Favorite Unscented Sunscreens

I’m going to let you in on a secret–there is something I’m even more obsessed about than perfume, travel, food, and books. It’s sunscreen. I realize that it may not sound like a particularly interesting passion. It sounds a little boring (or plain odd, depending on your thoughts about tanning). In my world, however, sunscreen is wonderful and fascinating, and searching for the next perfect product can be an exciting adventure. I learned Korean to read sunscreen labels. (Yes, I admit, I’m a little odd, but I assure you that my eccentricities are mostly harmless.)


My interest in sunscreen was precocious. I never enjoyed tanning, and I figured that it would be easier to keep my skin in its natural pale state than try changing it into something it refuses to be–fashionably bronze. Little by little, I started exploring sunscreens and accumulated quite a repertoire. I wear sunscreen every day, and I enjoy the process.

I also enjoy the results from using sunscreen. It helps to keep my skin smooth, resilient and free from sun spots. No other cream or skin care trick will achieve the same effect over the long run. But when people say that they don’t like sunscreen, I can easily understand their sentiment. Many sunscreens available in the US and Europe are far from ideal.  Their finish is either too greasy or too white. US sunscreens don’t offer full spectrum protection, because many active ingredients still haven’t been approved by the FDA. Also, they are often too strongly perfumed. As much as I love scents, I don’t want to smell my sunscreen.

My list below is a small selection of favorites that wear comfortably. When I say sunscreen, I don’t mean moisturizer or foundation with sunscreen; they don’t offer enough protection. I mean a proper SPF product. As with any skincare, everyone has different needs and preferences, so my list is highly personal. I have combination skin, not overly sensitive but occasionally dehydrated. Sunscreen ingredients are divided into chemical and physical blockers. I don’t have a preference for one versus another, but in order to avoid exposing my skin to a single type of ingredient, I rotate. With an arsenal of more than 10 sunscreens, it’s very easy. What I discovered in my search for the one perfect sunscreen is that such a thing doesn’t exist. Depending on the weather and my skin conditions, I vary my selection. Two of the sunscreens below aren’t technically “fragrance-free,” but they don’t have a noticeable scent.

Paula’s Choice Sun Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen for Face and Body SPF 50

I’ve used Paula’s Choice sunscreen for a few years, and I like its gel-like texture. It applies to a transparent, light finish and while it has a slight sheen, it’s neither greasy nor sticky. In the summer, I reapply sunscreen at least twice a day, and Paula’s Choice makes it easy to add layers. Great for face and body. Fragrance-free. $17

Avène Very High Protection Lotion for Children SPF 50+

As you can see from the photo below, this sunscreen is the thickest and richest. It doesn’t irritate my skin, but the finish is too oily. Since this product applies thickly, it’s a little bit tricky to reapply and remain looking presentable. Not an ideal choice for a day of meetings or office work, but a perfect beach companion. Many friends who’ve complained of sunscreen irritating their skin have liked this children’s option. Fragrance-free. €12

Avène High Protection Spray SPF 30

A thinner, less protective version of the aforementioned Avène product. The texture is light, and there is no white cast after it dries down. My skin nevertheless becomes shiny with it, but it’s nothing that a fine layer of powder won’t fix. Unlike other sunscreens on my list, it does have a scent, but it disappears within 10 minutes, so for this reason, I left it on the list. Works well for reapplications. Packaged in a convenient spray bottle, this Avène is so versatile that it often accompanies me on my travels. Good for face and body. €18

Update August 2015: the new batch of this sunscreen has a stronger scent than my older bottle. I’m not sure if the formulation has changed or whether my bottle has mellowed over time. It’s still a very good sunscreen, especially for the bottle, but please keep in mind that it’s scented.


Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen SPF 50 PA++++

When it comes to sunscreen, nothing beats Asian brands. I could write a tome on Japanese sunscreens alone, but I will spare you and just mention a few of my current favorites. Sunscreen technology evolves rapidly, and products continue to be perfected, so it’s not possible to do a comprehensive list. For more information, along with helpful shopping advice, please take a look at A Guide to Sunscreen in Japan over at the Surviving in Japan blog.

The beauty of Japanese sunscreens is that they give a perfect finish–matte but with a healthy glow. They don’t simply protect my skin, they make it look better. “PA” with a plus sign (+) is used to indicate the level of UVA protection, with four pluses being the best option. Anessa is one of the most popular brands in Japan, and its Perfect UV Sunscreen offers the highest form of protection and has a water light texture and transparent finish. Easy to reapply, fragrance-free. If you live or travel in hot, humid climates, I don’t know of another better product.

But a caveat is in order. Perfect UV Sunscreen contains alcohol, and since I apply it over a layer of moisturizer, it doesn’t bother my skin. Yours might be different. $18

Anessa Mild Face Sunscreen SPF 30 PA+++

Mild Face Sunscreen offers slightly less UVA protection, but it contains no alcohol, leaves a perfect finish and can be reapplied easily. It’s only a little bit thicker than Perfect UV Sunscreen. The finish is matte with a natural glow. Fragrance-free. $19

Mentholatum Sunplay Superblock SPF 50 PA++++

High UVA protection, no alcohol. I love this sunscreen for its feathery light texture and comfortable, non-greasy finish. If I were forced to pare down my collection to just one sunscreen, I would keep Sunplay Superblock. Fragrance-free. $15

La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Very High Protection SPF 50 for Face and Body

La Roche Posay is an excellent brand, and I’ve been using its sunscreens for more than ten years. Unfortunately, Anthelios XL contains alcohol and the recent reformulation made it thicker and heavier. Anthelios XL comes in several different guises, and Very High Protection SPF 50 for Face is the most gel-like, with no white cast. Reapplying it will make skin shiny, so powder is a must. Why do I keep a tube on hand, despite all of these shortcomings? My skin feels good when I wear it, and the brand is very easy to find in Belgium. Fragrance-free. $26

Extra (not pictured in the 2nd photo):

RMK Face Protector SPF 50 PA++++

RMK is a stellar Japanese makeup brand with some of the nicest eyeshadows and nail polishes I’ve tried, and like many cosmetic lines, it offers its own sunscreen. Face Protector has a gel like texture. No shine, no white cast, no sticky finish. It contains alcohol, but it’s also packed with moisturizing ingredients. Also, it has a terrific velvety finish, and it can even be reapplied over makeup. One time when I was wearing it, I was offered a modeling engagement for a skincare commercial. Can anything recommend a product better? Mild scent that vanishes instantly. The downside is that it’s expensive. $38

Update August 2015: I have since discovered another sunscreen that has the same elegant finish as RMK’s and at fraction of a price, Bioré UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF 50+ PA++++. It also contains alcohol, but the formula is rich with moisturizers, and it feels great on my skin. Can be reapplied over makeup. Another big plus is that it’s scent-free and reasonably priced. $10-12

Some people mentioned that certain types of sunscreen clog their pores and cause breakouts. If you find this to be the case, try an oil-based cleanser. Most sunscreen ingredients are oil soluble, and water wouldn’t remove them. Every evening I use DHC Cleansing Oil and then my regular cleansing gel (Johnson & Johnson Purpose or La Roche Posay Toleriane). This method has eliminated all sunscreen related breakouts for me.

Availability: Paula’s Choice is available via paulaschoice.com. Avène and La Roche Posay are the European pharmacy brands, and like Asian sunscreens, they’re sold on Amazon and Ebay. In Europe, RMK can be found at selfridges.com.

If you have your favorite sunscreen, please share. 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • sandra: Just came back from our holiday in Holland and it was HOT HOT HOT..we went through loads of sunscreen since we had the baby-and we were not prepared for the heat wave. We used Nivea kids-but my favorite was Garnier for babies. Both had no scent. Garnier left a white layer on your skin a bit-but did the job well. Also it was very affordable. It amazes me how much more Nivea/Garnier products they carried in pharmacies then in the US.
    Some days it was hotter in Holland then in NYC! July 6, 2015 at 7:49am Reply

    • Austenfan: It has been exceptionally hot in the Netherlands. It took a while for the heat to arrive this year but when it did, it did so with a vengeance. I’m glad it has cooled down a bit. Dying for some rain! July 6, 2015 at 7:58am Reply

      • sandra: It was tough-most of the buses and one of the trains had no a/c-I was dying. Most of the places we stayed had no a/c as well. I never drank so much water (and I never ate so much bread and cheese 😉 ) July 6, 2015 at 9:32am Reply

        • Austenfan: Well, we’re used to doing without it as we mostly don’t need it. I don’t like AC as it makes my eyes go red, but in the heat, esp. at work it seems a must.

