skincare stock
Bid adieu to thick sunscreens that pill under make-up and feel heavy on the skin. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Anessa, Biore, Canmake... Japanese sunblocks have taken the suncare community by storm this year. You're probably no stranger to enthusiastic J-beauty recommendations on social media, from hair masks to moisturising skin essences. Sunscreens formulated in Japan are also exceptional in texture, sun protection and performance under make-up.

Are Japanese sunscreens better?

Experts tell us that the lure of J-beauty lies in the holistic balance between natural ingredients and good chemicals. Those who couldn't luck out with K-beauty sunscreens find their most agreeable sunblock in the Japanese range. They're often water-resistant, have gel formulations, and factor in Malassezia folliculitis or fungal acne-safe ingredients.

Dr Shruti Kakar, a specialist dermatologist at Medcare Medical Centre, Al Barsha, Dubai, says her trial run with the popular Anessa sunscreen went great. "It spreads easily, doesn't leave a white cast, and its price is comparable to other sunscreens on the market," she said.

Dr Kakar adds that J-beauty sunscreens contain fewer chemicals in their formulas, making them less irritating on sensitive skin. "They maintain high standards [of production], and their lighter texture means that they're perfect for layering under make-up and other skincare products. Japanese sunscreens also provide longer-lasting sun protection," she explained.

Nearly all our picks below boast a strong sun protection factor or SPF of 50 and up, with an extremely high protection grade of ultraviolet A rays (PA++++). Dr Kakar says that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a minimum of SPF 35 or more. A sunscreen's UVA blocking abilities should at least carry two plus signs, she adds.

Not to mention, many of these are hybrid. This means that they offer sun protection using both chemical and mineral filters. The end result is a cosmetically flattering sunblock that's invisible but gentle on the skin.

What do Japanese suncreens contain?

From Anessa to Skin Aqua, most J-beauty sunblocks feature plant extracts and hyaluronic acid. Image Credit: Unsplash/yue su

Much like Japanese hair care and skincare, J-beauty sunblocks stand out from the crowd due to their modern and traditional makeup. You'll most likely find the hydrating and antibacterial Japanese royal jelly extract, jojoba oil, collagen, glycerin and hyaluronic acid in the ingredients list.

Some popular Japanese sunscreens on the market may feature alcohol high up on the list. Should this be a cause of concern for you? Our dermatology expert explained: "It's in so many products, especially the milder versions of alcohol that are moisturising, like stearyl alcohol. It also thins the texture of the formula and makes it gel-like. These sunscreens will usually contain other ingredients to counteract the alcohol. But, do avoid if your skin is red, too sensitised to the sun and is peeling."

Sunscreens with gel formulations, like the Canmake Mermaid Skin Gel UV, are excellent alternatives for acne-prone skin types, however. "Gel-based sunscreens make the skin less sticky, so they're even more sweatproof. And, they don't leave a white cast that people complain of, especially those with darker skin tones," said Dr Kakar. With humidity high even in winter time, and sweating common, she adds that water resistance is a worthwhile feature to have in sunscreens.

Try one out for yourself, and see if it lives up to the hype. We took down Japan's top-ranking sunscreens from Amazon, where you can shop with a Prime membership to get free, fast delivery.

1. Best Overall: Anessa Shiseido Perfect UV Sunscreen Skincare Milk (SPF 50+, PA++++)

If we were to credit the booming popularity of Japanese sunscreens to a single brand, it'd be the Anessa by Shiseido range. Variations like the Perfect UV Sunscreen Skincare Milk shot the sunscreen to the international stage, where its hybrid formula and lightweight moisturising texture instantly won hearts. Offering SPF50+ with PA++++, the sunscreen leverages the benefits of 50 per cent skincare ingredients, such as tormentil root extract, sodium acetyl hyaluronate, green tea extract, glycerin and water-soluble collagen. It's also the only Anessa sunscreen with the highest water resistance, making it perfect for sports and leisure activities. Oily skin types can also opt for the same sunscreen in gel formula.

