Lashes in the Lush


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Sunscreen in your Makeup Routine – Favourite sunblocks that don’t feel thick and sticky

We all know the sun is strong in the tropics - did you know the UV Index scale goes from 1 to 11+, and that the sun in Singapore reaches a UV level of 13 (!!!) on a daily basis?! Meaning that we basically fall off the UV scale. We also know we SHOULD wear a sunblock. But the prejudice about sunblock is still that these types of products are sticky, chalky and make your skin feel oily. And unfortunately a lot of them are - but thankfully not all. There are great products around to include in your daily beauty routine, whether this is to layer the sunblock under a heavy layer of makeup or au naturelThis article starts with some 'Sun 101' knowledge to continue with 'Suncare 101', to arrive at the Grande Finale of the best sunblocks available. 

With medium fair skin, dark brown hair and green-greyish eyes I generally don’t get a sunburn easily; until I moved to Singapore. Without sun protection, half an hour in the Singaporean sun between noon and 4pm means a sunburn on the sensitive and thin skin of my chest and sometimes in my face as well.

Understanding WHY always helps me to make smart and informed choices (like wearing sunblock, a hat in afternoon sun), but if you don’t need to be educated just scroll down to the purpose of this post - a list of the best and most user-friendly sunblocks (goodbye shine and stickiness!) to include in your daily beauty routine, fighting the strong and intense sun in South East Asia. For the ones who are as inquisitive as I am, let’s start with a summary of all you need to know about UV, UV-index and UV in Singapore. 

1. What is UV radiation? 

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. The main source of UV radiation (rays) is the sun, although it can also come from man-made sources such as tanning beds. 
In general, radiation exists across a spectrum from very high-energy (high-frequency) radiation – like x-rays and gamma rays – to very low-energy (low-frequency) radiation – like radio waves. UV rays have more energy than visible light, but not as much as x-rays.

Sunlight contains UV rays; although they make up only a very small portion of the sun’s rays, they are the main cause of the sun’s damaging effects on the skin.

2. What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

UVA RAYS are long-wave rays, that penetrate deeper into our skin. These rays age skin cells and can damage their DNA. Moreover, these rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers. Most tanning beds give off large amounts of UVA.

UVB RAYS are short-wave rays that the chief cause of skin reddening and sunburn. These rays tend to damage the skin's more superficial epidermal layers and have slightly more energy than UVA rays. They can damage skin cells’ DNA directlyand are also thought to cause most skin cancers.


When sun protection covers both UVA/UVB radiation, it is labelled broad spectrum protection.

3. What does the Sun Index or ‘UV index’ in weather forecasts measure? 

The UV Index is an international standard index that describes the level of solar UV radiation at the earth’s surface.  The index ranges from 0 to 11+ and the values are grouped into various exposure categories. A higher index value indicates a greater potential for harmful effects to the skin and eyes. 

Source: Singapore National Environment Agency

If a light-skinned individual (without sunscreen or a suntan) begins to sunburn in 30 minutes at UV Index 6, then that individual should expect to sunburn in about 15 minutes at UV Index 12 – twice the UV, twice as fast.

A Sun Index forecast generally refers to the daily maximum; in Singapore, the UV index is measured at the Changi Meteorological Station and is reported hourly between 7 am and 7 pm. This reported UV index represents its average value for the past hour. You can find the current UV index at the website and app of Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA)

4. How strong is the sun in Singapore?

This is where it starts to get interesting – I for one was shocked to find out how strong exactly the sun is in Singapore. According to measurements of the World Health Organization (WHO), at 1 degree North of the equator, the maximal UV index of Singapore is 13. Keep in mind the international UV index scale actually goes as far up as to 11+...

I listed some countries’ maximal UV indexes (see WHO source) below to illustrate how extreme the UV radiation can get in Singapore:

Below chart (it's from the NEA site, quality not optimal - sorry) on the left shows how seasonality affects UV index levels in Singapore. On a daily basis, we deal with an average UV index of 8.

In the chart on the right you can see that between noon and 3pm, the UV index typically reaches measurements above 9 in Singapore, including the maximum level of 13 as reported by the WHO:

Can we finally talk beauty now...?!

Can lah - here we go! 

