My Shiseido Sunscreen Journey: A Story in Three Acts

As I’ve gotten older, my attitude toward beauty products has become more no-nonsense. Gone are the days where a magical origin story will cast a spell on me, “oh this mask was harvested by mermaids and mixed with unicorn tears, cool cool, but what will it do for me?” I call it my Janet Jackson ‘What have you done for me lately’ approach to beauty products. And I recently realized while examining my beauty purchases, that without realizing, I had become a total Shiseido sunscreen convert. So given that sunscreen recommendations are the most frequent questions I get in my email and DMs, I felt it was only fair to share how I too became a Shiseido sunscreen devotee.

For a few years, I had been happy with the green, clean Zinc Oxide “mineral” sunblocks. But my dermatologist told me that although Zinc Oxide works, its lab performance is hard to replicate in real world scenarios. Zinc Oxide, being a physical blocker, needs to be evenly applied and remain on the skin to be useful, and any missed spots are not protected. More importantly, he explained that a physical blocker like Zinc Oxide is prone to movement and hence displacement is likely to occur with the faintest thing including a gust of wind, hair getting on our face, accidental brushing on the skin, what have you. Added onto that is the fact that many of the clean and green sunblocks also don’t use ingredients such as silicones, which are commonly used in non-green mineral sunscreens to help the formula stay in place. So I decided to try something fully dermatologist approved, which meant a full dive into La Roche-Posay’s chemical sunscreens. And long story short, they’re a more forgiving lighter texture, but often make my skin look shiny, and would ALWAYS sting my eyes.

Out of good options between reliability and agreeability, I remembered the iconic blue Shiseido bottles of sunscreen that my fabulous Asian friends from college would ALWAYS have in their bag. Then I did some research. From just reading about the products, it was hard to decipher if Asian sunscreens would be better than the US/EU standard, because their ingredients seemed similar. But I also know that Asian skincare is meticulous, and so focused on sun protection. A population that large couldn’t be wrong. I finally bit the bullet when I happened upon a Macy’s sale and spotted the Shiseido Urban Environment SPF 42 on sale, and given that it appeared to be a gentler version of their classic blue bottle sunscreen, it was the perfect product to try in their sunscreen range. Suffice it to say, it worked out, and led me to try more of the range. Here’s my breakdown on how these three products worked for me, and my thoughts/recommendations.



Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector SPF 42

Actives:
OCTINOXATE 4.9%, OCTOCRYLENE 3%, AND ZINC OXIDE 12.5%

Who it’s for: I think this is the best option for anyone with any hesitations or concerns that non-green sunscreens might be irritating, as well as those with complexions that can get oily or grimy by the afternoon. This is the “ultra light” sunscreen in the Shiseido range, and some actives also help to balance over-active sebum. This milky sunscreen is oil-free, and while I’m not oil-phobic (hi face oils!), I feel that this is a worthwhile feature since many chemical sunscreens make my skin look oily. This does not, my skin looks very natural. And since it does also contain a 12.5% Zinc Oxide, you’ll also get a nice bit of pore blurring, oil absorbing benefit, while the overall milky fluid texture and two chemical sunscreens ensure you get more breathable, proper, even coverage.

Additional benefits: I like the Urban Environment approach which is targeted to address three factors that cause urban skin aging: UV rays, daily environmental aggressors, and over-production of sebum (sweat/grime in NYC). This also has plant extracts like Paeonia Albiflora Root Extract which actively helps reduce the look of visible pores, and Scutellaria Baicalensis Extract, an antioxidant-rich herb to help protect the skin against daily aggressors, which produced noticeable results as my skin really did look better when I was using this.

Performance: The milky fluid texture of this sunscreen is wonderful, it truly is feather weight, yet works like a skin milk that dry skin will enjoy as well. It is lightly fragranced in that subtle Japanese beauty product way that I prefer to European cosmetics. This sunscreen has 40 minutes of water resistance which is important to me because it means that it can withstand some sweat, and rain. Additionally, it rinses off easily at the end of the day with a gentle cleanser.

