Korean Sunscreen Guide for Beginners


People are desperately slanting themselves in sunscreen now that the sun is out but forget the other three seasons of the year where the sun can also affect your skin. Sounds familiar? Let me enlighten you in the world of Korean sunscreens with this new beginners guide!

UVA / UVB / SPF / PA +++ / ?

We know the label can get confusing but there are not many terms to know and they are pretty easy to understand. SPF means Sun Protection Factor and the number which it’s accompanied by indicates the protection against UVB rays. UVB rays contribute to sunburns and UVA rays may cause premature aging of the skin and even skin cancer. On Korean sunscreens (and Asian sunscreens in general) you may notice another indicator which are the letters PA followed by plus signs. PA stands for the protection grade against UVA rays. This is a Japanese measurement ranking which is now widely used by other Asian and also western brands. This ranking is based on the Persistent Pigment Darkening (PPD) reaction reading at 2-4 hours of sun exposure. The more plus signs the higher the protection grade. For example, PA ++  provides moderate protection against UVA rays being ideal for normal skin exposed to moderate sunlight. PA +++ is the highest PA grade currently available and protects the skin of strong radiation.

Chemical VS. Physical Sunscreens

There are two different types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens, also know as mineral sunscreens protect your skin by reflecting and blocking sun rays. Chemical sunscreens absorb the rays preventing them from penetrating the skin. While all physical UV filters can both block UVA and UVB rays, chemical ones protect either one or another. Some products are made with both chemical and physical ingredients to provide a higher level of protection.

Common Sunscreen Ingredients

Check this list below for the most common sunscreen ingredients found is Korean sunscreens and see how they work for your skin type.

Chemical Sunscreens

🌸 Homosalate

🌸 Octisalate

🌸 Oxybenzone

🌸 Octinoxate

Physical / Mineral Sunscreens

🌸 Titanium Dioxide (TiO2)

🌸 Zinc Oxide (ZnO)

Homosalate is an organic compound that belongs to a class of chemicals called salicylates. Salicylates prevent direct skin exposure to the sun’s harmful rays by absorbing ultraviolet UV light. Homosalate has been found in mother’s milk and can disrupt the hormone system. More specifically the endocrine system which is responsible for regulating the activity of your cells and organs.

Octisalate, also known as Ethylhexyl Salicylate is an organic compound used to absorb the full range of UVB rays from the sun. It is an ester formed by the condensation of a salicylic acid with 2-ethylhexanol. The salicylate component absorbs ultraviolet light and protects the skin from the harmful effects of exposure to sunlight. Octisalate is an FDA approved ingredient and is unlikely to cause allergic reactions according to the EWG.

Oxybenzone, also known as Benzophenone-3 absorbs UVB and short UVA rays but is a relatively weak chemical UV absorber. Despite its sun protective abilities, it has been shown to penetrate the skin deeply and cause photo-sensitivity and other allergic reactions.

Octinoxate also known as Octyl Methoxycinnamate is used to absorb and filter UV-B rays (but not UVA) and protect skin from sun damage. It is also supposed to protect your skin from burns, but instead of staying on top of the skin it is rapidly absorbed. Octinoxite can disrupt the hormones and produce estrogen like effects similar to oxybenzone. Octinoxate is the most widely used UVB blocking agent in the Western skincare industry.

This FDA approved ingredient is pretty safe to use and protects the skin from UVB rays. Event though chemical ingredients tend to be more irritating on the skin Titanium dioxide can be problematic for a small group of people. (If you break out from mineral make up and physical sunscreen, titanium dioxide could be the culprit.) The only actual downside is that it may leave a white cast.

Zinc oxide is generally a safe ingredient which protects against the entire spectrum of UVB and UVA rays. It can be used on delicate skin and even is the main ingredient in diaper rash cream. This ingredient is also FDA approved and starts protecting immediately upon application. The only downside is that is can wear off a little easier than other ingredients and should be applied more frequently.


Applying sunscreen correctly

Not only do you have to choose the right sunscreen for your skin type, you should also apply the correct amount of sunscreen. Applying an inadequate amount of sunscreen can leave your skin unprotected from the sun’s harmful rays. Even on overcast days or wintertime we need to apply our sunscreen because the sun’s rays are still present. So how much do you need? The adequate amount is generally 1/4 of a teaspoon, or the size of a nickel or a €0,05 cent coin. No need to measure, just a big cute blob for your cute face.

Is my BB cream with SPF enough?

You guys ask me this question every time so I will cover the answer also here and it’s a big NO. So what does happen when you layer SPF? For example let’s take a sunscreen with a SPF 50 formula and layer a BB cream with SPF 20 on top. Regardless of which product you apply first the maximum sun protection factor is still 50 and not 70 as you might have suspected at first. Sunscreens limit the amount of rays that can get trough but you can’t increase above the limit of the highest protection factor. Generally speaking, SPF 100 is the highest sun protection factor you can purchase but not necessarily the best. A proper amount of sunscreen and reapplication throughout the day are more important than the SPF number. Since there is doubt about the increase of effectiveness of anything above SPF 50, most products with a higher sun protection factor than 50 are rated 50+. So applying only a cushion or BB cream with for example SPF 50 & PA +++ is not enough. You will never reach an adequate amount of sun protection factor by only applying BB cream.

We hope you found this post useful! Check our favorite sunscreens down below!


‘XO Ichigo


2 thoughts on “Korean Sunscreen Guide for Beginners

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much. Korean suncream seems to be so far ahead in terms of protection from all types of sun damage. Thanks for clearing up the terms as all the letters can get pretty confusing to begin with! I love the Etude House Sunprise SPF 🙂

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