, there are differences in formulas. Korean companies have access to many different types of sunscreen ingredients than we do here; credit different rules and regulations that make the approval process much easier. Ultimately, that translates to much more cosmetically elegant products. They’re effective, they feel good going on—what more could you want?
Check out the best Korean sunscreens below, sure to turn even the most staunch sunscreen haters out there into daily sun protection converts.
Best Overall: Missha All Around Safe Block Soft Finish Sun Milk SPF50+PA+++
This checks the boxes for all the functional features we want in a sunscreen, namely being both water- and sweat-resistant and offering plenty of UV protection. On the cosmetic side of things, the milky texture couldn’t feel nicer going on. Credit a base of silky powders suspended in the fluid that makes for completely dry, velvety finish that’s never greasy or tacky.
Best for Face: Neogen Day-Light Protection Sun Screen SPF 50 PA+++
Whether you wear this alone or under makeup, consider it your daily complexion go-to. Silicone-free and lightweight, it’s hydrating enough that oily and combination skin types can get away with wearing it solo, though it also layers beautifully with moisturizer for those with drier skin who want a little more hydration. And despite the fact that it does contain zinc oxide, it blends in seamlessly on all skin tones, without leaving behind any white residue.
Best for Body: COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF 50 PA+++
You better believe you should also be applying sunscreen daily to any exposed skin below your chin. Enter this option, which goes on beautifully all-over and also imparts plenty of moisture to boot. Bonus points for the addition of soothing and hydrating aloe extract. Happy reviewers repeatedly rave both about the lightweight texture and sheer finish.
Best Under Makeup: Purito Centella Green Level Safe Sun SPF50+PA++++
“This is one of the most cosmetically elegant sunscreens I have ever used,” raves Sun, who describes the texture as a lightweight lotion that spreads and absorbs beautifully. Credit a formula that’s made of 70% water, creating the perfect foundation for makeup. You better believe there’s no tell-tale white cast left behind either, and, rather than either mattifying or adding glow to your complexion, it simply, “maintains the existing finish of your skin,” says Sun, another win when you’re going to be applying makeup on top.
Best Budget: A’pieu Pure Block Natural Sun Cream SPF45/PA+++
As a general rule, K-Beauty sunscreens can skew a bit on the pricier side, which is why we appreciate that this pick rings in at less than the cost of lunch. Despite the fact that it is a cream, it’s not too thick and not in the least bit sticky, and leaves behind a gorgeous finish that strikes the perfect balance between matte and satin.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Makep:Rem UV Defense Me Blue Ray Sun Gel SPF 50+PA++++
The unique attribute here? Special technology that actually lowers the temperature of your skin. Not only does that feel good—especially if you have sensitive skin that easily turns red or irritated, or on hot summer days—but heat can actually also cause signs of aging in the skin. Plus, this gel touts antioxidants for added protection and is made from 68% moisturizing ingredients to combat dryness as well.
Best for Dry Skin: COSRX Shield Fit Snail Essence Sun Cream SPF50+ PA+++
Despite the fact that this feels like an essence (similar to serum) and not particularly thick or hydrating, don’t worry, it still is. Credit a heavy dose of humectants—moisture-attracting ingredients—as well as snail mucin. Yes, snail. A popular K-Beauty skincare ingredient, it’s known for moisturizing and nourishing the skin, leaving it healthy and glowy. We also appreciate the small tube, perfect for keeping on-hand for touch-ups throughout the day.
Best for Sunscreen Haters: Earth’s Recipe Waterfall Sun Gel SPF 50+PA+++
Pretty much any Korean sunscreen is sure to please even the toughest sunscreen critics, but this one is especially impressive. It’s neither lotion nor cream, but rather a hydrating gel that feels more like a serum than ‘screen. Another one of Sun’s picks, he also lauds the scent—a sophisticated combo of melon and ginger—that’s also a nice change from the standard tropical scents you might be used to.
Best Stick: Vely Vely Good Sun Stick SPF 50+ PA++++
We heart sunscreen sticks for several reasons. One, they’re perfectly portable and spill-proof, ideal for travel and on-the-go. Two, you can quickly and easily swipe them on, making them ideal for touch-ups. And three, they’re great for use on delicate areas, like around your eyes, ears, and on your lips, where you may not want to use a liquid. This solid is hypoallergenic and has a base made with seven different types of hydrating seed oils (making for a super smooth glide and application). And, like any good Korean sunscreen, doesn’t leave behind any residue.
K-Beauty sunscreens are some of the most innovative in texture and efficacy. They are truly years ahead of technology, giving customers the right texture and efficacy.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Sunscreens and sun protection are some of her favorite topics to write about, and researching this story has convinced her to switch to using pretty much K-Beauty sunscreens exclusively.
James Sun is the Chairman, CEO, and Founder of Beautytap.com, a K-Beauty curator and destination for K-beauty advice, content, and educational resources.