Who it’s not for: As the first product that I tried from the Shiseido range, this just made me curious about the other products. But in hindsight, I really do think this is quite close to perfection. There aren’t too many chemical actives in the sunscreen (just two), so chances are that you won’t get the eye stinging or irritation, the performance is reliable with many great considerations for city-living, and it actually makes my skin look and feel good. The only case where I might recommend another product over this is if you just absolutely need the highest SPF level, or you plan to be in the water for a few hours in which case Shiseido’s other two offerings are both SPF 50+ and have 80 minutes of water resistance.

Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen

Actives:
AVOBENZONE 2.3%, HOMOSALATE 10.0%, OCTISALATE 5.0%, OCTOCRYLENE 5.0%

Who it’s for: This is the classic blue bottle Shiseido that is obviously meant for most people. That is important to note because it generally means most research money was spent getting this right, and it’s the core formula for the entire range. If you don’t actually experience any irritation from chemical sunscreens, there is no reason you shouldn’t try this first given it has better sun protection performance at SPF 50+ and provides 80 minutes of water resistance.

Additional benefits: Instead of plant extracts like you’d find in Urban Environment SPF42, this formula is geared with technology like WetForce Technology and HeatForce Technology which sense areas of moisture and heat to form a stronger barrier. So it performs under pressure. Very cool.

Performance: This is also a milky texture, ever so slightly heavier than Urban Environment SPF42, but still fluid and silky. This does make my skin look a little bit oily, although not as much as La Roche Posay or Avene, so I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t quite as noticeable either. Not a deal breaker for me. The sunscreen has 80 minutes of water resistance, but rinsed off as easily as Urban Environment.

Who it’s not for: If you’re sensitive to chemical sunscreens, just take note of the actives in this one to see if it uses any of the sunscreens you have a sensitivity to. It’s also important to look at concentration because for me, the active that stings my eyes is Oxybenzone (used in many Western formulas, but thankfully not used in any Shiseido sunscreen products), and Avobenzone, which is used in slightly higher concentrations in Western formulas. And although this formula has 2.3% Avobenzone, it isn’t a problem for me unless I apply my sunscreen really heavily right around my brow line, and happen to sweat a lot later in the day. Otherwise, I rarely had issues with stinging, and found this to be quite agreeable as well as a reliable top performer that never left me worried about sun exposure.

Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Milk SPF50+/PA++++

Actives:
Zinc Oxide, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Titanium Dioxide, Uvinul A Plus and Tinosorb S Aqua

Who it’s for: Where do I start with this one? Firstly Anessa is Shiseido’s Japanese SPF-focused line. Second, this is not technically supposed to be in the US market because it uses more modern SPF actives like Uvinal A Plus and Tinosorb S Aqua which the FDA does not recognize since they have not updated their list of recognized SPF actives since the 1990s. So you have to get it from Amazon as a Japanese import. But the product itself is good, in fact, it’s more advanced than what you’ll otherwise get from any retailer that is selling sunscreen in the US. With that said, since it’s not officially sold in the US, details are hard to come by as there aren’t English product descriptions. So I can’t confirm things like what the actual water resistance time is, though I think it should be around 80 minutes.

This is a wonderful product if you’re willing to be a bit adventurous because the SPF actives are beyond what the US is ready for. You’ll be living in the future.

Additional benefits: I’m not too sure because again, everything is in Japanese. I know there is peony extract which has high antioxidant activity and protects against UV.

