Raise your hand if you’d like to have every dark spot, red mark, and discolored patch on your face gone with just one product, and then keep them from re-appearing for the rest of your life. OK, that was a trick question, because duh. Thanks to the Korean-beauty industry, this magical-sounding product actually exists, though it’s basically the lima bean of beauty products: Sunscreen—specifically, Korean sunscreen. Wait, just hear us out.
You know all of those dark marks and acne scars you patiently wait to fade, only to find that they literally haven’t budged in five years, and sometimes, look worse? It’s because every time you go outside or stand near a window, UVA rays hit your skin and cause an excess production of melanin, resulting in additional dark spots and discoloration, while worsening the scars and marks you already have. And the only way to get rid of them and prevent new damage is by using sunscreen with high UVA protection, which—here’s the big shocker—your American sunscreen doesn’t have. Whaa? Yup.
Basically, your current American sunscreen kind of sucks. Like, if sunscreens were umbrellas, Korean sunscreens would be unbreakable fortresses with reinforced panels that could shield you from a hail storm, while American sunscreens would be, well, a newspaper you’re holding over your head. Better than nothing, sure, but you’re still wet. Because unlike Korean sunscreens, American sunscreens are only required by law to offer you protection from some of the sun’s rays—think: the sunburn-causing UVB rays—but not the UVA rays that cause and worsen aging and discoloration.
If your first thought is “WTF?” followed by “why?,” allow us to explain. The United States Sunscreen Protection Factor system uses SPF labeling (like SPF 60, 30, 40, etc.) to tell consumers how much protection they’re getting from UVB rays, which are the kind of rays that burn your skin and can lead to skin cancer. The higher the number, the more protection. Great. The problem is, most American sunscreens offer little-to-no protection against UVA rays, which are the kind of rays that cause wrinkles, sun damage, dark spots, and hyperpigmentation. So, you know, all of the things that eventually lead you to looking like an old shoe. Fun, right?
Korean cosmetics, however, rely on the Japanese Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) rating system to ensure that each sunscreen has adequate UVA protection in addition to the usual UVB-fighting SPF. Which means that on any given Korean sunscreen, you’ll also see a series of one-to-four plus signs (along with an SPF rating), which signal how much UVA protection you’re getting from that formula.
The two cult-favorite Korean formulas, Biore Sarasara Aqua Rich Watery Essence and Nature Republic Provence Calendula Daily Sun Block, for example, boast a PA+++ rating and contain more UVA protection than your average American sunscreen, despite having only three out of four plus signs. Plus, like most Korean sunscreens, these babies are insanely lightweight and immediately absorb into your skin like water. We’re talking rub-it-on-and-watch-it-disappear lightweight, with virtually no residue, and absolutely zero sunscreen smell or greasy shine. In a word: Amazing.
So if Asian sunscreens (and many European sunscreens, which are known for having incredibly high UVA ratings) are clearly superior, then why we are we stuck with American formulations? You can thank the FDA, which regulates sunscreens as drugs, instead of cosmetics, resulting in a painfully slow approval process for new ingredient additions. So even though the highly effective sunscreen filters Tinosorb S and Tinosorb M are commonly used by Asian sunscreen manufacturers, they still haven’t been approved by the U.S. for commercial use.
Which is unfortunate, considering how effective Tinosorb is, according to cosmetic chemist Karoline Wells: “Not only does Tinosorb reflect and scatter the sun’s rays, but it also absorbs the UV rays incredibly well.” Plus, notes Wells, Tinosorb is more photostable than avobenzone—the common UVA-protecting ingredient found in some American sunscreens—which can break down over time in light.
So where does all of this leave you? Well, unless you’re planning to move overseas next week, you’re going to have to patiently wait for the FDA to approve new UVA-protecting ingredients—which, let’s be honest, will probably be old news by the time they make it into drugstore formulas. Or, you can just order Korean sunscreens with PPD protection on the internet, like any good millennial shopper. Most of them are under $10, even with shipping, and you’ll get them within a month or two. And, hey, that’s nothing for perfect-looking skin, right?