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.

Holiday Weekend Essentials: May 2017

Greetings from the first official summer holiday weekend! I’m writing this post while curled up in bed with a multiple masks on my skin – testing out Josh Rosebrook’s new Advanced Hydration Mask on dry patches and a mask I finally added to my collection: Tammy Fender’s Epi-Peel, on oilier/more congested areas.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve provided an update on the products in my rotation and as many of you have told me through e-mail and on social media, I agree that individual product review posts do not really provide a comprehensive window into how exactly the products work or are being used together. So without further ado, these are the products I’ve been using regularly for the past month or have introduced recently.


Sun: Spring and Summer is all about committing to sun protection. Mustela Broad Spectrum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ has become one of my all time favorites and I have repurchased this about 5 times which is super rare as I love to try new products. For starters, this is a broad spectrum sunscreen that uses only mineral based sun protection (Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide) rather than chemicals which can be unstable and irritating. I’m not speaking from an analytical standpoint on chemical sunscreens, I speak from experience as someone whose eyes burn with any combination of chemical sunscreens. I also prefer the way my skin looks and feels with a physical block, yes it leaves a white cast and feels heavier than a chemical screen, but if you put it on just right it works like a highlighter and your skin just looks more luminous while being protected. And yes Zinc Oxide physical blockers may feel weighty, but they’re also anti-inflammatory and can be mixed with foundation for tinted coverage. Comparatively, chemical screens always add an oily shine, require more frequent applications, and don’t hide any imperfections (in fact I’m pretty sure the shininess accentuates them).

The SPF 50+ rating for Mustela is very rare for a non-chemical sunscreen so that is a huge bonus. There is a lot of evidence that many sunscreens on the market do not hold up to their sun protection claims, but Mustela is a brand that is developed from it’s French Lab origins which has higher compliance markers than the US (they have the seal of approval from the Melanoma International Foundation) and their line is specially made for the delicate skin of babies which makes this sunscreen even better for sensitive skin. They are categorized as a natural sunscreen but this isn’t really a botanical sunscreen and the ingredients are clean enough for me although some might not like that there are iffy ingredients like silicone. The kicker: a 3.4 oz tube costs only $16, which is INSANE for the quality you get, which may be why it’s sold out everywhere (Dermstore currently has 20% off but if they’re not allowing back ordering, try Sephora).

Fragrance: My former Neiman Marcus co-worker says there are two types of women, those who invest in perfume and lip stick, and those who invest in skincare, I fall firmly into the latter group.  I love sampling fragrances but cannot wear any because the synthetics are nauseating to me. I remember trying natural perfumes from Whole Foods and feeling like I was just throwing on essential oils from an aromatherapy class which felt too crunchy for my taste. Enter Kahina with their concentrated roll-on oil perfumes. Essaouira is a seaside Moroccan village, and their namesake fragrance is a fresh and crisp homage with notes of floral rose, sweet woodsy sandalwood, uplifting lavender, and a very pristine top-note of citrusy petitgrain. The perfume is 100% steam distilled essential oils which means it is powerful and concentrated yet never cloying as there are no artificial fragrances. The staying power is just right where you can catch it wafting with the summer breeze. And best of all, it actually smells like something I’d be able to get at a department store.

Moisture: Weleda’s Soothing Almond Facial Lotion is basic, and that’s the point. This lotion is meant for sensitive skin and is hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free. With all the active serums, masks, toners in my rotation, I really wanted a moisturizer that just moisturized really well. This is that product. Sweet Almond Oil and Plum Kernal Oil both fight dryness, enhance softness and soothing properties that makes this lotion a pacifier for when you overdo it with the retinol or acid-toning. Too much action from acids and serums can lead to inflammation that ages skin and makes it more delicate, this lotion is my trick for avoiding that fate whenever I start seeing redness or feeling tightness and excess tingling and it has always come through for me.

Acid Toner: Speaking of… I finally jumped on the Drunk Elephant bandwagon by taking the plunge on Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum. I’m not a huge proponent of regular acid-toning, but during the summer with the sweat+excess oil production plus heavier sunscreen usage, pores are way more prone to clogging so I acid tone to basically let my skin breathe every few days especially if I feel a breakout developing. This is a transparent brownish gel that works best under a moisturizer and reminds me of Arcona’s The Solution. I just started using this night serum (which is really an acid toner), and like all glycolic acid based acid-toners, my skin tingled/burned a bit when first used but is now adjusting.

