The 10 Best Korean Sunscreens (and How They Are Different from Others)
K-beauty is a leader within the skincare space and has been for many years now, thanks to its use of advanced ingredients and innovative textures. (Gel creams, cushion compacts and jelly cleansers? You can thank our friends in Seoul for that.)
That said, if we had to choose just one category where they absolutely excel, it would be sunscreen. If you have an aversion to sunscreen from past childhood memories of being slathered in thick white paste or are wary that the stuff might break you out, a Korean sunscreen can be an absolute gamechanger for you.
What is Korean sunscreen and how is it different from others?
For starters, there are a lot more options available in Korea. That’s mainly due to the difference in regulations there (and in Europe), as compared to here in the United States.
In the U.S., sunscreens are considered a drug under the FDA, so any chemicals that are used in a sunscreen need to go through a formal approval process. As such, the list of approved SPF ingredients is limited and hasn’t been updated much in the last two decades.
In Korea, sunscreens are categorized as “functional cosmetics,” which consist of any cosmetic product that helps to brighten or firm your skin, reduce wrinkles, or protect against UV radiation. Though the approval process for functional cosmetics is rigorous, it’s streamlined so it takes less time for brands to test and bring new formulas to market.
Another key difference is how they’re rated. Korean sunscreens often use the PA (Protection Grade of UVA rays) system, which measures UVA exposure, as well as SPF, which measures UVB exposure.
As you’ll see in our shopping guide below, some Korean sunscreens will say “PA” with a number of “+” signs following it. The PA number is based on the PPD or “persistent pigment darkening” test, which measures how long it takes for skin to tan or darken when exposed to UVA rays, as compared to unprotected skin. For reference, a sunscreen can have anywhere between one to four + signs, and theoretically, the more + signs, the higher the protection from UVA rays.
Bottom line: For the most comprehensive protection, always look for the words “broad-spectrum,” or SPF and PA on a label, so you’re accounting for both UVA and UVB exposure. Which brings us to the next thing you’re probably wondering right about now…
What is the best Korean sunscreen to buy?
Depending on your skin type and preferences, there are plenty of options. We streamlined it down to ten of our favorites for you to shop ahead.
1. CosRx Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA +++
Best for Maskne
If you’re experiencing mask-related breakouts these days, this soothing formula is going to be your skin’s best friend (especially as we head into warmer weather). With the consistency of a lightweight moisturizer, it absorbs quickly and evenly without leaving any white cast, and thanks to aloe leaf extract in the formula, it quells any irritation.
2. Thank You Farmer Sun Project Water Sun Cream
Best for All Skin tones
With an SPF 50 and PA+++ rating, this silky sunscreen combines both chemical and mineral filters to protect your skin against UVA and UVB rays. Infused with bamboo water and African walnut oil, it keeps your face smooth and hydrated without leaving any telltale traces behind (unless you’re counting the soft glow).
3. innisfree Daily UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 36
If you’re looking for a relatively affordable, no frills option, we’d point you to this cult favorite sunscreen from Innisfree. (For context, of the over 600 reviews on Sephora, 96 percent of users give their stamp of approval on it.) Rave reviewers point to how the water-based formula is “extremely lightweight” and “spreads easily” over your skin without feeling sticky or greasy. And despite the palm-sized packaging, each tube lasts a surprisingly long time (which is good, because you should ideally be using the stuff every day).
4. IPKN Big Apple Sun Cream SPF 50
Best for Oily Skin
For the dewy skin adverse, try IPKN’s Big Apple Sun Cream SPF 50. The oil-free formula won’t clog your pores or add any unwanted sheen to your skin when you apply it. Plus, it has a color correcting base that creates a smooth, even canvas for makeup, and apple water extract, which is a natural antioxidant for an extra protection.
5. Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30
Best for Redness
An all-time favorite of one of our editors, this multitasking formula has all but replaced her makeup routine during quarantine. As she explains: “It feels more like a lightweight face cream and the greenish tint adjusts to match your skin tone as you blend it in, neutralizing redness and giving you coverage similar to that of a tinted moisturizer. Basically, it helps me fake an even, blemish-free appearance over video calls.”
Add to that SPF 30 and the magical healing properties of tiger grass, and you’ve got yourself a sunscreen, moisturizer and color corrector in one jar.
6. Missha All-around Safe Block Essence Sun Milk SPF 50+ PA+++
Best for Combination Skin
Sun milk is an accurate way to describe the texture of this fluid formula. It’s thin and lightweight and absorbs pretty much as soon as you pat it over your skin. That said, it’s not as moisturizing as some of the others on this list, but that’s also what makes it ideal for oily to combination skin types. You can wear it all day long without having to worry about any sticky residue, excess shine or breakouts. Just give the bottle a good shake beforehand and apply it generously over your face and neck before you head outside.
7. Cle Cosmetics CCC Cream
Best for Coverage
If you like a little more coverage, try this all-in-one primer and foundation by Cle Cosmetics that also contains SPF 50 PA+++. It wears similarly to a BB or CC cream but uses a micro capsule technology that basically separates the skincare ingredients (like hyaluronic acid) from the foundation pigments until you rub it onto your skin, so you get optimal coverage and hydration with every application. The results are satiny and not in the least bit cakey.
8. Neogen Dermalogy Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50/PA+++
Best for Dry Skin
For our friends with dry skin (or those who live in more arid climates), this bestseller is a bit more emollient than the others on the list. A closer look at the ingredients and you’ll see rose and raspberry extracts for added hydration and beta-glucan—which is a lesser-known but possibly better humectant than hyaluronic acid—to lock moisture in. The silicone-free formula contains both chemical and mineral filters to deliver broad-spectrum protection and all-day hydration.
9. Heimish Artless Glow Base SPF 50+ PA +++
Best for Makeup
Calling all glass skin fans: This protective base delivers ample UVA and UVB coverage, while brightening up your complexion with botanical extracts and a pearly, light-reflective shimmer that makes your face look downright luminous. It wears nicely on its own but is especially flattering underneath any makeup, as it acts almost like a highlighter.
10. Pyunkang Yul ATO Mild Sun Cream
Best for Sensitive Skin
Developed by the renowned Pyunkang Oriental Medicine Clinic in Korea, this super gentle formula contains EWG certified ingredients like honeysuckle extract and mugwort extract to keep your skin nourished and soothed, while broad-spectrum SPF 45 PA+++ fends off UV rays and free radicals. The lightweight formula is also scent-free and is a safe bet for anyone whose skin is easily irritated.