Skin

Sunscreen Reviews: The Best, Worst and Unsafe Sunscreens I’ve Tried

06 June 2019

 

Today’s post has been in the making for a long time!  I am so excited to share with you some of my favourite sunscreens;the ones that I recommend to my patients and the ones that don’t fare so well in my opinion.

 

When it comes to selecting sunscreens, all of us may have our own selection criteria but for me; there are 2 main criteria I look at. (1) coverage/ protection i.e. the type(s) of sunscreen filters and spectrum of coverage and their safety; and (2) cosmetic elegance i.e. how the sunscreen sits, looks and feels on the skin. Allow me to explain.

 

Sunscreen Coverage/ Protection

 

Perhaps the most basic criterion for your sunscreen selection choice would the amount and spectrum of coverage against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens that are labelled as broad spectrum provide coverage against both UVA and UVB rays. In some countries like Japan, the specific coverage against UVA and UVB rays is labelled separately for their sunscreens.

 

The second part of coverage is choosing the SPF value and/or PA value. In general, the higher the value the better. Read my post, Sunscreen Beyond the Basics to understand why.

 

 

The spectrum of protection that sunscreens provide is dependent on the type of filters they contain. Filters are the active ingredients block out the harmful UV rays. Both organic/chemical and inorganic/physical filters have their own strengths and weaknesses.

 

Sunscreen Cosmetic Elegance

 

Can you see the sheen and white cast on my hand after I swatched this sunscreen? The finish or how the sunscreen looks on the skin after application is what I refer to as cosmetic elegance. If you can see the white cast or discolouration on my complexion,imagine what it would look like on someone else with a darker complexion. I would not like this finish on my face.

 

Just like any other skincare, how the sunscreen looks and feels on your face is what I refer to as cosmetic elegance. This is where sunscreen reviews and choices can be highly subjective and personal. Whether you wear makeup or go makeup free, the final appearance and texture of your sunscreen will impact your decision whether to use a particular sunscreen.

 

But this is not to say that cosmetic elegance is something entirely subjective; guided by whether we like how the sunscreen looks or feels on our skin. There is some science to cosmetic elegance and that is how skincare and cosmetic companies use chemistry to tailor a product’s finish on the skin. For example, physical sunscreen filters tend to leave a white cast on the skin and for people with darker skin tones, this white, opaque cast can look grey or leave the skin looking dull. However, with nanoparticle physical sunscreens, this problem of physical sunscreens leaving a white cast seems to have been circumvented.

 

Remember, this post is about my personal take and reviews on sunscreens, so I have put forth my own selection criteria to give some structure and logic to my review of sunscreens.

 

My 4 tips to choosing a sunscreen

1. Spectrum- Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

2. Coverage- Don’t just stop at SPF 30. The higher, the better. My previous post on Sunscreens Beyond the Basics will explain why choosing a sunscreen with higher coverage will give you the  most protection. I only use broad spectrum sunscreens with at least an SPF value of 50 and PA ++++ for maximum protection; as you will see in the sunscreen reviews below.

3. Physical (inorganic) vs Chemical (organic) sunscreens? This boils down to personal preference, given their respective strengths and weaknesses. I would pick physical/inorganic sunscreens if given a choice because of their superior coverage against UVA and UVB rays and they are more stable than chemical/organic sunscreens.

4. Finish- how the final finish of the sunscreen looks, smells and feels is also important in affecting your choice. In my opinion, a good sunscreen should also be lightweight and non-comedogenic. As much as I find that physical/inorganic filters to be superior, the white cast and smell can be extremely tacky and unpleasant. In these instances, looking for sunscreens with a combination of physical and chemical filters or physical sunscreen filters with nanoparticles to avoid this problem.

 

Sunscreen reviews

Now let us move on to the gist of the post, my sunscreen reviews! Make a guess which is my favourite and which ones I absolutely hate?

 

(Please note that these sunscreens may react differently on your skin simply because everyone’s skin type is different and your skincare and/or makeup steps may differ from mine.)

 

Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Skin Care Milk Review

 

Shiseido’s Anessa Perfect UV sunscreen milk- lightweight and almost no cosmetic coverage when swatched on my hand.

