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Best Korean sunscreen 2023: For protected and glowing skin

Our pick of the best Korean sunscreens deliver sun protection for all skin tones and types

When it comes to wearing sunscreen, the advice from dermatologists is clear: protecting ourselves from UV damage – even on cloudy days – is essential for reducing the risk of skin cancer and avoiding signs of premature ageing, including wrinkles, dark spots and more.

Shopping for SPF isn’t straightforward, however, with many “invisible”, “fast-absorbing” formulas failing to deliver for your skin type. Which is where Korean sun care comes in. For those still in search of a daily sunscreen, the latest in Korean sun care offers innovative formulas and traditional yet forward-thinking ingredients, and is more advanced and luxurious than ever.

While these sunscreens aren’t necessarily better at protecting your skin, they’re often more lightweight, versatile and suitable for a range of skin tones and types. They also often deliver additional skincare benefits, with their formulas including such ingredients as niacinamide, aloe vera and hyaluronic acid.

So, read on to discover our picks of the best Korean sunscreens currently available, plus a guide to how you go about choosing the best product for you.

Best Korean sunscreen: At a glance

How to choose the best Korean sunscreen for you

What should I look for in a Korean sunscreen?

As with any sunscreen, the most important thing is the level of protection the formula offers. Look for a minimum SPF of 30, while those labelled as having “broad spectrum protection” will guard against both UVA and UVB rays.

Some Korean brands include a PA rating in addition to the SPF rating. It’s another way of indicating the level of UVA protection being offered. It ranges from PA+ to PA++++ – always look for the highest you can find.

READ NEXT: Best aftersun for soothing and hydration

Finally, like any SPF, it’s important to know the difference between chemical and physical (more commonly known as mineral) sunscreens. Chemical formulas convert UV rays into heat to protect the skin from damage, while physical sunscreens contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to actively reflect UV rays away.

Chemical formulas tend to be thinner, so they’re easy to apply daily – although you should wait at least 15-20 minutes before heading out into the sun. Physical sunscreens are less likely to clog pores, so they could be better for sensitive and blemish-prone skins, but they can leave a white cast. Many Korean sunscreens combine both chemical and physical formulas for a belt-and-braces approach.

READ NEXT: Best facial sunscreen

What is the Korean 10-step routine?

K-beauty is all about perfecting a routine to fit with your unique skin type and concerns, but the classic 10-step routine that’s grounded in Korean skincare culture (not to mentioned backed by decades of science advancement) is made up of the following, with SPF application playing a key part:

  • Oil-based cleanser – The first step in your double cleanse. This will effectively remove makeup and SPF while drawing out impurities such as sebum and pollution.
  • Water-based cleanser – A second cleanse will allow you to get deep into the pores to remove impurities that can cause breakouts. A water-based cleanser will pick up any dirt and sweat that your oil cleanser may have missed.
  • Exfoliator – Stick to exfoliating once or twice a week to reveal smoother, brighter skin. Look for ingredients such as black sugar and glycolic and lactic acid.
  • Toner – This will prepare the skin for subsequent products while balancing moisture and pH levels.
  • Essence – Also known as face mists, these are lightweight and packed with skin-enhancing ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid.
  • Treatment/serum – This is your opportunity to target specific concerns such as acne and fine lines using highly concentrated ingredients. Use on the whole face or pat into areas of concern.
  • Sheet mask – Applying a mask for 15 to 20 minutes allows your skin to effectively absorb all the nutrients and moisture in the mask and from your other products. Look for ingredients such as cucumber, green tea and aloe.
  • Eye cream – The skin around our eyes is thinner and more delicate than anywhere else on our face. The right eye cream will depuff and hydrate, while addressing concerns such as dark circles and fine lines.
  • Moisturiser – Whether you choose a cream, gel or lotion formula, this will seal in moisture to effectively plump the skin.
  • SPF – Last, but certainly not least, always apply sunscreen – even on dull and cloudy days. Applying SPF daily is the best way to prevent premature ageing, while shielding your skin from pollutants and harmful UV rays.

How we test Korean sunscreens

We source facial SPFs from some of the biggest names in Korean skincare, including COSRX, Dr Jart+, Thank You Farmer and others, and put them through their paces as the very last step in our morning skincare routine over the course of a week. We note everything from ease of application, colour and fragrance, to how well the products sit beneath makeup and – of course – whether or not we suffer any skin burn while wearing them. We also note the formula, level of protection offered, and if a sunscreen is water resistant to help you choose the right product for you.

READ NEXT: Best Korean face masks

The best Korean sunscreens you can buy in 2023

1. COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF 50 PA+++: Best hydrating formula

Price when reviewed: £26 (50ml) | Check price at LookFantastic

There’s a reason this popular Korean SPF from leading label COSRX receives rave reviews from beauty editors, dermatologists and consumers alike. While mineral formulas have had a bad rap in the past for being overly thick, gloopy and leaving a distinct white cast, this SPF is a revelation.

As well as shielding the skin from harmful UV rays and environmental damage, the soothing formula comprises an ample dose of aloe vera to intensely moisturise and calm without leaving a trace. The texture is creamy and comforting yet lightweight, and it absorbs quickly into the skin with no greasy feel or ashy cast (so it’s great for darker skin tones, too).

The high concentration of aloe makes it great for anyone who suffers with irritation, helping to even out redness, cool the complexion and lock in hydration. This genius product works well for every kind of skin type.