          I hope you had some good cheese 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 9:59am Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: It was terrible. I hope my perfumes survived.
            I hate AC, never have it.
            Bread and cheese, good idea! July 6, 2015 at 11:21am Reply

          • Victoria: Yes, my American friends and family invariably get surprised that we don’t have the AC at home, but it’s needed for only 2 weeks a year at most. I’m no longer used to it, and my eyes also get irritated. July 6, 2015 at 3:00pm Reply

    • Sandalwood: It’s been hot and humid in this part of the US but this area is known for a sub tropical environment.
      I like the smell of Coppertone sunscreens. I just don’t care for anything with a coconut or other fruity vibe. Doesn’t work for my nose (I know. That’s not the point of sunscreen) but I figure that I am applying liberal amounts to my sun sensitive skin, it’s got to have something olfactory pleasing! July 6, 2015 at 10:25am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s hotter today in Kyiv than in Mumbai, believe it or not.
      I hope that you enjoyed your vacation nonetheless. What did you do, which places did you visit?

      Garnier and Nivea are among the favorite European brands, and they’re sold pretty much everywhere. July 6, 2015 at 2:34pm Reply

      • sandra: Amsterdam, Maastricht, The Hague, Breda and Den Bosch.
        Also I discovered this Rituals shop and came home with some Green Tea foaming body wash and scrub. Smells so divine! July 7, 2015 at 7:17am Reply

        • Austenfan: That’s quite an interesting mix of places to visit. Not just the obvious ones. July 7, 2015 at 12:21pm Reply

        • Victoria: Wow! This is a cool itinerary. I still need to visit Maastricht. What impression did it make on you? July 8, 2015 at 2:26am Reply

          • Sandra: Is was very beautiful , clean and the narrow streets were fun to explore. I would go back again! I loved all the foot traffic and the lack of cars, and there is so many outdoor cafes. The second place I would visit again would be Den Bosch- but only to eat anothe Bossche ball! July 8, 2015 at 6:46am Reply

            • Victoria: You’re making me want to visit Den Bosch. 🙂 July 9, 2015 at 4:45pm Reply

  • Austenfan: It’s an interesting post, even though personally I’m a bit haphazard about applying sunscreen and have the wrinkles and sunspots to prove it.

    Do the Asian brands use different sunscreens from the European brands? Is the Asian preference for porcelaine white skin for women only, or are men supposed to have pale skin as well? And is it something recent or have they always had this preference?
    Sorry for so many questions. July 6, 2015 at 8:05am Reply

    • Victoria: They’ve started using more photostable ingredients earlier, and the research constantly evolves, because protecting skin from tanning is everyone’s obsession. It’s a longstanding cultural preference that goes back centuries. Men aren’t expected to have such pale skin, by the way, although in ads, you see many pale men too. July 6, 2015 at 2:48pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Thanks for such a satisfying answer 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 3:57pm Reply

  • Caroline: Would love to give the Japanese brands a shot. Do you happen to know if they contain avobenzone? That’s my one nemesis ingredient, and it’s in many, if not most American non-mineral brands. July 6, 2015 at 8:44am Reply

    • Coco: Not Victoria, but many Japanese sunscreens do not contain avobenzone (I also dislike avobenzone, as you can’t wear it under makeup without compromising the strength of the sunscreen). My favorite is Biore UV Perfect Watery Essence (holy grail). Or, for a cheaper option, you might try Skin Aqua Moisture Milk, which is avobenzone-free and fairly inexpensive as far as Japanese sunscreen products go. July 6, 2015 at 10:59am Reply

      • Victoria: Skin Aqua is terrific! I should have included onto my list. July 6, 2015 at 3:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: Many do not. I don’t have issues with it, but there are so many other much better blockers, and I also prefer to mix things up and not use the same type of sunscreen. July 6, 2015 at 2:49pm Reply

  • spe: Shiseido, Clarins (the one you shake up), and Elta MD. Do not like Avene products because they clog my poors. July 6, 2015 at 8:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I used to buy Shiseido in Belgium too, but it’s a bit expensive here. A good sunscreen, though. July 6, 2015 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Meredith: I didn’t realize Ducray makes Sunplay! July 6, 2015 at 9:31am Reply

    • Victoria: Yikes! It’s Mentholatum, not Ducray. July 6, 2015 at 11:09am Reply

  • Anka: You learned Korean to read sunscreen labels??? This is absolutely adorable!!! A German friend of mine who lives in Seoul reported that the language is rather easy to learn but looking at the characters I don’t really belief him.
    Since today is International kissing day I send you a virtual kiss for this enchanting text.

    My favorite sunscreen is the Paula’s Choice one which I discoverd thanks to Olfactoria’s Travels about a year ago, it’s excellent because – as you mentioned – you can even use it for the face. I actually started way too late to use good sun protection lotions (hello dark spots…). July 6, 2015 at 9:32am Reply

    • Victoria: There are only 24 letters in Korean, and learning them takes one afternoon at most. So, your friend is exactly right.

      A big kiss yo you too, Anka! 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 2:53pm Reply

  • Bonnie: I am also a sunscreen fan! My personal favourite of all-time is Resist Super-Light Daily Defense SPF 30 by Paula’s Choice. It’s fragrance-free, chock-full of skin-enhancing ingredients, and minimizes shine. Plus, it’s cruelty-free! In a pinch I will use Anthelios XL SPF 50, which leaves a nice tint so I can forego foundation. I put my SPF on in the morning under makeup. As I work all day, and want to be protected when I leave work in the harsh sunshine, an hour before I leave I powder my face with an SPF-containing powder, either from Bare Minerals or Shiseido. It’s perfect to prepare my oily skin for evening, and while I’m waiting for the streetcar I don’t have to worry about those hot late afternoon rays. July 6, 2015 at 9:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Your technique sounds similar to mine. I don’t wear foundation makeup, only powder, so using powder with sunscreen for an extra protection is something I do in the afternoon as I step out. July 6, 2015 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Judy: Thank you, Victoria! I am a devoted sun-block user, too. I have rosacea and very pale skin and need to be careful.

    I have used La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL 50+ for years. The Gel-Creme Toucher Sec/Dry Touch dries to a smooth matte finish and is never oily or greasy, even if applied over a serious moisturizer or if you’re in a muggy climate. It’s creamy and doesn’t drip when applied. If you apply make-up over it, the make-up goes on easily and the sun block doesn’t rub off in little bits. I use it on face, neck, hands and arms. Wouldn’t be without it.

    But that said, I’m going to look at the Japanese brands you mention, too. I believe Anissa is made by Shiseido?

    Great recommendations! July 6, 2015 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Dry Touch was too white for my skin, but I found that when applied over moisturizer, it would works better. Before I left Belgium, I noticed that they now have a couple of new options, so I look forward to trying them soon.

      Anessa is made by Shiseido, yes. It has lots of different sunscreens, but so far I tried two I especially loved. July 6, 2015 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Anne: Oh what an interesting article. I use Avene on the kids – It is thick and a little oily, but goes in nicely on their skin. I am also use Bioderma.
    For me I have totally fallen for DERMAHEALTH Soleil SPF 50. It feels a little white when you first apply, but the effect goes away almost instantly. It s not oily at all, has biopeptide to repair the skin, is a fantastic make up primer, and has no conservators. It is sold in my pharmacy here in France, but I believe if you check online you can get it too. Just search Dermaheal sun screen. It is made by a Korean lab, Caregen.com….. and although I sound like a product placement, No I have no share in that company.. 😉 July 6, 2015 at 9:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Anne. Onto my list it goes. 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 2:58pm Reply

  • Hamamelis: I used to wear sunscreen every day, but I don’t anymore for quite a while now. I am more worried about not making enough vit. D than about my skin getting wrinkled…I am a redhead and was phobic for the sun, but a careful regimen (and ofcourse not allowing myself to get sunburned) has really drastically improved my skin’s capacity to cope with the sun, and tan somewhat, besides lots of freckles. I am curious if there are more readers that opted out of sunscreen! July 6, 2015 at 10:16am Reply

    • rainboweyes: I don’t use sunscreen daily and if I wear it, I apply it on my face only (sometimes also on the cleavage area and shoulders) so I think my body has enough sun-exposed areas to produce vit. D. July 6, 2015 at 11:32am Reply

    • Victoria: But if you wear it on your face only, you still should be able to get plenty of vitamin D. I wear sunscreen daily, and I took a test in the middle of the Belgian winter, and I was ok for the vitamin D. So, I figure that it’s possible to combine both goals. July 6, 2015 at 3:01pm Reply