 

Sunscreen coverage

SPF 50; PA ++++

 

Suncreen filters:

Zinc oxide, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Octocrylene, Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate , Titanium Dioxide

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Silicones are significant
  2. Antioxidants: Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Camellia Sinensis
  3. Plant extracts: Prunus Speciosa Leaf Extract, Rosa Canina Fruit Extract, Potentilla Erecta Root Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract
  4. Moisturiser: Sodium Acetylated Hyaluronate
  5. Fragrance
 

The good

Did you guess that this is one of my favourite sunscreens? Shiseido’s Anessa sunscreen has been my daily go-to sunscreen for a few years now, even before it was being available in Singapore. I used to to stock up on Shiseido’s Anessa sunscreen whenever I was in Japan.

 

Shiseido’s Anessa sunscreen has a good coverage against the UVA and UVB spectrum. It contains zinc oxide, one of the few sunscreen filters that blocks the entire UVA and UVB spectrum. What I also like about Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen is its cosmetic elegance. This sunscreen feels light and dries quickly. After this sunscreen dries, it leaves a natural looking finish; no white flaking or sticky sensation and it does not have a funny smell.

 

In 2018, Shiseido released a new version of this sunscreen. Having tried both the older release and the 2018 version; I prefer the 2018 version because of its easy spreadability and it dries even faster than the older version. Otherwise, the 2018 version of Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen is pretty much the same as the older version.

 

Judging by the antioxidants and plant extracts are low on the ingredient list, I suspect that the concentrations of these are too low to bring about any additional benefit to the skin. Don’t bank on these for antioxidant protection to your skin; always pair your sunscreens with an antioxidant with an adequate concentration.

 

The bad

One of Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV sunscreen 2018’s strength is also its weakness. Its thin consistency allows the sunscreen to spread easily and dry quickly is something that concerns me. For a sunscreen to achieve its full sun protection coverage as advertised; the sunscreen has to be applied with adequate thickness. Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV sunscreen feels like it spreads too thinly. However, you can easily overcome this problem by applying a second layer of sunscreen. What I  do is wait for the first layer to dry and then apply the second layer to give my skin adequate sun protection. It does not look cakey or feel sticky with two layers of sunscreen on my skin.

 

Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence Review

 

 It may not be obvious in this photo but on the right side of my hand there is a grey-white discolouration where Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up was swatched.

 

Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up wasade for the Instagram generation. I picked it up at a storewide sale in Watsons because the of pink-blue ombre packaging. The poster accompanying the product stand also had me intrigued; Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up’s lavender tint could claimed to correct the sallowness  of Asian complexion and its ‘iridescent strobe pearl particles’ could brighten the skin. Now who wouldn’t want a sunscreen that could colour correct and brighten skin at the same time?

 

Sunscreen coverage

SPF 50; PA ++++

 

Sunscreen filters

Octinoxate, Titanium dioxide, Uvinul A plus, Tinosorb S

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Antioxidants: Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate (Vitamin C derivative),
  2. Moisturiser: Sodium Hyaluronate
  3. Plant extracts: Passiflora Edulis Fruit Extract, Rosa Roxburghii Fruit Extract
  4. Fragrance
 

The good

You might recall that I shared about this sunscreen after two tries …and that was a somewhat premature verdict that I regret sharing. With only skincare and this sunscreen on my skin; I thought that my skin looked brighter and more radiant in photos. However, in real life, the colour correction of my yellow Chinese skin was not apparent and the brightening effect in photos could be due to the white-grey cast that Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence left (more under ‘The bad’).

 

I suspect that the colour correction properties of this sunscreen will be more obvious with people who have fairer skin tones.

 

The inclusion of magnesium ascorbyl phosphate seems like an attractive idea because of the antioxidant benefits. However, this ingredient, as with all vitamin C derivatives cannot be absorbed by the skin. They need to be converted to L-ascorbic acid first to deliver their benefits. And with magnesium ascorbyl phosphate being so low on the ingredient list, it probably is not going to of any significance.

 

To learn more about topical vitamin C and how to choose one for your skin, please read my blogpost All About Topical Vitamin C.

 

The bad

The number one thing I dislike about Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence is that octinoxate is one of the sunscreen filters used. I’ve shared about the controversy surrounding the safety of octinoxate as a sunscreen filter in my blog post Sunscreen Safety and What You Should Avoid and octinoxate is one of the filters that I find questionable and would avoid since there are safer alternatives available.