Performance: Milky texture as well. The mild version that I’ve linked above is basically unscented, and feels very light and lovely. Texture-wise, this might be tied with the Urban Environment sunscreen for wearability and comfort. It doesn’t take care of sheen/oiliness like the Urban Environment, but it is very neutral in this respect so my skin still looks nice. I notice that it does take a little more to fully rinse off, but it’s nothing that is too stubborn. Being a Japanese sunscreen, I appreciate that it also has a PA++++ rating which we don’t provide in the US. This denotes the protection grade of UVA, as SPF generally is a measure of only UVB radiation. Four plus marks mean “Extremely High UVA Protection.” However it’s worth noting that US sunscreens generally have UVA protection, it’s just that we don’t list them individually on the product.

Who it’s not for: Since there is no official market availability in the US, it’s a bit of a risk-reward to purchase from Amazon because the vendor changes frequently, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell if you’re getting a different version, etc. I went through six different product pages, to land at a reliable product page (linked above) sold directly from Shiseido Japan and confirmed as the mild/unscented version. If you don’t want that hassle, you have two good options from Shiseido that can be purchased in the US (above).


Final Thoughts: I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of these options. The safest bet in my opinion is Shiseido Urban Environmental SPF 42, which is a nice mix of performance and real world considerations for sensitive skin in city-life. If you’re looking for the most advanced formula, and don’t mind something not fully in sync with outdated US sunscreen standards, go full JBeauty with their Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Milk SPF 50/PA+++, which I feel provides performance with good ingredients, and without the limitations of US sunscreens primarily as related to potential irritation. Of course the tried and true Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50, is the most tested for those looking for a reliable workhouse that happens to outclass similar US counterparts with a more silky feel, and nicer on-skin performance.

SPF Recommendations

Hi there, I’ve been following your blog for awhile and love the honest reviews. But I need help! I’ve been looking for a good, non-greasy SPF that’s suitable for wearing under liquid foundation. Even so-called light formulas seem to slide off my face halfway through the day. I want to protect my skin but I want to look normal while doing it. Do you have any recommendations? Thanks!

I wish I had the answer but when it comes to sunscreens, I have a bit of a Goldilocks problem. The recommended sunscreen is physical rather than chemical but physical blocks always seem heavier and leave a white cast while the chemical blocks are more fluid and absorbable. With some physical sunscreens, because it’s so heavy or thick, my skin tends to get congested but chemical blocks sometimes irritate my apparently super-sensitive skin so it really depends on specific brands.

As for the ‘slide off’ your face issue, have you tried those waterproof sunscreens? I haven’t really had this issue, but I do remember using my boyfriends Jack Black Water Resistant SPF when I went swimming and that stuff stayed ON. The only reason I don’t use it regularly is because it makes my skin feel dry. 

I’ve used Sunday Riley’s Cashmere SPF 30 to good results and I like the iconicShiseido SPF bottles to layer under makeup because they’re so fluid. For something more natural and clean, I like the 100% Pure Argan Oil Moisturizer and the Coola Sunscreens. I’ve also been dabbing with more multitasking products and I’ve been using the Omorovicza Complexion Enhancer SPF 15 which is kind of like a tinted moisturizer. I know that soon REN is launching a BB Cream with SPF15  as well so I’m excited to try that.

Sunday Brunch Makeup: Boscia BB Cream SPF 27 & Shiseido Bronzer

I notice that on weekends when I typically meet friends for a casual brunch, I tend to do my most common beauty routine: casual made-up. Not so casual that I’m going out sans makeup, but not making an event out of it either. Today I decided to combine the Boscia BB Cream with Shiseido Bronzer.

The Boscia BB Cream is a “self-adjusting” cream that blends into the wearers skin tone. It comes with a decent SPF 27 PA++ Protection which is more than enough for going out for a bite during the fall/winter seasons. It is also oil-free which is good because most mainstream products that aren’t oil free, are using mineral oils or petrol derivatives and not the skin healthy botanical oils we love.