5. What is the difference between Physical and Chemical Filters in Sun Care products?

The protection mechanism in a sunscreen is either a 'physical' or a 'chemical' UV filter, or a combination of both.

PHYSICAL SUNSCREENS contain active mineral ingredients that protect our skin by laying physically on top of it to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin.

Physical UV Filters: Titanium Dioxide & Zinc Oxide.

Main Advantages:
+ Less likely to irritate sensitive skin
+ Protects from sun immediately after application, no need to wait
+ Last longer than chemical filters in direct UV light, because they don't decompose through sun exposure. (N.B. NOT when doing physical activities that cause the skin to get wet or sweat; physical filters rub off quicker)
+ Less likely to irritate sensitive skin and less likely to be pore-clogging for blemish-prone skin

Main Disadvantages:
- Often leave a white film or streaks on the skin and.or leave a sticky feeling after application
- The formula's tend to be a bit thicker so they may be more difficult to apply.
- May look too chalky and opaque for daily use under makeup
- Last shorter than chemical sunscreens when doing physical activities that cause the skin to get wet or sweat; rubs off quicker
- If not enough product is applied or application is not done evenly, UV light can get between the sunscreen molecules and still reach the skin

CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS contain organic (carbon-based) filters that create a chemical reaction that dissipates the heat back off the skin by absorbing the UV rays.

Chemical UV Filters: Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Oxybenzone, Homosalate, Helioplex, 4-MBC, Mexoryl SX and XL, Tinosorb S and M, Uvinul T 150, Uvinul A Plus.

Main Advantages:
+ The formula tends to be thinner and more fluid; spreads more easily on the skin which makes it more wearable for daily use, and more suitable to use under makeup.
+ Less product is needed to protect the skin
+ Additional active ingredients can more easily be added to a formula containing chemical sun filters, such as peptides and enzymes, which offer other skin benefits that can make a product a more allround skincare product as opposed to just a sunscreen.

Main Disadvantages: 
- Doesn't protect from the sun immediately after application, but requires about 20 minutes after application before it begins to work instead.
- The higher the SPF (such as formulas of SPF 50 or greater), the higher the risk of irritation for sensitive skin types
- The protection offered gets used up more quickly when in direct UV light, so reapplication must be more frequent
- Increased chance of redness for rosacea-prone skin types because it changes UV rays into heat which can exacerbate flushing
- May clog the pores of oily skin

6. So which type of UV filter is better?

This is an ongoing debate amongst scientists, dermatologist and concerned consumers. Although some people are very outspoken about their choice for chemical or physical filters (mainly the latter), both physical and chemical sunscreens do a good job at protecting your skin, as long as the product is applied properly. Since they each have their advantages and disadvantages, an increasing amount of sunscreens contain both physical and chemical UV filters

Best is to try both types (or a combination) and see how your skin reacts and how pleasant you find a certain product, especially if you want to use the product under your makeup on a daily base. It's really all about preference and personal experience; keep in mind that not necessarily all physical sunscreens leave a sticky and white film (these filters are getting more and more advanced) and that not all chemical sunscreens cause skin irritation or other problems, as preached by some.

7. What is the difference between the labels 'SPF' and 'PA' in Suncare products?

The SPF rating  is a measurement of the protection a sunscreen offers against UVB rays, the rays that cause sunburn, whereas PA indicates the protection that is offered against the deeper penetrating, more damaging UVA rays that cause skin wrinkling, leathering, and other signs of sun damage or "photo-aging".

Note that as most labels state that the sunscreen offers broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, the SPF rating indicates ONLY the level of protection against UVB rays. Based on the SPF number alone you don't know how much protection you are getting against the deeper penetrating, more damaging UVA rays.

Until recently, there was no rating system for the level of protection a sunscreen offers against UVA rays. Fortunately, an increasing amount of products are labelled as PA+, PA++ or PA+++: the more plus symbols the label has, the more protection the sunscreen provides against UVA rays.

8. Is a SPF in makeup like my liquid foundation or powder sufficient?

Many foundations and other makeup products like primers and finishing powders offer a built-in SPF. Is this a smart beauty solution?

