Start planning your trip
5 Types Of Japanese Sunscreen - Comparison And Recommended Items
Japanese sunscreen lotions have gained popularity worldwide for being lightweight and protecting from UVA and UVB rays at a low price point. In this article, we introduce the popular types of sunscreens, as well as what PA is and why you need it!
All About Sunscreen in Japan
In Japan, having a fair skintone is seen as beautiful and everyone takes great care of their skin. Sun protection is an important part of the daily beauty routine. Nowadays, Japanese sunscreens have become popular worldwide for their high UV ray protection and light-weight formula.
In this article, we introduce you to some of the varieties of Japanese sunscreens, specifying the differences between them so that you can choose the one that's best for you.
Japanese Sunscreens - What Makes Them Different?
One of the main reasons why many people from all over the world fall in love with Japanese sunscreen lotions is that they are not heavy or feel greasy.
The Japanese summer is very humid, so most kinds of lotions would build a film on the skin and sweat would gather underneath this film, making them very uncomfortable to wear.
Japanese sunscreen, on the other hand, is made to sink into the skin within minutes and doesn't leave an oily residue. The skin is able to breathe and many Japanese sunscreens tend to leave a powdery feeling, keeping your skin dry for longer.
Please note is that Japanese sunscreens often contain alcohol which some people can be sensitive to. If you apply it to your face, it is advised to layer it over a face serum or a light face lotion and not directly on the facial skin.
What is PA and Why Is It Important?
Most of the Japanese sunscreens have a very high SPF (Sun Protection Factor), namely between 35 to 50, as well as something called PA (Protection Factor A).
SPF is known all over the world as a universal sun protection measuring scale. Even clothes can have an SPF. The SPF number multiplies the time you can stay in the sun without getting a sunburn according to your skin type. For example, SPF 20 means you can stay in the sun safely 20 times longer than you would without applying sunscreen.
However, SPF only refers to the UVB (Ultra Violet B) rays that penetrate the upper layer of your skin, so if you're concerned about skin aging, you should look into the PA factor of your sun protection.
PA measures the strength of protection from the UVA (Ultra Violet A) rays which damage the deeper layers of the skin and can cause premature aging of the skin. PA is measured in plus signs not in numbers. PA+ is the lowest protection while PA++++ is the highest protection rate at the moment.
Gel, Essence, Lotion or Spray - Which One to Choose?
Left to right: Biore Watery Gel, NIVEA water gel, Sunkiller PERFECT WATER ESSENCE, Biore Whitening Essence, Nivea milky gel and Biore UV Spray
Standing in the Japanese drugstore in front of a wall full of sunscreen options can be very overwhelming. Let's compare some of the most popular options.
1. Watery Gel - The Light-Weight Choice
Watery Gel or water gel (the name is depending on the brand) has a milky, very runny gel formula. It feels cold and refreshing on the skin and it sinks into the skin within one or two minutes.
This kind of sunscreen is perfect if you have oily skin or don't like the feeling of lotion on your skin. It is also great to wear under makeup for a lightweight sun protection.
The gel-type sunscreen is the most light-weight option but it can separate in the bottle, so shake well before use. The NIVEA version is slightly moisturizing while the Biore version sinks into the skin without a trace. The NIVEA water gel is available in SPF 35 and 50, while Biore Watery Gel is only available in 50+ currently.
You can purchase these sunscreens online via Amazon Japan. See the merchandise below for more details and to buy (Biore SPF 50, Nivea SPF 50):
2. Essence - Available in the Largest Variety
Watery essence, bb (beauty balm) essence, and whitening essence are some of the many versions available. Essence is thicker than the gel and not as runny. They are not so different from one another.
"Whitening essence" might sound rather weird to someone who is not used to Japanese skincare products. Don't worry, whitening products in Japan are formulated to even out an uneven skin tone, not to bleach your skin.
If you are sensitive and want to avoid alcohol in your skin care, you should get the SUNKILLER PERFECT WATER ESSENCE alcohol free. It is one of the only alcohol free sunscreen versions available at Japanese drugstores.
Below are the products available on Amazon Japan (Biore Aqua Rich Essence, alcohol-free Sunkiller Perfect Water Essence):
3. Milk and Cream - Similar to Traditional Sunscreens
If you just forgot your usual sunscreen at home or want to slowly get used to the world of Japanese sunscreens you should try something labeled milk or cream.
These are still more watery than traditional sunscreens you might be used to but they will give you a similar thick and moisturized feeling on the skin. Most of these lotions need a while to sink into the skin just like traditional sunscreen which can make them uncomfortable in a humid environment.
You can find the above Nivea UV milky gel sunscreen on Amazon Japan:
4. UV Sprays - Refresh Your Sun Protection
UV sprays have just been around for a couple of years but they are so popular that most of the popular suncare brands have created their own version. They come in an aerosol can and are very refreshing when used on a hot day. Many of them are advertised to be used for hair and scalp as well but be aware that it can leave a slightly greasy film on your hair.
The spray itself goes on as a liquid and dries to a creamy powder. It might not be the safest option to use as your only sunscreen as you can't cover all of your skin evenly with it but it is great to use as a sunscreen refresher and can even be used on top of makeup. Any sunscreen should be re-applied every couple of hours to maintain the protection so spray really comes in handy.
Please note that any spray labeled "cool" or "extra cool" probably contains menthol, so it might not be the best idea to use this particular spray on your face if you have sensitive skin.
The Biore UV Spray (SPF 50) shown above is sold on Amazon Japan and can be purchased from the link below:
5. UV-Cut Powder Sheets - Useful and Simple
Towelettes infused with sun protection can be found during the summer at some convenience stores and drugstores. Unfortunately, they are not always available in this version and you might have to search for them but if you find them give them a try.
They can save you the extra step of applying sunscreen after using a refreshing towelette. The liquid used in the sheets turns into a powder and helps to keep your skin dry for longer on a hot and humid summer day.
One of Japan's Beauty Secrets - Protect Your Skin!
Japanese people know that it is very important to take care of your skin and protect it from harmful UV rays to keep it healthy and beautiful for longer.
At first, it might be a little confusing to stand in front of the big display of sun lotions and try to figure out the differences between them. Feel free to use this article to help you in making a decision. Some displays also have testers, so you can just try them out before buying them.
We highly recommend giving Japanese sunscreens a try if you are heading outside in Japan in the summer (or any time of the year!).
I was born and raised in Berlin, Germany and am living in Tokyo, Japan since 2008. I am native in German and English. I am a cat-mom to three rescue cats and I have a deep love for 90s rock music, kickboxing, history, chocolate and cookie dough, anything pistachio flavored, cats and bats, dragons and vampires and all things creepy-cute. My favorite book author is Anne Rice. My favorite band is LUNA SEA. My most recommended Japanese movie is 'Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence', featuring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto.