Japanese Sunscreens Comparison

My quest for a sunscreen in Japan resembles the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Except instead of Goldilocks it’s me, there are no bears, and the porridge/chairs/beds are all sunscreens. It’s an astute comparison, if I do say so myself. And I do.

So this is a comparison of

  • Biore UV Perfect Face Milk (SPF50+, PA+++)
  • Biore UV Aqua Rich (SPF 50+, PA+++)
  • Sun Bears Super (SPF50+, PA+++)

There’s also a brief mention of

  • Allie Precious Barrier Protector (SPF50+, PA+++)
  • Solanoveil Moist Face Milk (SPF50+, PA+++)


So Japan is renowned for its sunscreens: the need to withstand a hot and humid climate while providing unparalleled protection against tanning has lead to many non-greasy, cosmetically elegant, and high factor sunscreens. With this in mind one of the first things I bought in Japan was sunscreen.

What I hadn’t considered was how Japanese companies had managed to come up with such mattifying sunscreens, but I soon found out when applying my first Japanese sunscreen (Biore UV Perfect Face Milk): Alcohol. Lots of it.

Sure enough, while checking out the sunscreen aisle that day, I realised about 95% of the sunscreens on sale had alcohol in the first quarter of their ingredients. The Shiseido Anessa Line, Biore, Sofina Lucent, Mentholatum, all of them are heavily alcohol-based.

Biore UV Perfect Face Milk

Biore Perfect Face Milk

As I mentioned above, alcohol is a main ingredient in this sunscreen. It is second on the ingredients list and the alcohol smell is pretty overpowering. For my skin, this was too much: my face stung after application and went red. I still used it for a couple of days because I couldn’t find anything else, but I tried to change as soon as possible.

All this alcohol meant that this sunscreen was very matte, and it stopped my face from getting shiny throughout the day (and at the time it was boiling hot). So as a make-up base it worked really well in keeping all my make-up on during the day. Often my skin would feel like it was shiny (from sweat etc.) but when I looked in a mirror it would look completely matte. Perhaps my skin isn’t oily enough, but I thought the finish of this was too matte when it came to make-up application. I found the sunscreen highlighted problem areas like dry skin or large pores.

So because of this I’d give it 15/20 as a make-up base: good for durability, not so good for application.

I would recommend this to:

  • oily skinned people
  • people with normal skin and a very nourishing moisturiser

If you have dry or sensitive skin, you may want to reconsider.

Biore UV Aqua Rich

Biore Aqua Rich

Can you guess why I got this one? The words Aqua Rich to me meant moisturising (or at least not as hideously drying as the Perfect Face Milk). This sunscreen has alcohol in it but it is a little further down on the ingredients list. Also this sunscreen is a cream type, a formula which I like far more than the milky formulae predominant in Japan. In general I find cream formulae far less messy, and it’s easier to see that you’re applying the right amount.

This one was a little better in terms of hydration but the label Aqua Rich was still a bit misleading. My skin still got a little drier but not as drastically as it had with the Perfect Face Milk.

I also preferred the UV Aqua Rich as a make-up base: it worked nicely as a primer to help make-up application, smoothing trouble areas; it also helped make-up last the day. In the latter area though it was nowhere near as effective as the Perfect Face Milk, by the end of the day I had a fair bit of shine – more than I would like.

I’m still giving it 17/20 as a make-up base because I’d rather have make-up look good when I apply and get slightly worse during the day, than have it look bad on application and look the same all day.

I would recommend this to:

  • Oily-skinned people with a mattifying primer, and normal skinned people
  • Those who prefer a cream formula

Because of the alcohol I’d still advise against sensitive-skinned people using it, but it is much less potent than the UV Face Milk. Dry skinned people could probably use this but I moved away from it because it did ever so slightly exacerbate my dryness issues.

Sun Bears Super

Sun Bears

This sunscreen has no alcohol in it. It is also much cheaper than the others I have tried (about 400 yen max, while all the others are 800+). It is a milk-type formula which isn’t ideal but I’ve given up on finding a good cream formula sunscreen in Japan.

