Confession: This article went in a totally different direction than what I originally planned. With summer coming up, I wanted to write a roundup of some great sunscreens in multiple categories. After testing over a dozen contenders from the Beautytap inventory, however, I’d only found a couple that I love enough to recommend. Here are my winners (and a few that I suggest avoiding, plus my reasons why).
The gold medal goes to …
Sometimes we get lucky. The stars align, the heavens smile down on us, and we find a sunscreen that combines everything we prefer in sunscreens, at a price low enough to enable full and generous daily slathering without guilt. At least, that’s how I felt when I realized that my favorite sunscreen of the bunch I tried was also the one that cost the least.
Often seen as Missha’s little sister brand, A’Pieu is known for inexpensive and sometimes quirky products (they’re the ones that make a belly button and ear cleanser officially named the Hole Cleaner, for example). There’s nothing quirky about the Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel, though. Just exceptionally cosmetically elegant UVA and UVB protection for normal, combo-oily, and oily skin types.
A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel SPF 50+ PA+++ is a “chemical” sunscreen, meaning that it uses organic UV filters rather than inorganic mineral filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
While some complexions are sensitive to one or more organic filters, for those who aren’t, these filters tend to offer superior cosmetic elegance. Chemical sunscreens tend to have little to no white cast and lend themselves to generally lighter formulations. They also typically offer better UVA protection.
Since UVA radiation is responsible for the deep skin damage that causes premature sagging and wrinkling, UVA protection is critical for those of us using sunscreen for cosmetic as well as health purposes. A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel is PA+++, indicating comparatively strong UVA protection.
The SPF 50+ designation indicates that A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel also offers very high protection against UVB radiation, which causes sunburn.
Ingredients (UV filters marked with an asterisk): Water, alcohol, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate)*, octocrylene*, ethylhexyl salicylate (octisalate)*, butylene glycol, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (avobenzone)*, dipropylene glycol, methyl methacrylate crosspolymer, bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine (Tinosorb S)*, saussurea involucrata extract, citrullus lanatus (watermelon) fruit extract, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, andansonia digitata seed extract, dimethicone, sodium acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, isohexadecane, polysorbate 80, potassium hydroxide, BHT, polysorbate 60, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, disodium EDTA, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-hexanediol, fragrance
Like most other Asian sunscreens with the word “gel” in their names, A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel is actually a light, watery lotion. To my nose, it smells faintly of citrus and sunscreen. The scent fades quickly.
You know what else fades quickly? The sensation of sunscreen on my skin after I apply this product.
I apply my sunscreen in generous quantities. To ensure that I get the full labeled protection, I aim for the 2mg/cm2 thickness by which SPF and PA are measured. This works out to about 1/4 tsp for face alone, which can be quite a heavy layer if the sunscreen isn’t formulated for lightness. Luckily, the Aqua Sun Gel is. It begins to dry almost immediately upon application.
When I first got my big box of testing sunscreens and started swatching them on my arm, I was struck by how quickly the A’Pieu sunscreens sank in. By the time I was done swatching the collection, the A’Pieu products had completely disappeared from sight. Zero white cast, zero greasy residue, nothing but the most minor bit of added glow.
The alcohol in this sunscreen definitely helps the rapid drying time. For people with a sensitivity to alcohol in skincare, this is going to be a problem, but for people with skin like mine, which isn’t bothered by alcohol in the amounts found in skincare, it’s a very good thing. Faster drying time means less waiting in the morning, which means more sleep or an earlier start to the day’s tasks.
(And the next sunscreen I’m going to talk about is alcohol-free, so bear with me if that’s what you need!)
A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel plays remarkably well with my makeup. Many sunscreens I’ve tried seem to dry down fine until I try to apply makeup, at which point they ball up into a mess of white flakes. I’ve experienced no problems with pilling while using this sunscreen, and I find its subtle glowy finish helps give my makeup a gorgeous silky texture. It’s the definition of “cosmetically elegant”!
As far as sun protection goes, the Aqua Sun Gel performed as well as the high SPF and PA ratings led me to expect. My skin tans and freckles easily when exposed to the sun: It only takes a day of lackluster sun protection for my foundation to become too light and for new spots to appear on my cheeks. Neither of those things happened during my time with the Aqua Sun Gel. In fact, I’ve gotten multiple comments on the continued fading of my freckles and hyperpigmentation issues. I find the Aqua Sun Gel very reliable for daily use.
It’s important to note that this is not a water-resistant or sport-type sunscreen. If you’re planning to do a lot of outdoor physical activity or to get wet, look for one designed as water-resistant. For everyday life, however, A’Pieu Pure Block Aqua Sun Gel is an exceptional choice. I’m about to put in an order for several more tubes!
But maybe the Aqua Sun Gel doesn’t sound moisturizing enough for your skin’s needs. I sympathize. My skin has its fair share of dry days, and I live in a dry climate. Or maybe you can’t deal with the alcohol content. Luckily, there’s a more moisturizing, alcohol-free sister sunscreen.
