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.

Summer Essentials

TheBeautyIdealist Summer Essentials

We often think of our skin as a “type” but the reality is, it is constantly in flux. So while some of us have dry skin or oily skin, the truth is every day our skin is responding to so many different things that when the seasons change, skin needs will have to be evaluated. Here are the products that have been so good to my skin so far this summer.

The Hair Care: Rahua Shampoo

When I originally reviewed this shampoo, I noted that it was slightly drying. However this quality also makes it pretty good for summer where hair and scalp in general is more oily. The organic blend of quinoa, rahua-ungurahua, and palo santo improves healing, moisture retention, and regenerates scalp and hair follicles. The gentle formula uses coconut derived surfactants to clean hair and it is said to be color-safe. All these qualities make it great for summer when the sun can do some serious damage.

The Eye Care: Verso  Super Eye Serum

I have a Goldilocks problem when it comes to eye product: too light and there is a tight/dry feeling, too heavy and it makes me feel suffocated (not to mention, I’ll no doubt end up rubbing it into my eye eventually). Verso’s Super Eye Serum gets it just right. It’s a light creamy gel texture that absorbs quickly without sitting on skin but retains that feeling of significance so the delicate skin around eyes is never feeling dry and tight. The patented Retinol 8 complex is formulated into every Verso product. It’s supposedly a more effective, gentler and UV stable form of retinol that increases collagen and reverses signs of aging around the eyes. I luckily don’t have crows feet or fine lines around my eyes but I feel this really makes my eye area take care of.

The First Cleanse: In Fiore Treate

I’m not a oil/balm cleansing type of girl. It takes too long to get skin clean from the film and doesn’t ever make my skin feel that clean afterward. In Fiore’s Treate is a non-foaming cream that gently helps to remove make-up and sunscreen which is very applicable for summer when my going out routine is sweat proof make-up and heavy water-resistant sunscreen. The scent is a light jasmine which also feels refreshing for summer. The bonus is unlike oil/balms, this actually washes clean. Look for a full review to come!

The Second Cleanse: YULI Halcyon

The second cleanse is a bit of a misleading moniker in that to the average person who thinks double cleansing is too complicated might go for the first and call it a day. The truth is that the second cleanse is when you need that really effective cleanser to come in and get rid of all those things lodged deep in skin and take care of skin. I originally reviewed this and loved it. Since then I’ve used a series of cleansers to see what was out there and similar to Nephriticus (scroll to 7:50 mark), this is a holy grail that I keep coming back to because each time I’m just reminded of how good this cleanser is. During summer our skin accumulates even more of that unwanted stuff and this is the right stuff to get it all removed without stripping/drying skin thanks to a pH balanced, soap-free formula.

The Mask: Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask

Summer is when we jam pack our schedules with weekend trips and vacations which makes this convenient jar of detoxifying mask perfect as your travel companion. Unlike powder masks which I love but take a while to prepare, this jelly mask comes ready to apply. The beta-hydroxy treatment sloughs off dead skin cells while clays detoxify skin. Perfect for summer. This mask applies like a dream gel and can be washed off when dried.  Easy and simple, with results every time.

The Refresher: YULI Metamorphic Elixir

I couldn’t finish this list without a facial mist! They’re so essential for cooling off, reducing inflammation, and irritation. I carry a mist with me everywhere, after the gym, if I’m out for too long, throughout the day in the office, and of course after cleansing. YULI Metamorphic Elixir is one I fell in love with last winter when I needed something hydrating but come summer and I’m still in love with it thanks to the completely hydro-based formula that doesn’t clog pores or add any weight onto skin. The smell of roses feel like a luxury every time I spray it and it helps to tone and soothe skin. It works great for when I’m out and about and also for an after-sun spray.

Do you also switch out products when the seasons change? What are your summer essentials? 

July 4th Long Weekend Skin Ritual

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Well… we’re finally into summer! It’s funny how all year I long for summer: vacation, travel, etc. but when it actually comes around there is nothing I’d rather do than stay indoors! Well this long weekend I’m going to a wedding in the Hamptons so I know that I’ll need to have my best skin arsenal available, especially as the event will take place outdoors in the sun!

Here’s what I’m taking:

VOSS: I admit, this is probably going to be finished on the ride over but it proves a point that hydration is the most important thing for keeping skin healthy and this is especially true during the summer when sitting under the bright sun. What makes VOSS great is that the bottle is glass (instead of plastic which can leak toxins), and it is recyclable – though I would not reuse this extensively since you can’t really clean it out. The water is also extremely pure with natural minerals that are good for skin.

Tatcha Aburatorigami Beauty Paper: A must-have for summer to leave skin with a fresh complexion. This is essential for avoiding the dreaded oily-face in pictures especially at weddings where you’re dancing or sitting outside. These papers will last the entire night and best of all, they won’t smudge or move makeup so you won’t have to worry about frequent touch ups.

YÜLI Liquid Courage: I very rarely use a product and think “this is really going to keep me as youthful looking as possible as I age” but Liquid Courage delivers that, and that is why despite testing different products – I have never strayed from this MVP. Check out their loaded mind-blowing list of ingredients to see why this deserves the acclaim. Layer this precious antioxidant serum under your moisturizer and sunscreen before you go out. Also, apply this the night before a major event for that subtle glow and brightness that this serum always delivers.

Coola Face SPF30 Cucumber Moisturizer: Why use two products when you can use one that does both jobs perfectly? Coola’s SPF30 Moisturizer is a beautifully made light cream that is both a moisturizer and a sunscreen with the recommended SPF30. The beauty of having two functions is that you won’t need to layer on products which is a blessing in the hot weather for blemish prone skin. And another bonus, Coola products are made with so many great ingredients that they’re actually called “organic suncare“, so the antioxidants in the naturals provide extra protection from UV rays that traditional sunscreens do not. There are some silicones in the formula but I’m used to this from lightwe sunscreens so I’m happy to make this trade-off.

YÜLI Panacea Elixir: Clarifying? Check. Balancing? Check. Hydrating? Check. This is a blemish-prone skinned girls dream. I’m somewhat of a devotee to this elixir because it’s deceptively effective. At first, you think it’s just light refreshing floral waters until you see your pores shrink, your skin become refined, and your blemishes subsiding. It hydrates while it purifies your skin! As a true beauty junkie, I’ve drifted away from this to use mists that are cheaper (i.e. Evan Healy) and more expensive (i.e. Tata Harper) and after playing Goldilocks, the Panacea Elixir was just right. So at the wedding if you want me, I’ll be the girl shamelessly spraying away.

Happy 4th!