      • Hamamelis: That is very good to know, and with Rainbow eyes’s Holy Grail, as I am careful with what I put on my face as well, I can now reconsider. Good that you had your vit. D tested, it is such an important factor in health and prevention, more research about its importance is appearing almost on a day to day basis. July 6, 2015 at 3:10pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, I agree. It’s very important to keep that in mind, especially in our grey and overcast climate. July 6, 2015 at 3:39pm Reply

          • Aurora: Many thanks for a super post, Victoria, so useful, while my French half is very familiar with Avene (a favorite) and La Roche Posay I was in the dark so to speak about Japanese sunscreens which you make very interesting to explore. However, so glad you all brought the topic of Vit. D, I’m lacking it from my latest blood test, and have to take a supplement called Adcal-D3 on prescription for 3 months and then I should be fine. It’s a very ‘friendly’ tablet which doesn’t upset my stomach. July 6, 2015 at 4:15pm Reply

            • Hamamelis: Just in case you did not come across them, there are also very good vit. D drops if your levels are still low after taking the Adcal. Very good you had your levels tested, especially living in the UK (or the Netherlands…)! July 6, 2015 at 4:43pm Reply

            • Victoria: A vit D tablet sounds like a great idea, especially in our overcast, grey winters. July 8, 2015 at 1:34am Reply

        • bregje: Very interesting that you bring this up,hamamelis!
          I am vit.d deficient and because of Crohn’s disease i need to take a supplement. I’m always doubting:do i apply sunscreen or do i go for the vit d?
          Nowadays i usually apply sunscreen on my face and wait before i put it on my body for half an hour.
          Luckely i don’t get burned easily.I do get freckles though.(although i had them since i was a child so i’m not bothered by them)

          Another good brand is the dutch brand Uncover.Developed by a dermatologist,so no scent or other irritants or potentially dangerous ingredients(as far as they know now).And a good price. July 6, 2015 at 3:46pm Reply

          • Hamamelis: I am sorry to read about your Crohn disease, a very good friend suffers from it so from second hand I know it is a difficult condition to have (she has improved enormously on methotrexaat), and vit D is so important for Crohn and most autoimmune diseases. It sounds you found a good balance. Btw I think adequate vit D levels make the skin more able to deal with UV, there are some interesting studies about this and I have noticed it too I will look at the Uncover, thank you for mentioning it. July 6, 2015 at 4:38pm Reply

            • kayliz: Slightly OT but can’t resist mentioning re Vitamin D: My mother, at 90, has bought a new car & started going to the gym (where she hired a personal trainer). She flies over to Germany twice a year and is a little frustrated that a recent bout of pneumonia stopped her going off on a road trip around Ireland. Anyway: according to Mum, the secret is (prayer and) cod liver oil. July 6, 2015 at 5:38pm Reply

              • bregje: Yes ,i use the cod liver oil too! With x-factor butteroil.(in the winter i still need an extra supplement vit d). I’ve started using it in january and i feel much stronger now.
                It tastes awful(pinch your nose and swallow) but i really feel it works.

                And prayer doesn’t hurt 😉 July 6, 2015 at 6:30pm Reply

                • kayliz: Hi,
                  On nose pinching: I picked up a handy hint from someone who takes her dog’s fish oil. The trick is to take it in a little milk.
                  (Mum, of course, downs hers straight from the dessertspoon.) July 7, 2015 at 4:47am Reply

            • bregje: Thank you,Hamamelis.
              I think you’re right about the vit d levels and uv. This also counts for nicotinamide, a vitamin B.
              So it looks like your body protects itself as long as you have balanced vitamin levels.

              I could take it further and become philosophical here,but i won’t 😉 July 6, 2015 at 6:44pm Reply

    • ElenavL: I avoid using the sunscreen because I am paranoid about all the bad stuff in And although I prefer my skin untanned I do think that in the Netherlands we see way too little sun. July 7, 2015 at 11:15am Reply

      • Victoria: You still get UV radiation on overcast days, and it does lead to skin damage and worse. July 8, 2015 at 2:30am Reply

    • Merry Rower: My quite fair son’s pediatrician here in Los Angeles felt it was very important to overall health to think in terms of “avoiding sunburn” rather than “avoiding sun.” As our family spends a huge amount of time outdoors year round in Southern California, this has been much more achievable as well. We’re blue-eyed blonds, so there’s plenty of sunscreen in our lives (and hats, and rash guards) but no fear of the sun. By this point in the year, we’re slightly golden, and I’ve decided to embrace it. One sunscreen brand you don’t mention is SkinCeuticals. Their Matte UV Defense is a pleasure to wear on the face, especially in heat and humidity. My teen son likes it as much as I do. Price is not great though, at 34. bucks on ounce. September 3, 2016 at 5:48pm Reply

  • rainboweyes: As chemical UV filters are suspected of acting as hormones, I try to avoid them but it wasn’t easy to find a product that doesn’t whiten my skin. I’ve finally found my Holy Grail, though – Cellular Protection Sun Cream SPF 30 (also available as SPF 50) from The Organic Pharmacy. On workdays when I spend most of time in the office, I mostly use a BB cream with SPF 15 (Luxsit and Joik are my favourite brands).
    I’d love to try Japanese sunscreen powder, do you know a brand that’s available in Europe? July 6, 2015 at 10:36am Reply

    • Victoria: I believe it was Oxybenzone that was mentioned, but I also read that the studies weren’t conclusive. Either way, I simply change sunscreens, and since at any given time I have about 10 different varieties on hand (yes, I’m a bit eccentric), this is easy for me.

      I use Allie powder with sunscreen from Japan, but it might have to be mail ordered. Not Japanese, but Peter Thomas Roth also offers a good powder with sunscreen. It even comes in a brush. July 6, 2015 at 3:08pm Reply

  • Carlisle: Victoria, you never cease to astonish! Who else would learn Korean in order to read sunscreen labels? 🙂 TY for this interesting and enjoyable post, however my own favorite sunscreen, Ocean Potion, IS scented: it smells just like a Creamsicle, sending me back to the summers of childhood. July 6, 2015 at 10:53am Reply

    • Victoria: It wasn’t too difficult, and I had fun with it. 🙂

      Ah, creamsicles… I understand why you reach for that sunscreen. July 6, 2015 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Karen: Great article and very helpful info, including everyone’s comments. As much as I try try try to use sunscreen faithfully, I’ve yet to find one that allows my skin to breathe and not heat up. I’ve got the LaRoche Posey listed,but it just makes my face feel heavy/clammy. Will try some others, I do try to wear a broad rimmed hat (and actually love hats!), but dont always have one on when outside. July 6, 2015 at 11:08am Reply

    • Victoria: I find the opposite–I feel hotter without sunscreen, but I know what you mean about some heavier products. You don’t want anything that feels like a layer of goop on your skin. La Roche Posay does feel a bit clammy, so it needs powder on top.

      I’ve also taken to wearing a hat, and it helps a lot. July 6, 2015 at 3:12pm Reply

  • Jillie: This is a good read – I find so many sunscreens irritating. And yes, I do believe that you have the will and enthusiasm to learn Korean!

    To veer slightly off topic, I am quite a fan of Avene products and my dry face has often been rescued by their Moisture Mask, which works like nothing else has done for me. July 6, 2015 at 11:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for a recommendation, Jillie. I’m always looking for new moisturizing masks, so I will give it a try. July 6, 2015 at 3:13pm Reply

    • Austenfan: It’s lovely, I’ve got a tube of that too. July 6, 2015 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Learning Korean to read the sunscreen labels is sturdy! Is it easier when you know already Japanese?
    My sunscrean is Etos (Dutch grocery) 30 SPF and for my face Nivea daycream 15 SPF. I am allergic to the sun, and don’t mind being pale. July 6, 2015 at 11:26am Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: drugstore i mean, not grocery!
      My sunscreens are unscented, of course. July 6, 2015 at 12:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: Not really, since the writing systems are different and the languages aren’t related. There are some borrowed words in common, but basically it’s like learning a whole new language from scratch.