The answer is NO – although every little bits help, the advertised SPF in makeup products does not provide sufficient coverage when you spent time in the full sun (on the beach, reading on your balcony, a coffee with friends on a terrace, cycling, hiking etc). In the latter case you better opt for a sunscreen or sunblock.

On, Dermatologist Leslie Baumann, MD, says the following:

"Makeup does not provide enough coverage, you need seven times the normal amount of foundation and 14 times the normal amount of powder to get the sun protection factor on the label. No one does this."

Other online sources and dermatologists state that makeup products with at least SPF15 should however be adequate when you spend most of your day inside and only face the sun for everyday activities like travelling to and from work, running errands, picking up the kids from school etc. That is, in Europe or the US. For Singapore's extreme UV index it is advised to amp up the SPF level to at least SPF30, preferably SPF50. Last year Bobbi Brown launched a serum foundation with SPF40 that I'm a big fan of myself; Intensive Skin Serum Foundation SPF40, 85 SGD.

Also don't forget to pay attention to the quality of SPF in makeup as this varies quite a bit and some don’t offer broad spectrum protection (UVA/UVB).

9. What about skincare, like moisturizers with SPF?

The professional opinion regarding moisturizers with SPF is similar to makeup with SPF; for everyday activities YES it's sufficient when above SPF15, for a dedicated day in the sun NO; for Singapore however it's wise to make it SPF30 or preferably SPF50.

10. So sunblocks it is, that we'll be talking. What are the best, most pleasant to use sunblocks available, especially when wearing a layer of makeup on top?

The prejudice about sun blocks is often that these type of products are sticky, chalky and make your skin feel oily. Too be honest, a lot of them are, unfortunately. The association with thick and sticky iridescent white layers was exactly why I was initially resenting the idea of wearing a sunblock under my makeup. 

Fortunately I found quite some sunblocks that do not live up to the expectation of stickiness and are actually very pleasant for daily use, even layered under makeup (apply on your face after moisturizer and before applying makeup). 

Still, between the overwhelming choices for sun protection products - especially in Asia where most locals make it a sport to block out the sun in all ways possible - finding the right product can be challenging. 

Below list is based on personal favourites and advice from fellow expat friends who are just as picky and demanding as I am when it comes to beauty products. 

BIORE - UV Watery Gel SPF 50+ / PA++++

Right: a drop of the product + the product when it's absorbed on top (i.e. invisible :))

In the world of cosmetics and skincare, the sun-fearing Japanese are very well-known for their advanced suncare. This product is the ultimate value for money, and I'm addicted. The water-based texture spreads easily and get absorbed in only seconds, without leaving behind a white cast or a sticky feeling. Meaning you can apply your makeup immediately. Seriously, like magic no product seems to be left on your skin. 

Upon first sight little particles are visible in the emulsion but these disappear immediately as well; according to the product description, these particles are "unique Aqua Micro Capsules with UV block ingredient to provide superior SPF 50+/PA++++ protection while keeping skin cool and refreshed". Aha.
A closeup of the texture, in which the Aqua Micro Capsules are visible

This sun block is furthermore enriched with Hyaluronic Acid & Citrus essence to hydrate and soften skin. Apart from the pleasant texture I like that it's suitable to be used on both face and body, great for slathering on your decolete or shoulders or other sun-sensitive body parts when you're in a hurry to leave home.

UVA Protection: PA++++
UVB Protection: SPF 50
UV Filters: Chemical (Octinoxate, Tinosorb, Uvinul A Plus & Uvinul T 150)
Fragrance: Lightly perfumed (fresh, citrus-like scent)
Oil-free: Yes
Non-Comedogenic: Unknown
Absorption: Immediately
Price per ml: 0,17 SGD ($)

Price: 16 SGD for 90ml
Available at a.o. Watsons, Guardian, Selektiv' by Sasa.

Chanel - UV Essentiel SPF 50 / PA+++

Another personal favorite, but at the other side of the price spectrum than Biore finds itself. Good thing is that you only need a few drops to cover your entire face. This daytime moisturizer has a very light, very fluid texture with a velvety feel and soft matte finish. Like Biore, it's absorbed immediately. 