 

In terms of cosmetic finish, Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence probably might be more suitable for people with very fair skin tones. For people with darker skin tones, this is definitely not for you. This has a high probability of leaving a grey-grey cast on your skin. I had high hopes based for this products; but neither the effects of the colour correction or ‘pearl particles’ were apparent on my skin

 

This sunscreen also caused a bumper crop of comedones on my forehead which I needed chemical peels and Q-switch laser to remedy. Sunplay Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence sunscreen also has a thick consistency and takes quite a while for it to dry so it felt like I had a wet and sticky mask on my face for a long time.

 

Definitely not buying this again.

 

La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra Light Review

 

The spectrum of UV rays blocked out by Mexoryl

 

La Roche Posay is a drugstore brand from France. Their sunscreens contain a patented suncreen filter called Mexoryl. What is Mexoryl? Mexoryl refers to Mexoryl XL (Drometrizole Trisiloxane) or Mexoryl SX (Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid or Ecamsule). Both Mexoryl XL and SX are both filters against UVA rays with slightly different maximum absorption properties1. Mexoryl is classified as a type of chemical sunscreen and one of its benefits is that Mexoryl is more photostable than most of the other chemical sunscreens (i.e. does not lose its effectiveness so quickly after application). When paired together, both Mexoryl XL and Mexoryl SX have synergistic effects.

 

Sunscreen coverage

SPF 50+; coverage against UVA and UVB rays.

 

*please take note that sunscreen labelling guidelines differ from country to country. Some broad spectrum coverage sunscreens may only quantify their UVB coverage with their SPF value but not their UVA coverage.

 

Sunscreen filters

Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane, Octocrylene, Drometrizole Trisiloxane, Bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Silicones are significant
  2. Fragrance
 

The good

Mexoryl XL and Mexoryl SX are both sunscreen filters unique to the L’oreal group (which owns La Roche Posay) so you will not find Mexoryl XL and SX in sunscreens by other brands.

 

The bad

I really wanted to like La Roche Posay’s Anthelios XL because it has been raved about in many reviews by beauty bloggers. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a dud and had the worst finish on my skin. I discarded this bottle faster than Marie Kondo could tell me, “ Discard items that no longer spark joy”.

 

Although Mexoryl XL and Mexoryl SX have been touted as the star ingredients of La Roche Posay’s Anthelios XL; the coverage in this sunscreen is not any more superior than most broad spectrum sunscreens (including some of the ones in this review) which also provide protection against UVA and UVB rays.

 

Silicones feature heavily in the ingredient list. Not a big deal to me, but some people do not like this.

 

When it comes to the cosmetic finish, La Roche Posay’s Anthelios XL left an oily feel and shiny look to my skin… and I don’t mean this in a good way. There are sunscreens or primers that leave your skin with a natural, dewy finish and La Roche Posay’s Anthelios XL took it to the other extreme with an exceedingly shiny finish that made my skin look greasy. In Singapore’s hot and humid weather, this greasy finish from La Roche Posay’s Anthelios XL was undesirable.

 

Besides the greasy look, this product piled so much on my skin. I have never had so much product ball up on my skin (and all I wear is just skincare; no makeup). Out of all the sunscreens I have tried, this one gave the worst finish and worst piling. It is an absolute disappointment for me; considering the many good reviews I came across for this product. La Roche Posay’s Anthelios is a no go for me.

 

Skinceuticals’ Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 (Tinted)

 

Skinceuticals’ Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 (Tinted)- there is a yellow-brown colour on the right side of my hand (swatched side).

 

Sunscreen coverage

SPF 50; broad spectrum coverage

 

Sunscreen filters

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Iron oxide
  2. Antioxidants: Tocopherol (vitamin E)
  3. Plankton extract: Artemia Salina extract
 

The good

This is a purely physical or inorganic sunscreen; which means that the risk of skin irritation associated with chemical or organic sunscreens is much lower. As mentioned before, the inclusion of zinc oxide is a definite plus point because of its superior coverage against the  UVA and UVB spectrum.

 

Another big plus point for Skinceuticals’ Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 contains iron oxide. Studies have shown that blue light from electronic devices can accelerate signs of aging to a small extent and the only ingredient or filter that may be effective in protecting against blue light is iron oxide. I had a lot of difficulty finding sunscreens that contained iron oxide, so I was very happy to see the addition of iron oxide in this sunscreen.

 

Artemia Salina

 

It is interesting that Skinceuticals chose to include plankton extract, Artemia Salina in this product. On Skinceuticals’ website, the company states that Artermia Salina “helps boost skin’s natural defenses and resistance to UV- and heat-induced stress”. A search for data on Artemia Salina and the skin yielded nothing, so I would take that claim with a pinch of salt. Until then, we will have to wait for more data.For a skincare company that pride itself as one backed by science and dermatologists, one would have expected ingredient choices with more robust evidence.