      I also don’t mind being pale, and I could care less whether my legs look pasty or not. I like them ok however they are. July 6, 2015 at 3:15pm Reply

  • Katya: Another ss fan here, I have 4 of the above 🙂
    After my second pregnancy I have sadly developed a few hormonal dark spots and nothing beats Actinica Lotion which I have used for the past month and very happy with it – I do believe it offers better protection than Anessa and RMK – judging by how lighter my spots have gotten since using Actinica lotion – it is sadly not as cosmetically pleasing as the Japanese ones July 6, 2015 at 11:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried Actinica Lotion, but it sounds interesting, so I will definitely check it out. July 6, 2015 at 3:17pm Reply

  • Michaela (nr2): Oh, I can totally relate : I do the same .I love my pale skin and I just adore my freckles, I stay away from sunand wear spf50 on my face almost daily. My skin is combination so I need an spf to wear as a makeup base and not clog. Uriage 50+ for combination cream is very good and Avene 50 for combination is good also. I must say they are also very hidrating and moisturising compared to rregular anti age creams. And the make sits very well on these bboth ! July 6, 2015 at 11:34am Reply

    • Victoria: I love freckles! I don’t get them, but I love them on others. They’re so charming.

      Uriage is another brand many dermatologists recommend. July 6, 2015 at 3:19pm Reply

      • bregje: I like Uriage too!!! July 6, 2015 at 3:47pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Uriage is very good. I love their Xémose syndet nettoyant doux. They have some great products for dry and itchy skin, like mine. July 6, 2015 at 4:03pm Reply

        • bregje: I have to be careful with what i put on my skin too.I have very reactive skin ,unfortunately, but Uriage(discovered while on holiday in France) looks and feels good. July 6, 2015 at 6:35pm Reply

        • Victoria: It’s not as easily available in Belgium as some other brands, but whatever I tried was very good. July 8, 2015 at 1:27am Reply

  • Coco: 헐~ 빅토리아 대박 ㅋㅋ Despite being married to a Korean(-American) man, I’ve picked up what little Korean I know from watching dramas… so most of what I know are random, useless slang terms. Learning Korean for skincare purposes is quite commendable!

    My sunscreen recommendations (mostly Japanese):

    Biore UV Perfect Watery Essence – my daily “holy grail” sunscreen. It dries super quickly and wears excellently under makeup, and feels like nothing on the skin. However, it’s not water-resistant so I would not wear it during particularly hot days or at the beach. Also, it might be slightly drying for those who don’t have oily skin like me.

    Skin Aqua UV Moisture Milk – another excellent sunscreen. No alcohol, no avobenzone, no white cast, and water-resistant. It doesn’t sit as nicely on the skin as the Biore for me, personally, plus I don’t like the fact that it has whitening properties – I like my skin color the way it is 笑

    Other good ones: Mentolatum Skin Aqua Sarafit (starts out feeling a bit filmy/heavy on the skin, but quickly disappears to a nice finish); Kanebo Allie UV Gel Mineral Moist Neo; Hada Labo’s UV Creamy Gel; and the Anessa ones recommended by Victoria. I think Mentolatum has some other alcohol-free sunscreens on the market, but I haven’t tried them yet.

    For further reading on Japanese sunscreen I recommend Ratzillacosme dot com, which is a great japanese cosmetics and skincare guide which also does ingredient breakdowns of japanese products in English.

    For those who might want to try Korean sunscreens, Missha All Around Safe Block Essence Sun is excellent for the price (plus Missha’s US website has sales very frequently) and won’t slide off your face in humid temperatures! July 6, 2015 at 11:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Wow, Coco! This is a fabulous list! Thank you very much. I tried some of these, but not others, so I have many more options to explore.

      Ratzillacosme makes for a tempting read. I immediately start making long lists of things I want to sample. 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 3:23pm Reply

    • Christy: Hada Labo UV Creamy Gel is my go-to. Thanks for your list–I will check some of those out as well! July 7, 2015 at 3:15am Reply

  • Elisa: So impressed by the Korean!! I have yet to find my holy grail sunscreen, the ingredients seem to make me break out no matter what (probably the silicones as much as the UV blockers); my face does better with the SPF in tinted moisturizers, probably because there’s not as much of it. Unless I’m forced to endure extended sun exposure, I usually make do with tinted moisturizer, hats, and shade. I won’t do stuff like sit at the beach all day anymore — no matter how many times I reapply, I’ll get burned that way. July 6, 2015 at 11:57am Reply

    • Victoria: We have such poor choices among the US made sunscreens, alas, and I also found that much of what I tried broke me out or else made my skin look like an oil slick. I have better luck with the European brands and lots of success with the Asian ones.

      Another tip is not to apply sunscreen on bare skin, but to wear it on top of something else, if it’s just a thin serum. This makes sunscreen less irritating and more comfortable to wear. July 6, 2015 at 3:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: P.S. I forgot to mention something very important–how to remove sunscreen to make sure it doesn’t leave residue. This is exactly what clogs pores over time. It’s best to use first an oil based cleanser and then a regular foaming cleanser. July 6, 2015 at 3:38pm Reply

      • Elisa: Thank you, this is a great tip! I’m going to try double cleansing next time I wear heavy sunscreen. July 7, 2015 at 11:39am Reply

        • Victoria: This was a panacea for me. July 8, 2015 at 2:31am Reply

    • Qwendy: You will def like elta MD UV Physical Broad Spectrum SPF 41 it has no silicones and a tint that seems to work well on light skin (don’t be afraid when you see the color out of the tube) it’s available on Amazon ….. August 5, 2015 at 4:28am Reply

  • Figuier: This article makes me feel guilty – I know I should use sunblock on my fair skin, but I don’t unless it’s really very sunny. Like Elisa, despite extensive research, I still haven’t found one that doesn’t break me out – I too am sensitive to silicones, at least certain varieties & in the high quantities you find in sunscreens that work under make-up. At the moment I seem to be doing ok with the spf 20 in YSL’s Touche Eclat foundation, which I guess is better than nothing.. July 6, 2015 at 12:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s better than nothing! Wearing a hat is also a good idea. I’m a big fan of hats. July 6, 2015 at 3:26pm Reply

  • behemot: Hello everyone, and thanks to Victoria for interesting post. It is difficult for me to find a good, non-irritating sunscreen for the face. For the body, variety of Clarins products work well, as well as Avene and La Roche. For the face, I use waterproof Shiseido SPF 50 ( it is a small bottle and it has been formulated for the face – it works for my combination/dry/sensitive skin). Like Victoria, I have very light skin and never really tanned. I was pale, being a subject of numerous jokes of some tanned , “healthy” looking people 🙂 Now I can see the benefits of my restraint! My favorite product is Chantecaille loose powder SPF 47++. It is made in Japan, and comes in two shades. It is pricey ($70), and comes with a special container with attached brush, which makes application very easy. It is not messy at all and I carry it in my purse all the time. Refills are $30, and I need no more than one for whole summer. Highly recommended 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 12:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can relate! I heard so many comments about my “pale like sour cream” skin. In the Ukraine countryside, tan is still a fashion accessory, and I see the evidence of severe sun damage even on young women. The sun here is intense!

      Great tips and suggestions! July 6, 2015 at 3:30pm Reply

      • behemot: So you understand pale people 🙂 I am going to try these Japanese goodies. Thank you! July 6, 2015 at 5:07pm Reply

        • Victoria: The thing is that I’m not that pale, since my skin has a yellow undertone. But next to someone who’s tanned, I’m pale (or pasty). July 8, 2015 at 1:49am Reply

  • Ruth: For supplemental sunscreen to reapply during the day, and for around the eyes, I use ColoreScience mineral powder sunscreen. The SPF is 30, and the applicator (brush for face, sponge pad for around eyes) is part of the packaging so they are portable. July 6, 2015 at 12:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: This sounds like a great idea! July 6, 2015 at 3:31pm Reply

    • behemot: I need to try this powder. July 6, 2015 at 10:58pm Reply

      • Jessicarus: I recently started using the waterproof version of the Colorscience powder, with SPF 50. I have super sensitive, fair skin and so far, so good. No rashes, burning or breakouts. I like it especially because I can use it around my eyes.
        Thank you so much for these suggestions, Victoria, et al. I already ordered the Carol’s Daughter to try out July 7, 2015 at 7:22pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you for another recommendation! Please let us know how you like Carol’s Daughter. July 8, 2015 at 2:35am Reply

  • Ruth: Everyone’s additional suggestions and the discussion are really helpful, thank you. I’m wondering what people do to protect the backs of their hands. Since we’re washing our hands all the time, reapplication is a constant, but applying sunscreen to the palms and fingers (like hand cream) is problematic. I’m also more desperate for a hand cream so I skip the sunscreen.
    So far I’m just applying a spot fade cream at night to try to hold the line on the ones that develop. July 6, 2015 at 12:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: I just carry a bottle of sunscreen and reapply. But I’m not diligent, I’m afraid. I haven’t gone as far as to wear gloves, but I know a couple of Japanese women who do. 🙂 July 6, 2015 at 3:32pm Reply

    • kayliz: Hands, haha. Years — decades — of being careful, and I never gave a thought to sunspots on my hands. Now they’re well and truly there.( If I squint I can just about imagine they’re freckles.)
      If your rate of consumption of hand cream is anything like mine, and we’re talking sunscreen, I’d say use the cheapest acceptable ones you can find and follow Victoria’s advice of rotating different brands/compositions to avoid too much exposure to negative ingredients.