Like the Aqua Sun Gel, the Natural Sun Cream is an everyday-type sunscreen that uses only organic UV filters rather than mineral ones. Unlike the Aqua Sun Gel, the Natural Sun Cream does not contain alcohol and does contain more emollient moisturizing ingredients, making it more suitable for drier skin types and climates.
The Natural Sun Cream is SPF 45 rather than 50+, but don’t let that turn you off. The actual difference in UVB protection is minute. In fact, the actual UVB protection difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is only 1 percent, so SPF 45 is nothing to worry about. The PA rating is the same as the Aqua Sun Gel’s, PA+++.
Ingredients (UV filters marked with an asterisk): Water, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate)*, ethylhexyl salicylate (octisalate)*, butylene glycol, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid (ensulizole)*, caprylic/capric triglyceride, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (avobenzone)*, bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine (Tinosorb S)*, methyl methacrylate crosspolymer, glyceryl stearate, citrus aurantifolia (lime) flower extract, cetearyl olivate, sea water, prunus persica (peach) flower extract, cetearyl alcohol, nylon-12, sorbitan olivate, sodium hydroxide, pyrus malus (apple) flower extract, dimethicone, polyacrylate-13, panthenol, polyisobutene, PEG-100 stearate, tocopheryl acetate, punica granatum flower extract, sorbitan stearate, oryza sativa (rice) bran extract, malpighia emarginata (acerola) fruit extract, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, eucalyptus globulus leaf extract, rosa centifolia flower water, prunus avium (sweet cherry) flower extract, citrus aurantium dulcis (orange) flower extract, citrullus lanatus (watermelon) fruit extract, sorbitan isostearate, polysorbate 20, BHT, disodium EDTA, 1,2-hexanediol, ethylhexylglycerin, caprylyl glycol, fragrance
A’Pieu Pure Block Natural Sun Cream has a thicker and more substantial cream texture (and slightly more noticeable citrus scent) than the Aqua Sun Gel but still feels lighter by far than the vast majority of sunscreens I’ve tried. As expected, it takes a few more minutes to dry down — a perfectly manageable five extra minutes, in my experience — and feels more moisturizing once it does.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a heavy, suffocating cream sunscreen, though. Once dried, the Natural Sun Cream feels nearly as weightless as the Aqua Sun Gel and lies just as nicely under makeup: no oily or sticky film, no pilling, and absolutely no white cast whatsoever — just a smooth, satiny base that feels like nearly bare skin. The Natural Sun Cream also fares equally well at protecting my skin from burning, tanning, and freckling.
While I ranked the Aqua Sun Gel higher than the Natural Sun Cream due to the Aqua Sun Gel’s drying speed, the truth is that I enjoy using the Natural Sun Cream just as much. I opened the Natural Sun Cream right after finishing my tube of the Aqua Sun Gel and didn’t feel like I lost anything by switching over. Ultimately, I think either of these would be a great choice for everyday sun protection. Which one to choose just depends on your skin type.
And now that we’ve covered the two clear winners of my 12-sunscreen testing spree, let’s look briefly at a few products that didn’t make the cut!
UV filters: Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), homosalate, bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine (Tinosorb S), octocrylene
I was immediately taken in by the sleek black pump bottle that houses this sunscreen, and immediately taken right back out by the intense shine this sunscreen produces on my face. The Graymelin Moisture Sun Essence doesn’t actually feel all that moisturizing on my skin but somehow makes me shine like I dipped my head into a bowl of oil. It’s also far too strongly fragranced. Finally, that sleek black bottle is far too easy to knock over.
UV filters: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide
White cast is a major problem for all-mineral sunscreens like this one. Like the Missha All Around Safe Block Mild Sun SPF 30 PA++ that I reviewed on my blog, the Innisfree Daily UV Protection Cream (No Sebum) gives me gray cast for days. Innisfree isn’t kidding about “no sebum,” either. This sunscreen sucks all the moisture, glow, happiness, and life out of my skin, even when used over a heavy moisturizer. Could be good for very oily skin types, of course, but I’d be cautious of that gray cast.
UV filters: Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate), diethylamino hydroxybenzoyl hexyl benzoate (Uvinul A Plus), bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine (Tinosorb S), titanium dioxide
Something strange happens whenever I apply this product. As I spread the Sun Mate Leports Pro Sweatproof over my skin, the emulsion breaks, resulting in a mix of distinct powdery beads of product on top of a slick and shiny base. It takes a lot of rubbing to get rid of the beading, at which point I always feel like I’ve accidentally rubbed off a lot of my protection yet am left with a sticky, shiny layer of product that doesn’t fully dry down. Not a fan.
As with all skincare products and product reviews, your mileage may vary, so don’t despair if you see one of your favorites in my not-favorites section. Just be glad you’ve found something that works out for you! But if you’re not sure what would work out for you, I have to say, I think it’d be a good idea to start with the favorites section.
Have you tried the A’Pieu Pure Block sunscreens yet? What did you think? Either way, happy sunscreen hunting, and be sure to let us know how you like the ones you try!