 

 

Although my search on Artemia Salina did not yield any information for the skin, I found out that a subtype of Artemia Salina are sold as Sea-Monkeys. Yes, you read that right. The toy-pet shrimp hybrid that was once the fad of the late 90’s and early 00’s.

 

Skinceuticals’ Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 has a watery texture that dries quickly on my skin. It also gave my skin a powdery finish with a little coverage and this might be due to the silicones.

 

The bad

As with foundations and tinted products, the brown hue of Skinceuticals’ Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 (Tinted) gave a matt and slightly brown finish to my skin, which looked unnatural with my natural complexion. So if you have a fair skin tone, you might have problems with the colour of the finish.

 

I also recommend removing this sunscreen with Micellar water or your preferred makeup remover because I am concerned that a facial wash alone will not be able to completely remove this sunscreen. Another issue I have with this product is the smell. Although the smell fades very quickly, on application it has a pungent smell, which might annoy some users.

 

Clarins’ UV Plus Anti-Pollution SPF 50/ PA ++++ Pink

 

It may not be apparent but there is a slight pink tint to the swatched side of my hand. This is why I will hardly do product reviews… taking photos and editing them are not my forte.

 

I bought Clarins’ UV Plus Anti-Pollution sunscreen in pink to review for the purpose of this blog post after doing a poll on Instagram. This sunscreen claims to offer defense against city pollution and comes enriched with alpine sanicle for anti-aging benefits.

 

On application, Clarins’ UV Plus Anti-Pollution sunscreen (pink) brings to mind Chanel’s Le Blanc Light Creator Brightening Makeup Base SPF 40/PA +++; another makeup primer-cum-sunscreen that I tried before. In comparison, Clarins’ version has rosier tint and has a thicker consistency.

 

Sunscreen coverage

SPF 50; PA ++++

 

Sunscreen filters

Homosalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone, Titanium Dioxide

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Silicones are significant
  2. Antioxidants: Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E derivative)
  3. Plant extracts: Sanicula Europaea Extract, Lapsana Communis Extract, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Cucumis Melo Fruit Extract
 

The good

I really liked the pink tint of Clarins’ UV Plus Anti Pollution sunscreen, which lent a nice rosy glow. Clarins’ UV Plus Anti-Pollution sunscreen can probably double as a makeup base/primer.  I did not break out with this product too.

 

The bad

Homosalate is another chemical sunscreen filter that is considered to be a potential endocrine disruptor . I did not manage to cover the safety of homosalate in my blog post on the safety of sunscreen ingredients; but briefly speaking, homosalate has been shown to exhibit estrogenic behaviour in a study which had flawed experimental methods2,3. In in-vitro studies, homosalate has also been shown to have anti-progesterone and anti-testosterone behaviour4,5. The US FDA has not taken a position on whether the organisation considers homosalate to be safe or unsafe due to the lack of conclusive data on human studies. The jury is still out there regarding homosalate’s safety; so I’ll leave you to make your choice on whether homosalate is safe for your use.

 

I have to say that the anti-aging/pollution defense claims have to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Beyond the marketing materials from Clarins, there is very little evidence to support the anti-aging benefits of alpine sanicle.

 

This sunscreen from Clarins also take a long while to dry and it feels sticky on my skin. The oher bugbear about this sunscreen is the price, I paid $74 for 30mls.

 

Not liking this product because of the questionable ingredient choice.

 

Heliocare 360 Gel Oil Free Review

 

Heliocare 360 Gel Oil Free: Leaves a matt finish; not much of a cast or discolouration despite the tint of the sunscreen.

 

The Heliocare brand is another brand that is well known for their sunscreen range. Heliocare 360 Gel Oil Free is stocked at clinics in Singapore.

 

Sunscreen filters

Titanium Dioxide, Bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, Disodium Phenyl Dibenzimidazole Tetrasulfonate, Phenylbenzimidazole Sulfonic Acid

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Antioxidants: Ferulic, Caffeic acid, Ethyl ascorbic acid (vitamin C derivative), Tocopherol (vitamin E)
  2. Plant extracts: Physalis Angulata Extract, Camelia sinensis, Arabidopsis Thaliana Extract
 

The good

Another sunscreen with both physical and chemical filters, Heliocare’s 360 Gel Oil Free comes loaded with antioxidants to protect against visible light and infrared radiation. Specifically, the brand touts its ‘Fernblock FC’ system consisting of ferulic and caffeic acid as capable of neutralising damage from visible light and infrared radiation. While it never hurts to have extra antioxidants for what it is worth, this claim is misleading. These antioxidants and plant extracts are not a filter against visible light and infrared radiation as alluded to by Heliocare.

