There’s a group of members on a Subreddit called “Asian Beauty” faced with quite the conundrum. A few months ago, the US border enacted a ban on a certain product they were ordering from Japan on a regular basis. Customs has now stopped allowing their packages into the country.
One Reddit user asks what everyone plans to do now that getting their hands on this coveted item has become so difficult. (Most of the orders were being placed through Amazon, and upon comparing notes, it seemed some packages were getting through, while most were not.)
The controversial item being confiscated? Sunscreen!
Yep. Believe it or not, Japanese sunscreen has a sort of underground cult following. And for good reason. Actually, good reasons, plural.
These skin care enthusiasts know that there are ingredients in use in sunscreens in Japan (and Europe too—more on those later) that have not yet been approved for use in the U.S. by the FDA. Hence the ban. Someone finally noticed what was happening, apparently. These yet-to-be-approved ingredients protect much better against UVA rays than anything currently on shelves in the U.S. And for people who know the difference, this is a big deal.
Why Asian sunscreen?
As I mentioned in this post, (link) sunscreens in the U.S. are primarily concerned with protecting from sunburn, which is caused by UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and the damage they cause doesn’t show up immediately. These are the rays most responsible for skin aging, such as loss of elasticity, sagging, age spots, etc. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record: both UVB and UVA rays play a role in skin cancer!
In the US, when you purchase a sunscreen that says SPF 50, the 50 stands for the amount of protection you are getting from UVB rays. Even so-called “broad-spectrum” sunscreens have a much lower UVA protection factor than what is required abroad (usually at least 1/3rd of the SPF rating).
According to the EWG’s (Environmental Working Group’s) website, the US won’t be able to improve UVA protection until they approve the new modern filters used in other countries.
Europe also makes some excellent, high UVA protective sunscreens. So why don’t these Japanese sunscreen devotees just start ordering from Europe instead? In order to get good UVA protection, they may now have little choice. But, if there is any way to get their hands on any Asian sunscreen, that will surely be their preference. Why you ask? Cosmetic elegance.
If you’ve never tried a Japanese sunscreen before, it’s a difficult thing to describe. Take everything you expect a sunscreen to feel and smell like, and throw it out the window. You won’t experience sticky, greasy, oily, shiny, suffocation…Their sunscreens come in the form of milk, lotions, essences, gels, creams—whatever is right for your skin type. They don’t smell like “sunscreen” and almost always play well under makeup.
Oily skin or acne prone? Several Japanese sunscreens act as a makeup base and keep oily skin shine-free all day.
All of the different varieties of Japanese sunscreen really feel so light on your skin… if you are used to American sunscreen it’s hard to believe you are wearing proper sun protection at first!
Oh, and I almost forgot—you can get all of this for between the equivalent of 8 and 12 dollars at the drugstore in Japan. Brands like Biore and Nivea are touting this kind of great UVA protection plus the elegance I talked about. Of course, if you want to spend more, there are plenty of expensive sunscreens available as well.
Because a half teaspoon of the product is required for the face and neck to get the protection stated on the packaging, I go through sunscreen very fast. It’s more than it sounds like. Having an affordable option that is also so well formulated is pretty much a godsend.
What makes Asia so amazing at formulating sunscreen?
Why is it most of the world is so behind Japan and other parts of Asia in the sunscreen game?
Sunscreen and bright light skin is a big deal in Japan and Korea. For centuries, they have been obsessed with achieving pale skin. With very little exception, tanning was never a fad there. Sunscreen is a part of every woman’s daily beauty regimen (and a lot of men’s, too.) This seems to be the general consensus as to why they are light years ahead when it comes to formulating highly protective and elegant sun protection. They wanted/(many still want) to keep their skin as fair as possible. Asian beauty products are also very unique. They’ve always taken an interest in taking great care of their skin, it would seem. It’s also pretty clear that their laws just aren’t as prohibitive when it comes to formulating health and beauty products. (That can certainly be a bad thing or a good thing.)
Where to from here?
It probably feels a little bit mean for me to be turning you on to something so seemingly perfect that is only becoming increasingly tough to get a hold of (for Americans anyway,) but I’m hoping my post at least brings some awareness. We have got to get on the ball in this country! As consumers, we should let the FDA know that we won’t settle for sub-par sun protection. Melanoma rates have tripled over the last three decades despite a multibillion-dollar sunscreen industry and growing awareness of the need for decreased exposure/increased protection. Our FDA can and should do better by us.
You can check the EWG for a ton of information on sunscreen and even peruse their top recommendations. See if what you’re using now stacks up, or look for something new, perhaps.
If you’re interested in trying Japanese sunscreen and would like suggestions for your skin type and/or where to order them from at this point, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to help you!
Some take away points
• The only truly adequate UVA filters allowed for use in the US currently are avobenzone and Zinc. Avobenzone isn’t stable in the sun (unless it is stabilized by octocrylene)
• European sunscreens will have a PPD rating listed (persistent pigment darkening) in addition to the SPF rating. This is the protection factor from UVA rays (while the SPF is the protection factor from UVB rays)
• Asian Sunscreen utilizes the PA++++ rating system to measure UVA protection. Four +s indicates the highest UVA rating currently available (The PA++++ is what the Reddit community is generally after)
• The best defense against the sun is to stay out of it. Always have protective measures such as clothing, sunglasses and a hat handy, and avoid peak hours when the UV index is highest.
The original Reddit thread that inspired this post has been archived. But the ban is seemingly still in effect.