      Oh and if I may offer another nugget of menopausal after-the-fact wisdom: after decades of disciplined cleansing & moisturising & masking routines it’s dawned on me that I’ve been stopping too high up all these years. I thought I was being diligent by including my neck in all the pampering. The reward: crepey cleavage. You have been warned:) July 7, 2015 at 4:40pm Reply

  • Lucy: Thanks for this article, sunscreens are not easy! They tend to block my pores and cause small bumps to appear — so the breathable ones rather than the waterproof are better, I find. Now for a technical question as to technique – how do you apply? First on clean skin, over or under moisturizer, and how can you apply a cream sunblock over makeup? The eye area is also difficult — finding it always migrates into the eye itself and stings. Any suggestions for the eye area specifically? July 6, 2015 at 1:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: I apply all of my skincare–serum, moisturizer and only then sunscreen. I don’t wear foundation, only powder (and no powder with my Japanese sunscreens, since they leave a great finish on their own). So, reapplying is not too complicated. I know from people who wear foundation that some sunscreens are easier to reapply over makeup, and RMK in particular is effortless. You can also use mineral powder with sunscreen to add extra protection later in the day.

      For eyes, I’d say good sunglasses. It’s hard to find sunscreen that won’t sting your eyes.

      But as important as it is to apply sunscreen, it’s also essential to remove it properly. I first use any oil based cleanser (or just regular vegetable oil–almond, apricot kernel, olive, etc.) and then a foaming cleanser. This will ensure that no residue will remain. July 6, 2015 at 3:37pm Reply

  • Tulsi: My eyes get very irritated by dimethicone, unfortunately an ingredient in most sunscreens. I used to love the Paula’s Choice sunscreen, but they’ve reformulated it to also contain dimethicone. All their facial moisturizers do too.
    The only product with an spf I’ve found that is unscented and not to greasy is Nivea Daycream for sensitive skin, but it’s only spf 15.
    So if any of you have ideas for something without dimethicone, I’d be very happy! July 6, 2015 at 4:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: Silicones don’t bother me, but I don’t like that Paula’s Choice packs them in just about every single product. July 8, 2015 at 1:32am Reply

  • JoDee: Hello Victoria. Thanks for this well-timed information about sunscreen. I have been searching for the right one to wear with makeup. All of these sound great, especially the Japanese one. I was wondering if you have heard of or tried INSTITUT ESTHEDERM PHOTO REVERSE ANTI-BROWN PATCHES ULTRA HIGH PROTECTION FLUID? Lisa Eldridge lists it on her website and it has always struck me as an interesting option. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it if you’ve tried it. July 6, 2015 at 4:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried it, because it was much more expensive than some other sunscreens on the shelf and later I couldn’t find it. But I’m still curious about it. July 8, 2015 at 1:38am Reply

  • minette: Thanks for posting this. I use sunscreen all the time, but still see more sun spots forming on my arms, and I’m getting browner. So I agree with your assessment that American sunscreens are not that great.

    Here’s the thing though – I can’t use the chemical sunscreens on my face – I break out in cystic acne-like zits after a few days. Can only use sunscreens with zinc or titanium oxides – the physical sunscreens.

    Do the ones you listed have chemical sunscreens, or are they physical blocks? The physical blocks tend to be the ones that give us that blue-white look. One I like (of that type) is Cera Ve. The white tinge fades, and the sunscreen actually works. I put a foundation over it to make me look less blue-white.

    I don’t use it on my arms though – there I use a sheer stick by Neutrogena. For arms I prefer Bull Frog Quik Stik, actually, but I can’t find it everywhere. The Bull Frog goes on white, but is sheer enough.

    Thanks! July 6, 2015 at 4:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: I wonder if the problem with breakouts is because you don’t rinse the sunscreen off well? I noticed that when I started to use the double cleansing (first, oil, then foaming cleanser), the breakouts disappeared. I realized why skin reacted to these blockers–most of them aren’t soluble in water, only oil, and unless you cleanse your skin with oil first, you will have tough time remove sunscreen.

      The sunscreens I listed are mostly a mix, but I don’t remember off the top of my head which is which. Paula’s Choice is mostly chemical, but the Japanese sunscreens are a blend. July 8, 2015 at 1:46am Reply

      • minette: that’s a good question, victoria. i use makeup remover cloths to take off “my face.” maybe they’re not enough. may need to experiment! July 9, 2015 at 12:44pm Reply

        • Victoria: Hmmm, they wouldn’t remove enough, and to remove properly, you’d have to pull on your skin really firmly. Which is as bad for your skin as sun exposure. July 9, 2015 at 5:46pm Reply

  • Raquel: I wear just sunscreen during the day, not moisturizer. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 70. July 6, 2015 at 5:38pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t tried Neutrogena yet, but I read good reviews. July 8, 2015 at 1:50am Reply

  • Annikky: This is an impressive list and very useful – the Asian options sound especially good. I’m not great with sunscreen, although much better than I used to be. I like Zelens, as it feels like a lovely moisturizer, but it’s expensive and it moves around too much to be good under make-up. July 6, 2015 at 6:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I had a Chinese friend in college who was even more obsessed with sunscreens than I am. Here favorite reading was chemistry journals detailing various studies about sun protection. Yes, I do gravitate to geeks and people as odd as I am. 🙂 Anyway, I learned a lot from her, and she was the one who introduced me to the wonders of Japanese sunscreens. Some of my friends went to Japan for work-study programs, and I would send them on shopping missions for sunscreen. It was back in the dark ages when you couldn’t buy off the internet. July 8, 2015 at 1:56am Reply

  • Jessica: Thank you for these recommendations, V! I’ve been wearing some form of sunscreen on my face since some point in my 20s, and I always like to try new formulas.

    My favorite sunblock for my face is Pratima Skincare Neem Rose Face Sunscreen — effective, simple, lovely, but only available at the Pratima spa in NYC.

    This summer I’m also using Avene Mineral Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+. I’d probably need to wear additional moisturizer under it in winter, but it’s just right for summer.

    I used to love Josie Maran’s facial sunblock, but it was recently reformulated and I’m leery of the new version, for some reason. July 6, 2015 at 6:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: I heard nothing but praises for the Pratima products. Do you use anything else from them? July 8, 2015 at 1:57am Reply

  • annemarie: Wonderful reading, thanks!

    Have we finally moved away from coconut scented sun products? Most of the serious sun protection products I see are not scented with coconut. I don’t expect that my kids would make the association at all.

    So – ultimately what’s the future for fragrances such as Bronze Goddess and Guerlain Terracotta Le Parfum? Will they soon appeal only to an older generation?

    What do people think? July 6, 2015 at 9:01pm Reply

    • Joy: I love Ocean Potion! I discovered it in a little outdoor equipment shop on the Island of Kauai. I looked everywhere for it on the mainland. I finally found it on Amazon where one can get a very large tube for a good price. It doesn’t sting my eyes with fumes nor my skin with chemicals. I love the scent. It is soft and subtle. July 6, 2015 at 11:05pm Reply

    • Irina: I’d like to think that coconut is a marvelous scent all on its own?

      I grew up in a part of the world where sunscreen didn’t smell of coconut or at least, I don’t remember it smelling of anything – but I adore Terracotta. *sprays some more* July 7, 2015 at 1:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: I still think that coconut remains a favorite scent for sunscreens, especially kid’s varieties, at least in the US. I like it, but when I wear sunscreen, I don’t want it to clash with my perfume. My cousin uses a Banana Boat sunscreen, and I can smell it for hours. Nice but a bit much if you use a product every day. July 8, 2015 at 1:59am Reply

  • Joy: The fumes from most sunscreens burn my eyes. I have found Ocean Potion does not and I love the fragrance. Sunscreen was not enough for the back of my neck and my arms. The skin would get a rough, grainy texture. I now wear sunscreen shirts which I get from LL Bean. They are SPF50. The sleeves are long, but can be rolled up and held with tabs. I wear them as a jacket or alone whenever I am out in the sun in Tucson. I use them for walking, hiking and cycling. I also wear a hat with a big brim. It covers the back of my neck.
    I was not always so vigilant. In fact, in high school and collage I tanned using baby oil and a spray bottle of water. I do now have spots on my arms, and I am certain it is the cause of the rough texture on my arms. SPF shirts can be purchased from most companies that sell outdoor clothing such as REI, Orvis, Travel Smith and LLBean. I like that I can just put on the shirt without taking the time to spread on sunscreen and let it dry. Although I do use it on my face. These shirts are great for going to events that are held out in the sun. I don’t have to worry about reapplying sunscreen.
    The Korean and Japanese products sound quite intriguing. It seems that they have many products that are better than ours.
    Thank you for an informative article, Victoria. July 6, 2015 at 11:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s just that women in Asia are diligent about skincare in general and sun protection especially, and they demand high-quality products. I might be ok with looking less than perfect with my shiny sunscreened face, but few Asian women would. So, the number of options is overwhelming, but just about everything is excellent.