2. Best with Make-up: Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence (SPF50+, PA++++) 

Biore's UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50+, PA++++ takes a different approach to sunscreens. With water listed as its first ingredient, this product feels like a serum on the skin and absorbs quickly into a natural finish. There's no tacky residue nor any white cast left behind, which is why several skincare fans on the internet vouch for it under make-up. Hydration mainly comes from hyaluronic acid, glycerin and royal jelly extract. It does list alcohol as its second ingredient by virtue of its watery texture. This is still a water-resistant sunscreen, as it can bear against the element for up to 80 minutes. Reviewers, too, prefer using the UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence as a make-up primer. There are three 50ml bottles in this value pack.

3. Best Chemical Sunscreen: Skin Aqua Super Moisture Gel Gold (SPF50+, PA++++)

Here's a sunscreen you'll actually enjoy applying. The Rohto Skin Aqua Super Moisture Gel Gold has a lightweight gel texture that disappears into the skin the second it goes on, leaving behind a dewy but not oily finish. However, it only contains chemical filters, so it must be applied 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. In terms of ingredients, the sunscreen features hyaluronic acid, collagen, and alcohol for controlling viscosity. Unlike other sunscreens in the same series, the Super Moisture Gel Gold doesn't sting the eyes and applies beautifully on darker skin tones. Reviewers also love that it's free of fragrance and comes in a bigger 110ml bottle.

4. Best for Dry Skin: Canmake UV 01 Mermaid Skin Gel (SPF50+, PA++++)

Like the Anessa sunscreen, the Canmake UV 01 Mermaid Skin Gel does not contain alcohol, so it's much gentler on dry skin types. It's a hybrid gel formulation that has both chemical and physical filters and leaves behind no white cast. You're getting strong broad-spectrum UV protection with SPF50+, PA++++, along with hydrating effects from hyaluronic acid, jojoba esters and castor oil, as well as soothing and antioxidant plant extracts. Canmake recommends applying the sunscreen to a freshly washed face, as it's meant to double as a moisturising make-up base. Those with sensitive skin rave about the sunblock in the reviews, but do lament the small 40ml tube.

5. Best for Family: Nivea Sun Protect Super Water Gel (SPF 50, PA+++)

Nivea's J-beauty sunscreens are drugstore favourites for the face and body in Japan. The Sun Protect Super Water Gel arrives in a slightly bigger 140ml bottle with easy pump packaging. It has a serum-like texture, given how water is it its first ingredient. The rest of the list is short and simple, featuring plant extracts like the kihaeda bark extract, known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-acne properties, and hyaluronic acid. It offers a sun protection factor of 50 and a high UVA protection grade of PA+++ using three chemical filters. This is also the sunscreen to go for if you struggle with fungal acne. Reviewers find it easy to spread during application and prefer the pump dispenser for the entire family.

6. Best for Reapplication: Shiseido Clear Stick UV Protector (SPF50+)

If you tend to skip the two-hour reapplication rule, consider picking up a sunstick instead. Best for reapplications over make-up, the Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF50+ is the perfect on-the-go solution. It's a clear bar that creates an invisible veil on the skin, the protective layer becoming more effective in heat and water. The UV protection is also water-resistant for 80 minutes. Apply liberally to the face and the neck under or over make-up as needed. There's no greasy or sticky residue, and it doesn't irritate sensitive skin, note reviews.

7. Best for Oily Skin: Kanebo Allie Extra UV Gel Sunscreen (SPF50+, PA++++)

The Allie Extra UV Gel Sunscreen rivals Anessa on the shelves in Japan. It's a premium coral reef-safe sunblock with physical and chemical filters. What's special about this formula is Kanebo's advanced friction technology that prevents the sunscreen from rubbing off on clothes and thinning out from sweat or water. It contains hyaluronic acid, glycerin and collagen but also alcohol to achieve a watery consistency. According to reviews, the larger volume of zinc oxide (mineral sunscreen) might leave a slight white cast on deeper skin tones. Otherwise, it delivers a matte finish that's perfect for oily skin. 

Our recommendations are independently chosen by Gulf News editors. If you decide to shop through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission, as we are part of Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.