 

Currently, there is no filter that exists to block out visible light and infrared radiation. What should be made clearer to consumers is that these antioxidants and plant extracts can help to reduce some of the inflammation and repair the damage to cells that might occur with exposure to visible light and infrared radiation but they do not block it out the way a physical or chemical sunscreen filter does.

 

My post on Sunscreen Beyond the Basics will explain infrared radiation and protection in greater detail.

 

This sunscreen has a light feel to it and dries rather quickly. It leaves a matt finish and this might appeal to those who have oily skin. Heliocare’s 360 Gel Oil Free did not leave a cast on my skin and I did not break out with it.

 

The bad

Even though this sunscreen dries quickly, it can leave a yellow stain on your clothes if you smudge your clothes again the sunscreen. Heliocare’s 360 Gel Oil Free has a light brown tint due to the plant extracts and it may leave a cast on darker complexions.

 

A few of my patients noticed that this sunscreen leaves a yellow tint on their skin and the sunscreen reminds them of bananas.

 

Suqqu Face Protector 50 Advanced

 

Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced-my favourite sunscreen! Sadly, this is not available in Singapore.

 

Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced- almost no cosmetic coverage except for a subtle glow.

 

Saving the best for last- my favourite sunscreen! To say that I love this sunscreen from Suqqu is an understatement. Suqqu is a luxury Japanese skincare and makeup brand that is currently not available in Singapore. I stock up on this whenever I can because this sunscreen is such a hot seller. Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced sometimes goes out of stock in Japan. If you get a chance too, try their eye shadow quads. The colours are very sheer and buildable, very typical of Japanese makeup.

 

Sunscreen filters

Zinc oxide, Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate

 

Any notable ingredients?

  1. Plant extracts: Averrhoa Carambola Leaf Extract, Rice Ferment Filtrate (sake), Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract
  2. Moisturiser: Sodium hyaluronate
  3. Fragrance
 

The good

Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced has the most beautiful finish for a sunscreen that I have encountered. It imparts the face with a natural, rosy glow without being overtly sparkly or shiny. However, it does not double as a makeup base or primer like the way the Clarins’ sunscreen can. The sheen with Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced is very subtle. Basically, Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced has gone where pink/tinted sunscreens have failed to give a natural, luminous finish.

 

Another plus point is that Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced is lightweight and dries quickly.

 

The bad

Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced but the ingredient list is pretty lacklustre for the price point. Compared to the other sunscreens that I have reviewed which have included some antioxidants (albeit in very low concentrations), the ingredient list reads like a generic drugstore sunscreen. Nothing fantastic there.

 

Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced is also the most expensive sunscreen I own to date and the most difficult to acquire. Suqqu’s Face Protector 50 Advanced is currently not available in Singapore. Your best bet is try the departmental stores in Japan.

 

Conclusion on my sunscreen reviews

I hope that you found my sunscreen reviews to be useful and hopefully, this will encourage you to use a sunscreen. Different types/brands of skincare appeal to different skin types and preferences, so whatever sunscreen that you choose, please make sure it is a broad spectrum one and reapply when you can. Personally, sunscreens with a broad spectrum coverage and  cosmetically elegant finish appeal to me.

 

I look forward to hearing about your favourite sunscreen recommendations! Please feel free to share this article or leave a comment.

    REFERENCES   1. Moyal, D. Prevention of ultraviolet-induced skin pigmentation. Photodermatol. Photoimmunol. Photomed. 20: 243, 2004. 2. In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens. Schlumpf. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):239-44. 3. Comments on “In vitro and in vivo estrogenicity of UV screens”. Bolt. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Aug;109(8):A358-61. 4. UV filters with antagonistic action at androgen receptors in the MDA-kb2 cell transcriptional-activation assay. Ma et al. Toxicol Sci. 2003 Jul;74(1):43-50 5. Interaction of polycyclic musks and UV filters with the estrogen receptor (ER), androgen receptor (AR), and progesterone receptor (PR) in reporter gene bioassays. Schreurs. Toxicol Sci. 2005 Feb;83(2):264-72

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