      Great tips, Joy! July 8, 2015 at 2:02am Reply

  • Irina: I absolutely have to wear sunscreen for half of the year because I have a sun allergy, so this post is wonderful and timely.

    I usually swear by La Roche Posay as it’s the only one which doesn’t make me break out. Great to see it here! And I will gladly check out the Asian brands because it’s good to change skincare from time to time. July 6, 2015 at 11:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Coco gives some other great recommendations in her comment above. I could write a post on Japanese sunscreens alone, there is so much to talk about! July 8, 2015 at 2:03am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    It is so good to hear about people taking better care of their skin and avoiding the sun in a culture that generally still favours bronzed skin and spreads the false notion that a tan is healthy. Of course the truth is that while exposing your skin to the sun can help the body to manufacture vitamin D, at the same time it causes irreversible damage. This common idea that a few minutes of sun exposure each day is good for skin is wrong; every second of sun exposure causes damage. Exposing skin to the sun in order to facilitate production of vitamin D has the side effect of causing skin damage; there is no way around this bind. Now I’ll get down off my soap box!

    In my opinion, favouring skin of a certain colour is akin to racism. It seems as bad as saying that tall people are better than short people, or that black hair is better than red hair. (Of course, red-haired people often face a similar form of bigotry.) A few years ago I was horrified when I saw a television news report about people with albinism. I learned that in some African countries such as Tanzania, people with this genetic condition are sometimes regarded as being magical or cursed, and they have been ostracised and persecuted. Many have been hunted down and killed, and sometimes their body parts have been used for the purposes of witchcraft.

    When I was about 14, I went through a brief phase where I succumbed to the notion that a tan was attractive. I went about obtaining one, but at least I did it in what was considered at the time to be the safest way – gradually. On a beach holiday with my family, I applied SPF 15 (the only type available back then) and exposed my skin to the sun for 10 minutes one day, then 15 minutes the next day, then 20 minutes the next, up to a maximum of 30 minutes each day. After two weeks, I came home with a light tan on my arms and legs, but not much of one on my face. Thankfully I had spared my face from most of that exposure. I’m happy to say that although many of my school friends were quite impressed with my tan when I returned from holidays, my interest in changing my natural colour soon fizzled out, and I never tanned again.

    About a year later, I had three potentially dangerous moles removed from my back. At the age of 24, I had a level three melanoma removed from my back, along with 11 other potentially troublesome moles from various parts of my body. In the 30 years since then, I have lived with the knowledge that the cancer could recur at any time, and I have had to visit my specialist regularly for checks. So far, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. While it’s possible that I have the melanoma gene, it’s likely that many years of compulsory swimming and sports lessons under the harsh Australian sun are at least partly to blame for the melanoma and all of the moles.

    Back in the seventies, there was no requirement for children – even the pale-skinned ones of European extraction – to apply sunscreen prior to swimming or sports lessons; although I understand that today it is a requirement at many schools. You’d think that the need to protect children’s skin from the sun would have occurred to school authorities a lot sooner, though, given that the Indigenous people of this country have pitch-black skin.

    Since my late teens, I have embraced my pale skin, and I have been obsessive about staying out of the sun. Even if I only have to walk 10 metres from my car to a building, if there is daylight, then I put up my umbrella. It doesn’t matter whether the sun is out or behind the clouds; my umbrella still goes up. (Many people make the mistake of thinking that their skin can’t be damaged when the sky is overcast or when they are in the shade.) I was once dubbed “Mary Poppins” by some colleagues, and I was quite happy to be so named! I also wear at least a factor 15 sunscreen indoors. I figure that the daylight that allows me to see without switching on a lamp includes skin-damaging rays.

    Not surprisingly, about five years ago a blood test showed that I was deficient in vitamin D. I addressed this problem by taking a vitamin D capsule every day, and now my level is within the normal range.

    It is worth stating that I have never been criticized for my pale skin – quite the contrary. Over the years I have frequently received compliments about my pallor from total strangers, and people often assume that I am from England or some other colder climate. Those who assume that they might be mocked if they retain their natural pale colouring might be pleasantly surprised to find that this does not happen.

    As a “paleface” with combination skin, I have spent my adult life in search of the perfect sunscreen, and, like you, Victoria, some years ago I concluded that there was no such thing, and that different formulations suited different situations. My major concern when choosing a sunscreen has always been to avoid adding to the oil in my skin, as well as to find a product that was reasonably priced. For me, one of the advantages of getting older has been that my skin has become less oily.

    One strategy that I found useful was to search among sunscreens produced for men. Not only are many of these products less greasy than those for women (men no doubt being less willing to display to the world any shiny evidence that they might be wearing a cosmetic), but, like men’s grooming products and services in general, they also tend to be significantly less expensive. For about seven years now I have used a sunscreen from an Australian company called Natio – “Natio For Men SPF 30+ Face Moisturiser”. It has both UVA and UVB protection, is non-greasy, has a subtle herbal after-shave fragrance, and costs only about $14 AUD for 100g.

    Recently I tried my first factor 50+ product, Neutrogena’s “Ultra Sheer Face Sunscreen Liquid-Lotion SPF 50+”. Unfortunately this stings my skin a little upon application. That is probably a sign that it is irritating my skin and might be causing damage, so while I’ll finish it, I won’t buy it again. I am grateful that I now have Victoria’s list of favourite sunscreens to sample.

    I’d also like to say that it is great to see someone else promoting the products of Paula Begoun. I have been an admirer of Ms Begoun’s philosophy and cosmetics for over 25 years, ever since I read her first book, “Blue Eyeshadow Should Still Be Illegal,” back in 1989. For me, her books on both skin care and hair care have been a valuable antidote to the enormous amount of pseudo-scientific nonsense that has masqueraded as information in the world of cosmetics for so many years. I would recommend her book, “The Beauty Bible,” to everyone, both men and women.

    Victoria, I will email you a photograph taken a few years ago at my 31-year school reunion. In it you will see a person whose pallor really stands out amongst the sea of bronzed bodies. Yes, yours truly! Thanks so much for your article. July 6, 2015 at 11:52pm Reply

    • Neva: Interesting to hear your story Tourmaline. Mine is very similar. I got sunburned every summer as a child and at the age of 35 I got my first (and so far the only one) melanoma removed. I go to regular check ups every year and usually have some moles removed, just as a precaution.
      In my homecountry people think that you did not go on vacation if you return home pale. I always have to listen to comments like: haven’t you been to the seaside? and people seem to pity me because of my skin color. It’s ridiculous.
      I love the sea and the sun, because I don’t mind the heat, but I avoid the “critical hours” in the day. I spend plenty of time in the sea and then retreat to the shade and read my book. I use moderate sunscreen and It functions perfectly as long as I combine it with avoiding the sun during the critical hours. July 7, 2015 at 4:26am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Neva,

        Thanks for sharing your story. I can relate to your experience of having moles removed as a precautionary measure. Apart from the melanoma, I have had about 25 other moles removed, a few of which showed some potentially dangerous early changes when they were tested.

        It is frustrating to hear about the way people treat you when you return home pale from a holiday. I’d be interested to know what country you are from. It is indeed ridiculous when people pity those who are pale, when it is the ones who have damaged their skin with sun exposure who should actually be pitied.

