sunscreen: 6 posts

Top Favorite Japanese PA++++ Sunscreens

“Apart from genes and healthy lifestyle, nothing will make as much difference in the way your skin looks as sun protection.” These words come from my mom’s dermatologist in Kyiv, a woman in her late seventies who had the most beautiful skin I’d seen. It had all the natural signs of age, but it was smooth, even toned and glowed like the inside of a seashell. At the time sun worship was a religion, so her advice seemed outlandish. Nevertheless, so impressed was I that I decided to follow it.

My mom’s friend would have loved visiting Japan, where the skincare wisdom is based on daily sun protection. Parasols on a sunny day outnumber umbrellas on a rainy afternoon. Unlike in the US or Europe, where a tube of sunscreen comes out only for seaside vacations, women (and men) use sun protection every day. Which means that the expectations from the skincare brands are high. Not only are the sunscreens more cosmetically elegant, with finishes that make skin look healthy and smooth, but they also offer excellent protection against UV radiation.

For the past few years, I’ve been spending more time in Japan, so it’s been fascinating to learn of new products and try many different cosmetics. My favorite Asian sunscreens still remain the ones formulated for the Japanese market. They tend to have soft, matte finishes and wonderful, light textures. Many products contain alcohol, since it not only makes for an easier formulation, but also because it gives a cooling effect on a sweltering Japanese summer day. I avoid it. My combination skin is prone to dehydration, and I avoid anything with alcohol. The only exception on my list is Shiseido SENKA Mineral Water UV Essence, because the alcohol in that formula doesn’t bother me.

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The Ordinary Summer Skincare Routine

Since I’ve shared my general skincare principles, many of you asked me to describe in more detail my summer routine. In many ways, even as someone who dislikes hot weather and burns easily, I find that taking care of my skin in the summer is far simpler than in the cold, dry months.

Why is that? First of all, any of the exfoliating treatments that you might indulge in during the winter have to be put on hold. When I talk of exfoliation, I mean only chemical exfoliation with acids like lactic acid, AHA (alpha-hydroxy acids) and BHA (beta-hydroxy acids). Retinoids and retinols have a different function other than exfoliation, but they are also included in the group of skin sensitizing ingredients. The risk of sun damage is too great to use such products on a regular basis in the summer, even at night. The same applies to any aggressive brightening treatments. I find that most people overdo the exfoliation anyway, with the result being sensitized, easily reddened skin, so it’s a good item to scale back in the summer.

The same applies to using too many layers of products. If in the winter I might layer a couple of different serums and top my moisturizer with a drop of oil, all such products go in the fridge for the summer to bide their time till colder months. I pare down my routine to the essentials.

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A Guide to Skincare Layering

If you were to read beauty magazines, you’d be forgiven for thinking that layering skincare is a skill beyond the ken of mere mortals. One is expected to have a working  knowledge of organic chemistry, active ingredients and the latest in Asian skincare discoveries. Failing that, one should simply follow the magazines’ recommendations and splurge for the editor’s favorites.

In reality, layering skincare is fairly simple. All of us do it to an extent when we start with a toner and finish with a moisturizer. It always helps to know what Vitamin C does to one’s skin or how to use AHA as part of a routine, but layering doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Nor does it have to take up a big chunk of your morning.

The other day I timed how long it took me to finish my skincare in the morning, and I discovered that it was around 5 minutes. So, I thought that it might be a good idea to describe what I do in more detail, demystifying the layering process. Whatever skincare products you use, you can tailor your routine to your skin type and your goals.

From Light to Heavy

The main principle of skincare layering is to start from products with the lightest texture and build up to the heaviest. The idea is to ensure that all layers absorb properly without diluting each other. Toner goes on first, if you’re using it. Wait for it to be absorbed, which should take a minute and then move onto the serum, moisturizing lotion or moisturizing cream. It’s a good idea to wait a little before moving onto another product, 30 seconds to a couple of minutes.

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My Skincare Routine and Layering Technique

Many of you have asked me about my skincare routine, and of course, I’m happy to share it. Skincare is my favorite part of my beauty routine, and while it may sound like blasphemy for someone who works in fragrance, I’d rather imagine going without perfume than without sunscreen. I also enjoy researching the best products, reading studies in dermatology and comparing active ingredients, and skincare offers plenty of such geeky delights. At the same time, I don’t want to spend an hour each morning and evening doing my skincare treatments, and I’ve worked out a routine that takes me a maximum of 10 minutes from start to finish–and it can be compressed even further, as I will explain below.

skincare routine2

The main principles of my skincare are cleansing, hydrating and sun protection. I don’t use particularly expensive products, apart from the eye cream, and I prefer to layer products. In other words, instead of using one moisturizer, I use several layers of moisturizing products. My skin is combination, and layering helps me to keep my skin hydrated and soft, without a risk of blemishes.

Such layering skincare routines are usually described as “Asian,” but of course, you don’t have to use Japanese or Korean brands. In fact, most of my favorites come from North American and French lines. The only exception is sunscreen, since no other country makes more effective and cosmetically elegant products than Japan. The main principle of layering to keep in mind is to start with the thinnest products and finish with the heavier creams.

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Sunscreens : An Update

This is the second installment to my original overview of (mostly unscented) sunscreens. I have so much to say about Asian sunscreens that I shall keep them for a separate post, but today I will cover a number of selections from American and European brands. Unlike the first selection, this group includes products I disliked or found lacking in one aspect or another. Many of them have received glowing reviews from leading skincare bloggers and dermatologists, but since skincare is never made to suit everyone, I thought that another perspective would help those looking for the best sun protection.

sunscreens

First, I should mention what I look for in a sunscreen. My skin is combination and a sunscreen shouldn’t irritate it. It should also leave a satiny, non-oily finish. It should be lightly moisturizing. It should allow for layering–I reapply sunscreen at least twice a day. I also prefer my sunscreen unscented. Finally, and this is the most important part, it should have full spectrum protection, UVB and UVA. I don’t have preference over the sunscreen being chemical or physical, but a mix tends to have the best results in terms of finish and protection. This is my ideal type, if you will, and yes, such a sunscreen exists (many of them were described in the first article.)

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