As a make-up base this sunscreen is mediocre. It is really good for applying make-up: smoothing out problem areas and acting as a primer. When it comes to lasting power though, this sunscreen performs badly under warm conditions. By warm conditions I mean anything from peak summer weather to running for the bus; foundation just doesn’t look good after a while when wearing this sunscreen. If you use a foundation like Estee Lauder Double Wear you will be fine though, as not even this sunscreen can dislodge that foundation. With products like tinted moisturisers, sheer foundations (like Bobbi Brown Skin) or – in my case – colour correcting primers this sunscreen is fine, but any heavier foundations will not look so good after a while over this sunscreen. So 13/20 as a make-up primer: it makes make-up go on nicely, but it doesn’t help with staying power.

This sunscreen is not drying. Meh it’s not really hydrating either but finally I’ve found a balance for my skin!

I would recommend this to:

  • Normal and dry-skinned people.
  • Those who don’t wear heavy foundation.
  • Those with sensitive skin

If you have oily skin and wear make-up, you may want to steer clear of this sunscreen.

Allie Precious Barrier Protector and Solanoveil Moist Face Milk

Allie Solanoveil Face Milk

Allie Precious Barrier is in cream form and alcohol-free but I didn’t like it. It was shinier than any of those reviewed above, and it didn’t even help with make-up application (usually I find creamier/shinier sunscreens work better with make-up application because they are more smoothing). It made my make-up look worse and didn’t exactly contribute to lasting power either. As I remember it was the most expensive of the lot.

Solanoveil Moist Face Milk is also alcohol-free but there is something else in there that made my skin die a thousand deaths. I had to wash it off straight away because of the unrelenting burning sensation after application. Testing it on my hand, it seems much greasier than the other sunscreens I’ve tried but it dries quite quickly. It does leave a bit of a sheen but it’s hardly visible.

All the sunscreens (with the exception of the Solanoveil which I couldn’t test for long enough) provided effective protection, I did not freckle or burn despite the high UV index at the time.

Strange how the sunscreen with the lowest score as a make-up base is the one I’ve been using every day for the last two months. While the others may be better in terms of cosmetic elegance, they all affect my skin too much. I may have to stray from the Sun Bears in the warmer months or if I start having to wear a lot of foundation again though.

Japanese sunscreens in order of preference so far:

  • Sun Bears Super (can be bought here)
  • Biore UV Aqua Rich (buy it here)
  • Allie Precious Barrier Protector (buy it here)
  • Biore UV Perfect Face Milk (it is listed here as ‘oil control UV face milk’)
  • Solanoveil Moist Face Milk (I couldn’t find this on regular websites, I’ve heard you can get it on ebay though)


Active Ingredients

If you don’t know much about sunscreens you might want to read here to understand this part.

None of these sunscreens contain avobenzone which means that basically they are stable, this means you can apply foundations with sunscreens in them, primers with sunscreens in them, and mineral make-up without worrying about compromising your protection. That is of course, if those things are also avobenzone free (usually they are). It seems in Japan most sunscreens seem to be formulated with stable ingredients which is great because then all the make-up bases and foundations with sunscreen ingredients in them (and there are many in Japan) are all ok to use.

Biore UV Perfect Face Milk

Zinc Oxide, Octinoxate, Titanium Dioxide.

Full ingredients

Biore UV Aqua Rich

Octinoxate, Titanium Dioxide, ethylhexyl dimethoxybenzylidene dioxoimidazolidine propionate (this is a filter only used in Japan)

 Full ingredients

Sun Bears Super

Zinc Oxide, Octinoxate, Titanium Dioxide.

Full ingredients

Allie Precious Barrier Protector

Zinc Oxide, Octinoxate

Full ingredients

Solanoveil Moist Face Milk

Octinoxate, Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide.

Full Ingredients