        It sounds as though you take good care in the sun and find a good balance between enjoying the warmth and protecting your skin. July 7, 2015 at 5:23am Reply

        • Neva: Hi Tourmaline, I’m in Croatia. We have a lovely coastside and everybody spends a lot of time there each summer. I’m absolutely a summer person, yet I try to enjoy the sun with caution after my experience with melanoma. People around here are informed about the dangers of the sunrays but they chose to ignore it because it “happens to somebody else”. July 7, 2015 at 1:12pm Reply

          • Tourmaline: Hi Neva,

            That sounds like a lovely part of the world. Yes, it’s a shame that people stick their heads in the sand (pardon the pun) about the dangers of the sun and think that they won’t be one of the ones to get skin cancer. But of course a significant number of people do. July 8, 2015 at 7:55pm Reply

            • Qwendy: I live in France where a tan is an emblem of Vacation ….. Although no one comments on my white skin it is hard to match foundation colors with a Sales Associate since they always go more to the orange shades! August 5, 2015 at 4:26am Reply

              • Victoria: I keep being surprised how dark even the lightest shades are. Something called porcelain turns my face terracotta, and my skin is not even that fair naturally. August 5, 2015 at 4:38am Reply

              • Tourmaline: Hi Qwendy,

                Your comment reminded me of the beginning of the fashion for sun-bathing earlier last century. I read that it was Cocoa Chanel who inadvertently began the trend, when she returned from a cruise of the Mediterranean with brown skin. A tan became a sign of status, an indication that you didn’t have to work and therefore had time to lie around in the sun. A most unfortunate practice!

                For years I was envious of all those women who could so easily find foundation and powder colours to match their skin. When I eventually found the right colours, especially in pressed powder, I was over the moon! August 5, 2015 at 7:47am Reply

                • Qwendy: Hey thanks for the Coco Chanel story, I had totally forgotten it! Yes, long before the leisure many French people enjoy now it was the Symbol of Leisure that enticed them, still does actually!

                  Very different for this ex city girl who only ever got a Beige when she tried to get a Tan as a teenager and was always made fun of for her white legs :-). I always liked being pale though, i guess I learned to make friends with Reality! Have a nice summer! August 5, 2015 at 9:56am Reply

                  • Tourmaline: Hi Qwendy,

                    Thanks. Here in Australia we still have a month of winter to go, but I’m looking forward to spring. I hope that you enjoy summer.

                    Oh, and apologies for mis-spelling Coco Chanel’s name; I was thinking of cocoa powder! August 6, 2015 at 6:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Your comment is fascinating and packed with such wonderful tips. Thank you so much. I’m sorry you had such a scare, but you take care of yourself even more diligently now. Whenever people give up sun protection because of worries about vit D, it exposes them to many other problems. If you are pale and have lots of beauty marks to begin with, you have to be extra careful. Plus, to generate vit D you don’t need to spend hours in the sun. July 8, 2015 at 2:07am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

        Thank you, I’m glad that you enjoyed reading my comment. Yes, I think that many people who want to protect their skin from the sun feel as though they are in a bind when they hear that the best way to obtain vitamin D is with sun exposure. But eating a balanced diet and taking vitamin D capsules should suffice, and besides, as you say, for those who do wish to use the sun to help with the manufacture of vitamin D, only about ten minutes of medium-level sun exposure per day is required (info from my doctor). July 8, 2015 at 7:56pm Reply

        • Victoria: That’s what my doctor said, and so far (knock on wood), things seem to be ok. July 9, 2015 at 5:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: P.S. I credit Paula Begoun’s books with changing my skin (for the better) and my shopping habits. There is so much nonsense and downright lies in the world of cosmetics that I understand why the industry isn’t too pleased with her work. She makes it easy to see through the impossible claims and puffery. I don’t always agree with her reviews (skincare needs are very personal, after all), but I now know how to read labels and figure out the formulas. July 8, 2015 at 2:38am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

        It is so great to hear you say that. Paula Begoun’s books certainly improved my skin and shopping habits as well. They must have saved me an enormous amount of money over the years, as her recommendations have steered me towards effective products that are far less expensive than so many others.

        Like you, I don’t always agree with her reviews. Some products that she has reviewed as mediocre have been ones that I have found perfect for my skin, for example a Cover Girl powder which for many years was the lightest affordable one that I could find and had a wonderful, velvety matte finish. (Finding a pressed powder with a colour light enough for my skin proved problematic for most of my adult life, until Revlon and Maybelline produced some great ones several years ago.) But as you say, she illuminates the facts about cosmetics in a way that is easy to understand, and her lists of ingredient names, along with what they are and how helpful/harmful they are for skin or hair, are invaluable.

        If everybody followed Ms Begoun’s advice and chose products that were not only effective but possibly better for their skin and less expensive than products they were using previously, then just imagine how much extra money they’d have to spend on perfume! July 8, 2015 at 7:58pm Reply

        • Victoria: That’s it. She often reviews some of my favorite products as mediocre, but she has yet to lead me astray with her five star recommendations. Everything I tried has been great. July 9, 2015 at 5:40pm Reply

  • Neva: Hi Victoria! Interesting topic you chose this time. I cannot say that I’m obsessed with sunscreen, but I definitely need it since I have fair red hair and a pale complexion. I could not get used to wearing sunscreen in the city (as opposed to the seaside, where I spend plenty of time during the summer and wear suntain lotions and cremes always). I used to go out for a coffee with a friend and come back home with a slightly red chest and face. A few years ago I changed that and ever since I wear face creams with sunscreen regularly. I buy natural products which smell naturally and it does not bother me. This year I tested an organic sunscreen body cream SPF 25, but I’m sorry to say that it did not protect me as I expected. I suppose that organic ingredients do not offer a strong protection like chemical filters. Such a pity. July 7, 2015 at 4:09am Reply

    • Victoria: There are many sunscreens out there, but unfortunately, most products aren’t formulated to be full spectrum protection. Some ingredients degrade in sunlight. The products I mentioned protect well (Paula’s Choice is the only sub par formula, since I wanted to include a US brand, but I have to warn that US sunscreens are simply not that great; the FDA still doesn’t allow the use of some of the best blockers on the market).

      I mostly wear SPF 50 or higher. July 8, 2015 at 2:25am Reply

  • Elizabeth: So that’s why American sunscreens never seem to protect my skin. They don’t contain the best active ingredients! Despite applying sunscreen and wearing a hat every day, every day, I already have a deep tan, which I would prefer to avoid because it is absolutely destructive to the skin. I am going to be in northern Germany again this summer – hopefully I can find Avene there! July 7, 2015 at 8:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, you will have no problems finding many sunscreens in Germany, especially the European ones I mentioned. July 8, 2015 at 2:28am Reply

  • Iodine: Interesting read, thank you. I’m not a sunscreen fan, use it only when I’m on holiday, generally choosing safe brands like La Roche Posay and Avène- and even there I tend to stay in the shade most of the time. Have still to find a product that satisfy me fully- I’d love something very light, sheer and nicely scented- and here arrives my complaint: why nobody has ever thought of scenting sun products a bit more creatively? For instance I’m now at my little home in the mountains, trying to escape the heatwave that’s suffocating Milan, and wearing a Korres sunscreen that smells like a tropical cocktail- why?! I’d love to wear something more in harmony with my surroundings. 🙂 July 7, 2015 at 10:31am Reply

    • Victoria: I think it’s because many people associate sunscreen with vacation, and vacation with tropical getaways. Avene in a spray bottle has an odd fruity-floral scent, but it fades quickly. On the other hand, I noticed that I now enjoy the hit of scent it gives in the beginning. (The new bottle I purchased seems to be almost scent-free, by the way). July 8, 2015 at 2:30am Reply

  • Lindsay: Quite excited about this post as Avene products have just become readily available in South Africa in a local chain of stores, so will definitely track these down to try!
    My current favourite for face is Matis sun protection cream for face SPF50, would use it all over if I could afford to…
    My favourite body sunscreen (even though too low an SPF for my liking, and very definitely scented) is the Bobbi Brown Beach sunscreen body spray SPF15 – summer in a bottle! July 7, 2015 at 3:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Avene products overall are terrific, and I use their mineral water mist on regular basis. It’s sitting by my computer right now as I type. They also have great moisturizers, lotions and creams. July 8, 2015 at 2:33am Reply

  • Maria: One of my favourite sunscreens is Sulwhasoo Hydro-aid Moisturizing Lifting UV Protection. (what a long name. lol) Another Korean brand Vidivici makes a lovely one too. But I am never out of RMK and Suqqu ones too (almost identical formulation by Kanebo). Keep them on high rotation July 7, 2015 at 5:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s some name! 🙂 I have to try more Sulwhasoo products.