According to the product description, a free-radical and anti-pollution shield with a Vitamin E derivative and plant extracts empowers this oil-free, lightweight formula to safeguard skin against environmental pollutants. Licorice Root Extract and a highly effective combination of UVA and UVB filters help diminish and prevent the appearance of dark spots and signs of premature aging.

UVA Protection: PA+++
UVB Protection: SPF 50
UV Filters: Both Chemical (Octinoxate) & Physical (Zinc Oxide)
Fragrance: Yes (light & fresh; similar to other Chanel skincare products)
Oil-free: Yes
Non-Comedogenic: Yes
Absorption: Immediately
Price per ml: 2,83 SGD ($$$$)

Price: 85 SGD for 30ml
Available at Chanel Beauty counters a.o. Tang's and Takashimaya.

Clinique - Super City Block Oil-Free Daily Face Protector SPF 40

I know many women who love this sun block, and on beauty rating websites reviews are mostly raving. Personally however, I find the formula a bit too sticky for my skin. Half an hour and even longer after application my skin still feels sticky. Not as sticky as most sunscreens, but I do feel there's product laying on my skin.

The texture feels somewhat slick and oily upon application and this product has colour correcting element that give the product a light nude-pinkish colour; when applied on the face the colour disappears but leaves a glowy, dewy effect - I guess it's this dewy effect that I experience as somewhat sticky. Anway;

The inclusion of a variety of antioxidants like chestnut rose extract, matricaria extract, cucumber extract, gentian root extract, and vitamins C and E is one of the reasons why this product scores so high in reviews; Paula's Choice (link to article) points out that research has demonstrated that antioxidants, when formulated into a broad-spectrum sunscreen formula, boost its effectiveness in defending your skin against UV and other environmental free radicals (Journal of Long Term Effects of Medical Implants, 2004 and Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2012).

UVA Protection: PA+++
UVB Protection: SPF 40
UV Filters: Physical (Zinc Oxide, Titanium Oxide) & Chemical (Octinoxate, Octisalate)
Fragrance: No
Oil-free: Yes
Non-Comedogenic: Yes
Absorption: Supposedly 5 minutes; leaves a sticky feeling on my skin for at least half an hour.
Price per ml: 0,87 SGD ($$)

Price: 46 SGD for 40ml
Available at Clinique counters at a.o. Tang's, Takashimaya and Isetan and at Sephora.

Kiehl's - Ultra Light Daily UV Defense SPF 50 / PA+++

Not to be mistaken by Kiehl's "Activated Sun Protector for Face SPF50" in 100ml, which is a sunscreen for occassional use like beach holidays or active days in the sun (it's water resistant). Although this sunscreen is a great product, last year Kiehl's developped a product that is similar but suitable for daily use, especially as a layer under makeup: Ultra Light Daily UV Defense SPF 50 PA+++.

The texture of the product seems initially less fluid than Biore or Chanel's, but does spread out easily and is absorbed quickly; for the eye immediately, and after around 5 minutes you won't feel the product on your skin anymore either. 

It contains a.o: Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant known for its ability to help protect against skin-damaging free-radicals and Rose Gallica, a plant extract from the French Rose flower known for its soothing and calming benefits

Great thing about Kiehl's is that the staff in their boutiques and counters is always incredibly helpful, patient and knowledgable and you can get a free sample so you can try the product at home under your makeup first before you buy the full size product. What I furthermore love about this product is that it is completely fragrance free

UVA Protection: PA+++
UVB Protection: SPF 50
UV Filters: Chemical 
Fragrance: No
Oil-free: Yes (mineral oil free)
Non-Comedogenic: Yes
Absorption: +/- 5 minutes
Price per ml: 1,73 SGD ($$$)

Price: 52 SGD for 30ml
Available at Kiehl's counters in department stores such as Tang's or Kiehl's Boutiques (find here).

Lancome - UV Expert XL Shield Fresh UV Aqua Gel SPF 50/PA++++ 

Lancôme offers quite some different sunscreens within their UV Expert line. Besides this Aqua Gel, a BB cream version is available as well as a regular cream. I must say that texture-wise I didn't experience much difference between the Aqua Gel and the regular cream; the Aqua Gel is not quite what I expected for a gel and reminds me more of a very fluid cream instead. 