That is one of the things I feel needs to be said: I know this brand made a splash by intimating that due to a lack of essential oils, their products will not cause irritation and be a sensitive skin’s best friend, which is a hefty promise that is unfortunately not realistic. All ingredients have the potential to cause irritation based on individual allergies and it is therefore not possible to have an ingredient much less a formulation that will work for everyone without triggering any sensitivities given that no two people are alike. Drunk Elephant may not use essential oils but they do use other active ingredients, in this case a 12% Glycolic Acid in addition to Tartaric and Lactic Acid which is very powerful and should be approached with some caution. I think there will be more people with sensitivities to this acid than a dilution of an essential oil like rose oil. It all depends on your personal skin sensitivity and how a product is formulated (concentration, other ingredients, other products used) that will determine how your skin gets on with the product so don’t blindly think this will work for you and don’t automatically assume anything with essential oils is going to be bad for you if you don’t have those sensitivities. This is not a critique on the T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum, in fact I quite like the formula so far but I just wanted to provide clarity to what I felt was a problematic message by their founder regarding skin sensitivity. As for the actual product, I’ll be able to give more insight after I’ve used it a while longer.

Mask: I’ve really been obsessed with masks lately. Beyond the two mentioned at the beginning, I finally got around to opening my Tata Harper Purifying Mask which is. oh. so. good. Truth be told, I like this more than her original Resurfacing Mask which is already one of my favorites. This is one of those cases where Tata’s tendency to stay in her own lane in terms of developing products that primarily suit her own skin type (mature – drier skin) is beneficial. This purifying mask is deep cleansing, removes “environmental toxins” and great for “eliminating surface build up” which is much needed in the summer, and because it’s a Tata Harper product – even the purifying mask is buttery and non-stripping. It spreads so easily and rinses clean, and is a total pleasure to use (the scent is very fresh and spa like, I’d describe it as crisp lemongrass meets zingy ginger)- only con is that it only comes in that one size which really doesn’t last long enough given how addictive this will be throughout summer. Seriously though, please – someone at Tata Harper, I’m glad you got the pricing under $60 but these masks HAVE to be offered in a size that is bigger than 1 oz.

Serum: I think anyone who invests in skincare asks the question: “is this the best that money can buy?” With YÜLI, the answer is a resounding yes. Liquid Courage is their antioxidant serum which I use year round but especially for environmental protection and repair during summer. This serum is special, here’s why: mainstream lines throw in superstar ingredients next to an ingredients list of fillers that are cheap and don’t do too much, while green/organic lines just throw together a bunch of plant oils and call it an “antioxidant” serum or a super active serum. With YÜLI, each product feels like a realization of a dream product the same way that companies like BMW and Mercedes Benz design concept vehicles to realize purist visions outside of prohibitive production costs or other business considerations.

Case in point: YÜLI designed Liquid Courage to be the antioxidant powerhouse with a base made of a botanical seed complex which is the densest natural source of nutrients and has the highest levels of antioxidant activity. Then there is the advanced form of Vitamin C that even a line like Sunday Riley has JUST incorporated as the star ingredient in her newly released Vitamin C serum, heralded as a cutting edge discovery. This just shows the level that YULI is on, as the same form of Vitamin C is just one of the many notable ingredients for this serum, when with any other brand’s product, much less Sunday Riley, it is treated as the singular superstar. YÜLI also put in Ferulic Acid and Vitamin E, which means, yup this is a cleanly formulated CE Ferulic serum with an organic antioxidant botanical seed oil base – basically all the best things for your skin in one bottle. Oh we’re not done: then there are peptides and their exclusive – biofermentation of black garlic which increases its antioxidant potency by 6 times. The serum sinks in effortlessly and has a crisp, bright scent of neroli, which like most of their ingredients, are grown right on their own farm which brings fresh to a new level as well. And while a “super oil” these days will often mean a blend of 11-20+ oils if that, at around the $200 mark, this one has 20+ of the most beneficial ingredients, including powerful ones that are not harnessed in this synergy anywhere else for $125. So yes, this is the best that money can buy and the fact that it comes in at the price it does shows they design the best products and really deliver on value, this is why YÜLI has earned such a cult following where their products are continuously sold out and it is also why I’m currently on bottle number 8 of this antioxidant serum.

That’ll do it for this round-up, any products you have questions about? Drop a comment!

Coola SPORT Mineral Sunscreen SPF 35 – Citrus Mimosa

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My grandmother is my beauty guru. Despite being well into her 80’s and only recently developing white hair, her skin is the definition of radiant and supple. I’m quite certain her first wrinkle appeared around her 50s and even now age spots are not a concern for her. Her beauty ritual is uncomplicated but it comes from four key aspects: getting enough sleep, being happy, moisturizing, and sun protection. The concept of sun protection is heavily ingrained in my own beauty ritual today and until now I’ve only hopped from one sunscreen to the next, wishing for better (healthier/less controversial) ingredients, stronger performance, or more suitability with my finicky skin. Well dear friends, after somewhat of a miss with my first Coola Sunscreen – I’ve found the gem that changed the sunscreen game for me. May I introduce you to Coola SPORT Mineral Sunscreen SPF35- Citrus Mimosa?