The BB Cream craze started in South Korea when actresses used it post-surgery to simultaneously cover scarring while healing skin. Since then, these creams have been adapted for mainstream audiences looking for a lighter, more natural feeling foundation that can also improve skin. I have to say though, no BB cream sold in the US is really a competition for the great Asian brands (such as Lioele Water Drop BB Cream, Missha, Etude, and Hanskin which are priced at Garnier price points but give results that beat those that cost 5 times as much). Boscia is a Japanese brand, so I thought maybe they could carry the Asian technology over using a slightly cleaner formulation that most of their Asian counterparts do not have. 

The formula is a PEG/Silicone powerhouse which is to be expected with most BB Creams. Upon wearing it the first couple of times I have to say that it did feel significantly lighter than wearing foundation but I noticed my skin tone was “off” it always looked a little orange and dark. It also isn’t as moisturizing as the packaging claimed so I have to put a lot of it on my skin.

The SPF 27 comes from Titanium Dioxide which isn’t everyone’s favorite (Zinc derivatives seem to be the preferred option). The back also says it diminishes the appearance of pores which I did not find to be true – it honestly didn’t seem to do anything for them, but because there was not hydration, pores tend to end up looking  slightly larger.

I don’t think I will repurchase this again, but if you’d like to try, it is available at Sephora for $38.

 

The Shiseido Bronzer is actually a very under the radar product from the beauty brand known for its complexion products. I was surprised to discover it as I was looking for a subtle, natural bronzer that wouldn’t look obvious, streaky, or orange. I decided to give Shiseido a try not only due to great reviews online but also because despite my apathy for their skincare products, Shiseido is renowned for their light makeup. 

The Bronzer comes with its own brush but honestly, don’t bother with it – it is way too thin and small to be used seriously, I think of it more as a bonus travel tool in case you can’t pack another brush (I apply mine with the Sigma F15 Brush). I found the pigment to be significant but VERY blendable and natural. It is that perfect balance between naturally subtle and effective to give you that fresh golden glow as though you just came back from a vacation. There are 3 shades to choose from, I use Shade 2, they recommend Shade 2 for most people unless you’re at either ends of the spectrum. There is no shimmer to this formula which was a big deal for me as a lot tend to sparkle under natural light for what ever reason. 

I was so surprised at how light this bronzer felt, it doesn’t add any weight to my face at all but it does give an instant glow and smoothing effect to my face. I don’t even need to use a finishing powder because this is enough to give that nice polish. I cannot say enough good things about this product – it isn’t clean but the performance is just amazing. It stays on all day, doesn’t oxidize, isn’t orange, does not impact skin hydration, and looks natural. One piece of advice is that because it is so buildable but subtle, don’t keep applying until you see a difference, start with a light touch and then view yourself from a distance. You’ll notice the true natural sun-kissed effect better that way. Surprisingly, this product isn’t available at Neiman Marcus, but it is sold from our higher end sister-store, Bergdorf Goodman for $35, which isn’t cheap but is right in line with similar offerings from Laura Mercier, Stila, Lancome. In terms of performance, I’ve been using this bronzer more than the more expensive bronzers I have from Chantecaille and Le Metier Beaute.

Shiseido Perfect Foundation Brush – Best Brush Ever?

Nothing makes me happier than finding that ‘perfect’ product and my brush addiction is a testament to that statement.. where other women might collect shoes, I collect brushes – if it is a different texture, color, use, hair type, cut, weight, etc. I will find an excuse to buy it! Of all the brushes I have, the last thing I need is another foundation brush but after reading lots of rave reviews on the Shiseido Perfect Foundation Brush, I could not resist falling for this stunningly angular marvel.

The brush is marketed as a mix between Japanese brush expertise and Shiseido’s own technology, as such the 100% synthetic brush (which is extremely soft) can be used with creams and powders. The brush is a blunt edge that is slanted which helps the bristles not only pick up the foundation but also buff in the product evenly and precisely for a flawless finish. The maximize control, the brush handle is shorter than regular brushes at around 4.5 inches long – which makes it perfect for taking on the go. The size may not be to everyone’s liking, but I found it easy to maneuver across my face and control.