Either way, the texture of this product is very fresh and weightless and is easily absorbed by the skin. It leaves a smooth matte finish. The scent of the product (same for the regular cream) very strongly reminds me of a typical sunscreen product, which is a product feature that I'm not too fond of. 

According to the product description, the Fresh UV Aqua Gel contains 'Coolact 10', "a sensory agent developed to offer a freshness similar to that of menthol, its cool touch reduces the skin’s temperature upon application". In addition the product contains rose petal extract that helps to soothe heated and reddened skin. Moreover, Lancôme’s XL- ShieldTM technology implies a filtering system that offers 12-hour persistent protection that spans the UVB – UVA – XL-UVA (long UV rays) spectrum, as well as a pollution shield with a complex of active ingredients that combats free radicals and prevents pollutant particles and carbon molecules from adhering to the skin. 

UVA Protection: PA++++
UVB Protection: SPF 50
UV Filters: Chemical (Mexoryl SX and Mexoryl XL, Benzophenone-3, Octyl Methoxycinnamate) & Physical (Titanium Dioxide) 
Fragrance: Yes
Oil-free: Unknown
Non-Comedogenic: Unknown
Absorption: 1-2 minutes
Price per ml: 2,50 SGD ($$$)

Price: 75 SGD for 30 ml
Available at Lancome Beauty counters a.o. Tang's, Takashimaya & Isetan and at Sephora.

Clarins - UV Plus Anti-Pollution SPF 50 / PA++++

This product used to exist in an SPF40 with only physical UV filters; somewhere halfway 2015 however the product was reformulated and now contains bot physical and chemical UV filters. 

The texture of this product is really very light and fluid (watery, nearly liquid) and is very easy to apply. Absorption is fast; almost immediately for the eye, but it takes up to two minutes not to actually feel the product anymore. It's available in three colour-correcting shades (Translucent, Rosy Glow & Fairness) and is said to be rich in plant extracts; what extracts these are and what they do is however not elaborated upon in the product description on the Singapore website of Clarins.

At a Clarins counter I was told that this product contains organic Cantaloupe, an anti-oxidant from the Provence (?!). According to the US website of Clarins, the product contains White Tea (said to strengthen the skin against harmful environmental agressors) and Succory Dock-Cress (for its anti-pollution properties).

I love that the Translucent version is available in 2 sizes, 30ml and 50ml, which is great for travelling or just to keep the smaller version in your purse for touch ups.

UVA Protection: PA++++
UVB Protection: SPF 50
UV Filters: Chemical (Homosalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzonen) & Physical (Titanium Dioxide)
Fragrance: Yes 
Oil-free: Yes
Non-Comedogenic: Unknown
Absorption: 1-2 minutes
Price per ml: 2,46 SGD ($$$$)

Price: 74 SGD for 30ml; the 'Transparent' version is also available in 50ml, for 95 SGD.
Available at Clarins counters at a.o. Tang's, Takashimaya & Isetan and at Sephora.

Lancaster - Skin Therapy Day SHield SPF 50 / PA+++

Allround sunblock that has a light-weight texture (in Lancaster's marketing jargon it's labelled as "Invisible touch texture") that is quickly absorbed by the skin. What I love about this product is the fact that it comes in a pump tube, which is both practical and hygienic in use.

According to the product description, "Lancaster Skin Therapy Day Shield SPF 50 PA+++ provides a protective layer of skin defence against the sun. It is formulated with powerful agents that fight skin-damaging free radicals." Moreover, it is said to keep skin radiant which is somewhat true as a VERY slight sheer dewy effect is visible, but (fortunately) not as extreme as with Clinique's Super City Sun Block. 

I have a friend (total beauty addict too) living in the Indonesian Tropics who swears by this product and must say that when I tried it in store I liked it as well. Online aren't many reviews available however, so we have to trust my friend on this one (she insisted I included this product in this list).

UVA Protection: PA+++

UVB Protection: SPF 50
UV Filters: Chemical (Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid (ensulizole))
Fragrance: Yes
Oil-free: Unknown
Non-Comedogenic: Yes
Absorption: 1-2 minutes
Price per ml: 2,23 SGD ($$$)

Price: 67 SGD for 30ml; 
Available at a.o. Sephora.


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