      You’re completely right on Suqqu and RMK face protectors. I love them both, and I noticed that the only difference is the price. Suqqu is much more expensive. July 8, 2015 at 2:33am Reply

  • MaureenC: What an incredibly useful post, thank you Victoria. As I have classic Irish Vampire colouring- dark hair, blue/grey eyes and white skin that spontaneously combusts in sunlight I have to wear sunscreen all year. I have been known to burn on a bright day in January. I also wear good quality Polaroid sunglasses as my optician has warned me about the vulnerability of paler eyes to retinal damage from sunlight! Great excuse for a wardrobe of classy sunglasses of course…… July 8, 2015 at 3:28am Reply

    • Victoria: The most gorgeous combination! I don’t burn quite as easily, but sun turns my skin patchy. I also remember my great-grandmother wearing hats and protecting her skin from the sun, and how beautiful her skin looked when she was in her 90s. July 8, 2015 at 4:18am Reply

  • Ferris: I totally agree with you on unscented sunscreens. When I put on sunscreens, I don’t want to smell it. I recently tried a sunscreen from a BananaBoat that was an Argan oil spray on version and it had an awful smell that was extremely potent. It was just too much and it gave me a headache. It smelled like coconuts or some weird tropical concoction. Ugh. Just terrible. I returned it to the store the next day because I could not wear it. I’ve found that most spray on versions have some type of scent incorporated into their formulas unless I overlooked some. Now I’m using Paula’s Choice facial Moisturizer with SPF and BananaBoat sunscreen lotion SPF 30 with aloe Vera and it has no scent! Great post! July 11, 2015 at 8:06am Reply

    • Victoria: BananaBoat has a rich scent, but yes, it is far too much, especially if you layer the sunscreen properly and reapply. July 13, 2015 at 3:32pm Reply

  • Aisha: I use Neutrogena Clear Face broad spectrum SPF 55 sunscreen for my face/neck/chest. I’ve never had problems with breakouts with it.

    For the rest of me, I usually just grab whatever. I’m currently using Neutrogena CoolDry Sport broad spectrum SPF 70 sunscreen. It does have kind of a medicine-y scent to it, but it doesn’t seem to interfere with any perfumes I wear. Of course, I only wear sunscreen all over if I know I’ll be outside (errands/shopping/gardening). It’s probably not wise, but if I’m just going to be indoors (like at an office), I skip the sunscreen on my body. 🙂

    I am curious about BB/CC creams. What are some really good ones that provide nice coverage? My skin is actually pretty good for my age (I’m in my 40s), and I don’t necessarily need to wear foundation, but I feel “naked” without it. 😉 July 13, 2015 at 11:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I tried a few Korean ones, which were reviewed favorably, and I didn’t like them. Even the sheer ones had too much coverage for my taste. In the end, sunscreen + powder gives enough protection and coverage for me. I still don’t know how much protection a BB cream would give you, since you can’t apply that much without looking odd. July 13, 2015 at 3:53pm Reply

    • nozknoz: Seconding Neutrogena CoolDry Sport SPF 70 with Micromesh. It’s not fragrance free, but it is the coolest feeling sunscreen that I’ve found. The DC area is super humid and hot, so that’s critical. July 15, 2015 at 10:37pm Reply

  • OperaFan: Better late than never – I can apply that to both my practice of sunscreen useage and responding to your post!

    I just ordered my first La Roche Posay sunscreen – the Anthelios 50 Primer, and can’t wait to try it. You’ve been singing the virtues of LRP products for so long that I really wanted to give their products a try.

    Because I tan easily and rarely burn, I’ve been neglecting the use of sun screens/blocks for most of my life. Several years ago, over the course of my pregnancy, I developed a host of brown spots and sploches on my face and now have become obsessed with the useage of sun protection on my face. The recent diagnosis of sun sensitivity of my arms also has me searching for products to combat the effects. I spend a lot of time gardening, and wearing long sleeve shirts in our heat and humidity just won’t do.

    For my face, I’ve mainly used Paula’s Choice sun screens – still trying to find the best one for me, but I do find the mineral one to clog my pores. For my arms, I’m finding that using mineral sunblocks (though not completely effective) help to minimize the effect of developing rashes. To reduce the heavy white cast, I will mix the mineral sun block cream with a formulaically compatible chemical sunscreen lotion. Even Desitin (the diaper rash cream) can be used as a sun block in a pinch because of its high concentration of zinc oxide! July 15, 2015 at 4:33pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your tips! Does sun sensitivity mean that you burn faster or do you develop a rash? July 16, 2015 at 3:08pm Reply

      • OperaFan: It’s a type of rash – tiny goosebumps that both cluster and spread out. The affected areas look mildly diseased and can get itchy. It calms down if I stay out of the sun for a few days but comes back with the next prolonged sun exposure. It’s not obvious at a glance, but since the affected areas do not tan with the rest of the skin, I have to protect the arms once it starts or it can look really funny by summer’s end.
        I’m told it can be treated by a dermatologist with (weekly) phototherapy, but I’m trying to see if I can control it on my own since it would be costly both in time and money.
        If the zinc oxide works, I may try to find a tinted formula to help even out my skin. So far it seems to help but not fool proof. July 16, 2015 at 4:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: Keeping fingers crossed you can manage to contain it. The phototherapy must be very expensive (and it must have side effects of its own). July 17, 2015 at 11:23am Reply

  • nozknoz: This summer, I’ve mainly been wearing the Neutrogena CoolDry Sport SPF 70 with Micromesh this summer. It’s not fragrance free, but it is the coolest feeling sunscreen that I’ve found, and I don’t find the fragrance noticeable.

    Last year I was using Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer with sunscreen SPF 50+ (on my body, too). It’s non-comedogenic, non-irritating and fragrance free. Heavier sunscreens give me heat rash and eczema in the heat and humidity here, but I’ve had no problem with Cetaphil. I still have it on hand and will switch back to it when the weather cools off a little.

    I’m looking forward to testing some of the other recommendations here for cool sunscreens. July 15, 2015 at 10:43pm Reply

    • Victoria: I tried it at the store only, but I also liked the texture of Neutrogena. Not greasy at all.

      Since I wrote this post, I already tried several new sunscreens, so I think that a follow up might be required. 🙂 July 16, 2015 at 3:14pm Reply

  • Qwendy: Thanks for the amusing and informative post! I wish I could say that I have been as stalwart about sun protection for my face as you have been! Anyway I noticed last Summer that my Avene (chemical) sunscreen wasn’t working for me at all — i was getting pink within 20 mins — and I spent the rest of the summer covering my decoltée and arms whenever possible (not too hard here in Brittany where it is pretty cool) in addition to testing other sunscreens, and my usual big hat, which has always worked :-).

    This Spring in LA I discovered a great lightly tinted mineral sunblock for the face called elta MD UV Physical Broad Spectrum SPF 41 and I use it every day as a sheer foundation over moisturizer and under powder. It is great for my light and delicate skin, available on Amazon. I also got Zinc Oxide from the Pharmacy and blended it with cream and lotion to make my own sunblock for my arms and decoltée and I haven’t reddened yet!

    Will def look into the Asian brands when next in LA ….. Great idea! Have a good Summer! August 3, 2015 at 9:00am Reply

    • Victoria: I have started wearing hats too. They protect my face from the sun, and they also can be a fun accessory.

      My skin just doesn’t tan, so for better or worse, I have to be diligent. Otherwise, I spend all summer looking pink in patches and sporting a peeling nose. August 3, 2015 at 1:30pm Reply

      • Qwendy: I am all about accessories as you can imagine!

        I don’t tan either and from my reaction on a 9am walk in LA it looks like I may even be a bit allergic to the sun at this point in my life!

        Thanks for adding your “research” to the Sunscreen info out there …. Personal experience always trumps general info in my book! August 3, 2015 at 1:47pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m passionate about this subject, especially since the variety of sun products today is huge. I also just tried another nice Asian sunscreen from Hado Labo. If you come across this line, and especially their toners, I highly recommend it. Gentle, soothing, with a nice finish.

          When I was a student, I had a friend who taught English in Japan. Bless his kind heart, he used to buy sunscreens for me. 🙂 Every half a year I’d get a nice care package from him with different skin care goodies. It made using them even more special.

          I can just imagine your collection of accessories, Wendy! 🙂 August 4, 2015 at 2:26pm Reply

          • Qwendy: ? You lucky duck …. Thanks for the rec …. Happily LA has lots of Asian skincare available and I will dive in when I am there in the Winter! Have a great shady summer! August 5, 2015 at 4:14am Reply

            • Victoria: But the best sunscreens still can’t be imported, since the FDA is still in the ice age of sunscreen technology. On the other hand, you can find many elegantly formulated products. August 5, 2015 at 4:36am Reply

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