For people who like REALLY light applications, one thing to note is that you will need smaller amounts of foundation as this really gets product onto your skin. The first few times I used this with the Koh Gen Do foundation, I got ‘medium’ coverage when I really want that ‘natural-light’ coverage. This might not be the best brush to use if you like to ‘build up’ product from a subtle light layer. I learned to adjust the amount I pumped out and all was right again, as a bonus I now get more mileage out of my foundation!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed myself picking up this brush over my Tom Ford and Chanel foundation brush because it applies so fast and easily once you get used to it. Due to its shape, cleaning it is a slightly more difficult as you can’t just ‘swirl’ the gunk off. The brush is very dense and picks up foundation so well that it is a little hard to move when you clean it so be sure to be on top of cleaning it before product accumulates.

I’ve been saving the BEST part of this product for last… it retails for $30! I know this is hardly ‘economical’ but compared to it’s counterparts and the league it is in performance wise, this is such a great price point! The brush is high quality and will last long enough to make it a legitimate investment. I would say, if you can afford $30 foundation, you should definitely take the plunge on this brush!

$30, at Bergdorf Goodman

Shiseido Bio-Performance Super Correcting Serum

Shiseido is one of the oldest beauty companies in the world and existed in Japan since 1872. It is particularly successful because it has successfully infiltrated nearly every mainstream upper market retail store and has legions of diehard fans who swear by their beauty and their skincare products. The success of Shiseido has led them to create an even higher end line – Clea de Peau, and opened the doors for other asian brands, AmorePacific, Sulwahsoo, etc. This brand is kind of the opposite of what I like, the high-end avant niche, this is much more mainstream, and it isn’t known for being clean.

I received a bottle of their Super Correcting Serum at a beauty event our store held, and the first thing I noticed was how beautiful the bottle was. Shiny, futuristic, and streamlined are the words that pop into my head when describing it. The product itself is a “time fighting serum that delivers revolutionary solutions to counteract wrinkles, sagging, and dullness.” Immediate results are promised, and the star of the product, the Bio-Corrective Complex is said to promote production of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid. Lofty promises.

Upon first use, I could tell this was formulated to appeal to a more mature set. The fragrance in this is dictionary “old lady fancy cream” smell. It wasn’t bad, but I’m not a fan of synthetic fragrance, it doesn’t really do anything and makes me think a lot of time was wasted trying to tune the smell, which to me really doesn’t matter for a skincare product. Upon application, I immediately recognized the ‘slick’ feeling and sure enough – this product is a silicone powerhouse! 

water, dimethicone, glycerin, butylene glycol, dimethicone crosspolymer, betaine, talc, polysorbate 20, ammonium acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP copolymer, silica, alumina, titanium dioxide (CI 77891), PEG-150, polyvinyl alcohol, phenoxyethanol, mica, alanine, trisodium EDTA, tocopheryl acetate, sodium citrate, fragrance, sodium metaphosphate, serine, potassium hydroxide, citric acid, sodium metabisulfite, alpha-isomethyl ionone, benzyl benzoate, hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde, hexyl cinnamal, limonene, linalool, citronellol, geraniol, sodium acetylated hyaluronate, butylphenyl methylpropional, syzygium jambos leaf extract, carthamus tinctorius (safflower) flower extract

Of the top 5 ingredients, 2 are silicones. Judging from this list, it seems this is a product that mainly uses silicones and synthetic humectants to ‘smooth’ skin. This must be why they are promising immediate results, since silicones act right away to smooth fine lines — but the moment they are washed off, your lines are back! Also,  notice how high ‘fragrance’ is listed, not cool.

I’m disappointed this product took so many shortcuts to deliver at best temporary results after the high praise it gave itself. After 14 days of use, I couldn’t bother using it anymore. It didn’t break me out (although it made my eyes water a little – so that isn’t good), but it really did not do anything good for my skin besides make it feel clogged with all the silicones. At $80 for 30mL, I cannot recommend this product.