Photo Jan 15, 11 26 39 AM

I can say with full confidence that this is hands down the best sunscreen I have used and if I never discover any other sunscreen brands, I’ll be okay because this will be repurchased ad infinitum. Unlike the previous sunscreen from Coola that I tried, this is a physical SPF that uses Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide as the active ingredients. Titanium Dioxide has its share of detractors but at the end of the day, I still believe it has less potential to harm than chemical sunscreens which can actually generate free radical damage and become unstable during UV exposure. Zinc Oxide is kind of the green gold standard, and it is an ingredient I’ve come to love not only for its comprehensive UV-protective trait but also because Zinc itself helps to refine skin and reduce inflammation.

Usually physical blocks are thicker and leave a white cast, and while this is thicker than the usual liquid chemical sunscreens, I find that it left a breathable protective barrier that seemed to provide the right level of moisture for my skin which is especially appreciated during this Polar vortex. I have been using this sunscreen for the past 3 months so I think the moisture would still be wonderful for when the weather isn’t blistering as well. The infamous white cast associated with physical sunscreens has not been an issue, instead I’ve found the cream to refine and hide the minor imperfections, helping skin appear more even and bright without any shine.

Photo Jan 15, 11 26 21 AM

The inactive ingredients make this sunscreen shine over others based on the stellar quality of plant oils, vitamins, and plankton extract. And while there is concern over potentially photo-sensitizing oils, I’m told that physical sunblocks that actually block UV rays from contact with skin help to prevent these photo-sensitizing oils from becoming dangerous. I can understand why these oils are included, the scent is a creamy-citrus-sherbert fragrance which matches well with the creamy texture.

The formula is water-proof to an extent, and this is important to me personally because a lot of sunscreens sting my eyes, making it impossible to wear as I walk to and from the gym.

If it sounds like I’m raving about this product, it’s because I do love it, and I look forward to using it every morning. Now there are some potential drawbacks. If you apply a lot of makeup (as in.. going on camera foundation, concealer, powder, etc.), this sunscreen may not be the perfect surface and could cause clumping. The dispenser is not my favorite as the cream seems to dry near the entrance if it is not regularly used.

I know there are many sunscreens on the market now, especially cleanser alternatives which are highly welcomed – for anyone still searching, it would be a mistake to not take a look at this sunscreen. At $36 for 3oz, I believe it’s priced very competitively especially for this level of ingredients and performance. While I’m not saying it’ll be right for everyone, I firmly believe that after all of the bottles of sunscreen I’ve used – this one stands above the rest.

Coola SPORT SPF 35 Sunscreen

Coola Face SPF 30 Cucumber Moisturizer

 

 

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As I was rationing out the final few pumps of my Sunday Riley Cashmere SPF 30, I complained to a few green beauty girlfriends about the lack of a luxury cleanly formulated sunscreen. I’ve tried brands from 100% Pure to Vive Sana, and while I would repurchase them, they have not managed to sway me from giving up the silkier less-clean sunscreens that I’ve come to love. That’s when I began hearing wonderful things about Coola, a company with a dedicated line of sunscreens for everyone: chemical, physical, face, body, sport, matte, mineral, spray, scented, unscented, etc. you name it, they have it! I noticed their cute packaging and fell in love with the literature of “organic suncare” (indeed 70% of the inactives in the formula are certified organic). As I read the ingredients lists, I was amazed that a company was using truly luxurious ingredients in a sunscreen which just isn’t that common. 

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Few sunscreens will pack in ingredients like Plankton Extract as well as beneficial skin oils that can rival a face oil such as Acai Fruit Oil and Evening Primrose Oil. Now I have to admit, this sunscreen does use silicones and chemical sunscreen but if that isn’t your cup of tea, you can buy a mineral/physical sunscreen from them as well.

After much debate, I selected the Cucumber Moisturizer for it’s silky texture, and non-streaky application. My skin didn’t need time to adjust to it, no breakouts or fussiness. The scent is light and delightful, not at all overwhelming or ‘artificial’, so I daresay even those who do not like scented products will find much to enjoy in this. The silky texture reminds me of a light moisturizing cream. The pump applicator is a very efficient way to dispense product and I usually apply 3-4 pumps for my face and neck. I use a little more than the average person because I don’t like to re-apply throughout the day.

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After extensive use, there are a few issues. This isn’t waterproof so sometimes the formula will slip especially during the hot and humid summer weather. This is forgivable, but I noticed that it irritated my eyes. So I do not wear this sunscreen if I know I’m going to workout. The other issue I have is that although this sunscreen is light and doesn’t leave a white cast, it immediately makes my skin shiny and add a layer of sheen. Oily isn’t how I would describe it, but it just doesn’t look clean. The moisturizing benefits aren’t that substantial where it should make my skin look like I obviously applied something. Thankfully they have both mattifying and waterproof options (though unfortunately none with the two features together). 

While I would not repurchase this moisturizer for the above reasons, I found my initial experience with Coola pleasant enough and with enough potential that I’m looking forward to trying one of the other options that might be a better fit for me. Have you had any experiences with Coola? Which of their sunscreens do you like?