Key specs – Type: Mineral; Water-resistant: No
Check price at LookFantastic

2. Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Sunscreen SPF 50: Best for glowing skin

Price when reviewed: £32 (50ml) | Check price at Sephora

If there’s one SPF out there that could make us forgo makeup in favour of a barefaced look, it’s this one. The lightweight formula features a combination of repairing niacinamide (which, when combined with UV filters, is said to boost skin’s protection against environmental damage), soothing watermelon and hyaluronic acid – so, not only does it deliver a luminous, lit-from-within finish, but it’s super hydrating and protecting, too.

Our tester found that it glided on smoothly and invisibly, leaving no white cast or pilling – just a smooth, dewy finish that sits just as well under makeup as it does on its own.

Key specs – Type: Chemical/mineral hybrid; Water-resistant: No
Check price at Sephora

3. Thank You Farmer Sun Project Water Sun Cream SPF 50: Best for combination skin

Price when reviewed: £20 (50ml) | Check price at Beauty Bay

Whether oily, dry, sensitive or blemish-prone, skin types of all kinds keep coming back to this cult broad-spectrum SPF, thanks to its moisturising and protective properties and how well it sits under makeup. Supercharged with hyaluronic acid and mistletoe extract to hydrate and boost cell turnover, it has a featherweight texture that absorbs swiftly without leaving behind any stickiness, pilling or chalky residue.

It delivered a light scent (fresh, without being overbearing) and a semi-matte finish for our tester, which lasted well throughout the day. It works brilliantly as a protective primer and moisturiser that’s nourishing and comforting without being heavy or greasy.

Key specs – Type: Chemical/mineral hybrid; Water-resistant: No
Check price at Beauty Bay

4. Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Camo Drops SPF 35: Best for soothing redness

Price when reviewed: £35 (30ml) | Check price at Boots

Specially formulated for those with sensitive and rosacea-prone skin, the Cicapair Tiger Grass Camo Drops from Dr Jart+ functions as a colour corrector, primer and SPF, sitting beautifully under makeup or on bare skin.

It goes on much like a serum, having a much thinner consistency compared to other SPFs (and its TikTok-famous counterpart, the Colour Correcting Treatment), yet still manages to feel nourishing. Don’t be thrown by the pale green colour, either, which changes on contact with the skin to neutralise and calm the look of redness.

It’s spiked with a healing blend of herbs (including reparative tiger grass), niacinamide, moisturising humectants and a probiotic ferment. The result is a diffused, dewy finish and skin that looks and feels both hydrated and healthy.

Key specs – Type: Mineral; Water-resistant: No
Check price at Boots

5. Dear, Klairs All-Day Airy Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA++++: Best chemical formula

Price when reviewed: £22 (50ml) | Check price at Skin City

For those who prefer chemical formulas, this lightweight option from Korean favourite Dear, Klairs is packed with high-performing ingredients, including aloe, ginger extract and niacinamide, all of which combine to calm, brighten and preserve skin collagen.

The absence of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide means it’s guaranteed to absorb instantly, without leaving any white residue, and it has a texture that glides on evenly and without stickiness, so you can apply makeup over the top straight away.

Note that while it feels hydrating upon application, it isn’t the most mattifying product – our tester found that it left her feeling a little shiny later in the day.

Key specs – Type: Chemical; Water-resistant: No
Check price at Skin City

6. Neogen Day-Light Protection Airy Sunscreen SPF 50 PA+++: Best for oily skin

Price when reviewed: £24 (50ml) | Check price at Pure Seoul

If you’re someone who suffers with breakouts and you find wearing SPF can make matters worse, make a beeline for this dermatologist-approved product from Neogen. Formulated to nourish and calm the skin while delivering highly effective UV protection, our tester found this to work brilliantly on her oily complexion.

Its key ingredients include 20 different plant extracts, such as damask rose, tea-tree, aloe vera and avocado, to soothe a compromised skin barrier. Its texture is weightless – almost milky in consistency – so it doesn’t feel at all heavy or pore-clogging on the skin. It also contains evening primrose, which helps to control sebum production.

The finish is sheer, with no trace of a white cast, and skin is left feeling moisturised, fresh and super soft.

Key specs – Type: Chemical/mineral hybrid; Water-resistant: No

Check price at Pure Seoul

7. Erborian Super BB SPF 20: Best BB cream with UV protection

Price when reviewed: £41 (40ml) | Check price at Erborian

Tempted to break up with your foundation? Our tester certainly was once they had tried Erborian’s Super BB with SPF 20.

The term “BB cream” stands for beauty or blemish balm, and the product sits somewhere between a moisturiser and a foundation, offering hydrating and colour-correcting properties as well as coverage for a fresh, more even-toned glow. Describing itself as a “base with benefits”, this formula delivers a natural-looking finish while protecting the skin with SPF 20. It rapidly reveals smoother, more moisturised skin thanks to two Korean super-ingredients, white ginseng and fermented ginseng flower, plus niacinamide.

It did an amazing job of disguising pores and areas of redness on our tester’s blemish-prone skin, and its matte finish didn’t look chalky. It’s expensive, but worth every penny – and note that a little goes a long way, so squeeze the bottle with caution!

Key specs – Type: Chemical/mineral hybrid; Water-resistant: No
Check price at Erborian

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