If I have to point to one daily dimension in which South Korea transformed my life, it’s wearing sunscreen. South Koreans protect their skin with a near religious fervor, and it rubbed off on me. (Hehe, pun intended.) Now I am militant about never leaving home without sunscreen on my face and am super serious about putting it on my kids, too. They are better at reapplying sunscreen than brushing and flossing 2x a day.
Asia and Europe seem to have superior sunscreen, because regulatory bodies across both continents allow for more sun protection filters in their sunscreen ingredients and formulations than the US FDA, which has not updated its sunscreen protocols since 1999. Now that Congresswoman AOC is in on the call for better American sunscreen, Vox’s excellent Today Explained podcast made it a topic of its Wednesday show, featuring The Atlantic’s Amanda Mull and me. I join during the second half to gab about South Korean skincare — and why sunscreen is so crucial as part of the Korean skincare routines.
This led some listeners to ask, what Korean sunscreens do you recommend? Well, I’m happy to share! Note: I am not sponsored by any of these brands, they are just the products I use on myself and my children. Among US products, my daughter Eva likes SuperGoop’s ubiquitous Unseen Sunscreen, but I find it too greasy.
MISSHA All Around Safe Block Waterproof Sun Milk
I wear this everyday, it’s in my purse. It goes on light and smooth. It’s white but rubs in without white residue. It never stings when you sweat or when it washes off in the shower. It’s less than $20. You’ll notice it has a PA++++ factor on the bottle, that’s because sun protection factor (SPF) is a US measurement, while Europe uses the PA followed by +’s standard. Missha is a low-cost “road shop” brand whose backstory I tell in Flawless, my book.
AHC Natural Perfection Fresh Sun Stick
I loaded up on these sun sticks before I came home from Seoul. They are perfect for kids, so they can apply without the product ever touching their hands. It’s clear and not chalky. Great to use in the summer, and on the go.
INNISFREE Hyaluron Moist Sunscreen SPF50+ PA++++ 50mL
People outside South Korea seem to have really caught onto Innisfree and its focus on natural ingredients that are gentle on our skin. This is at a slightly higher price point than the Missha I use all the time, and I think it’s because it also has some moisturizing ingredients that consumers really like. If you’re okay with spending a little more, Innisfree’s sunscreen are a good bet. There’s a whole fascinating history of its parent company, Amore Pacific, and how it emerged as the Korean peninsula was being split apart by war and geopolitical factors, which I also detail in Flawless.