I feel a bit weird writing about sunscreen because I’m not a sunscreen junkie. Like, I wear sunscreen every single day I step outside, but I’ll admit that I skip it if I’m working from home. I don’t geek out over the ingredients. Alcohol in the formula doesn’t bug me at all. I’ve never pulled a single study about sunscreen filters. The most extreme sunscreeny thing I’ve done is invest in a sunscreen phone attachment that measures the coverage level on one’s face after applying (it’s set to ship soon). But would I buy the sunscreen meter attachment if I didn’t have a blog? Naw.
That said, I’m uncompromising when it comes to how the formula feels on my face and plays with my other skincare and makeup. The best sunscreen formula isn’t the best formula For Me if it balls up when my foundation hits or feels like trash on my skin. I need the experience of wearing sunscreen to not feel like punishment.
I suspect that most people shopping for daily use sunscreen, especially if they’re newer to daily sunscreening, are like me and just want something that has a good enough rating and feels good. Period. It doesn’t have to be grand cru haute couture denominazione di origine controllata best sunscreen winner of the sunscreen olympics. It doesn’t need to be anti-acne or anti-aging beyond offering SPF. It needs to work, not leave a white cast, not be annoying, not smell foul, and not cost a million dollars.
If you love the science of sunscreen, there are people who really know the science and can get into the finer issues while still being very grounded in reality. I love Lab Muffin’s YouTube videos on the science of sunscreen. Vanity Rex has great, in-depth reviews of lots of suncreens. Sunscreen is totally worth geeking out about, but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I have to wear it, so I’m kicking the dirt and dragging my heels.
Why daily sunscreen?
I used to think that I only needed to wear sunscreen when I planned to be outdoors for awhile. A few of the things that changed my mind:
- Sunscreen is face-freezing skincare. It literally prevents aging if you use it correctly every day. There is no sense in talking about anti-aging products unless you’ve got your sunscreen game together, it’s EVERYTHING.
- If you’re using acids, physical exfoliants like scrubs, or prescription medication like Retin A or Differin, your skin is way more susceptible to damage and burning if you’re not wearing sunscreen.
- It can help prevent certain forms of skin cancer.
Where sunscreen goes in your routine
After all of your skincare, but before any base makeup including primer. Need a basic outline of when to use your products? Click this:
How long to wait before applying makeup? And how to apply makeup?
Michelle from Lab Muffin recommends waiting 8 minutes before applying anything over your sunscreen and using a patting motion to apply base in order to not disturb your SPF. Watch her full sunscreen and makeup video here:
The Best Sunscreen I Can Buy Now: Nivea Sun Protect Super Water Gel SPF 50/PA+++ Review
Lemme get the things that I find imperfect about this product out of the way:
- it doesn’t offer PA++++ sun protection, just PA+++. This means that the sunscreen doesn’t offer the very highest protection from ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.
- this sunscreen is not waterproof.
- it usually ships from Japan. The sunscreen filters are not approved by the US FDA (the FDA hasn’t approved new filters in ages), so you can’t buy this at the drugstore.
I’m willing to accept these things because it’s the least depressing sunscreen in my stash and super affordable compared to the volume and quality.
Nivea Sun Protect Super Water Gel SPF 50/PA+++ Ingredients
Japanese ingredient list: 水, メトキシケイヒ酸エチルヘキシル, エタノール, PG, ジメチコン, エチルヘキシルトリアゾン, ジエチルアミノヒドロキシベンゾイル安息香酸ヘキシル, BG, ジラウロイルグルタミン酸リシンNa, クインスシードエキス, ヒメフウロエキス, キハダ樹皮エキス, ヒアルロン酸Na, （アクリレーツ/アクリル酸アルキル(C10- 30)）クロスポリマー, カルボマー, 酢酸トコフエロール, 水酸化Na, BHT, メチルパラベン.
English translation (mine): Water, Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Alcohol, Propylene Glycol, Dimethicone, Ethylhexyl Triazone, Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Dilauramidoglutamide Lysine, Pyrus Cydonia Seed Extract, Geranium Robertianum Extract, Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Carbomer, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Hydroxide, BHT, Methylparaben. CosDNA analysis.
There are some UVA and UVB sunscreen filters, alcohol to make the formula dry down quickly, dimethicone to give it slip, hyaluronic acid so your skin doesn’t end up parched, and some extracts…I’m guessing so you feel ~fancy~ when putting this on your face/to give the marketing team something to talk about. There are minimal common trigger ingredients.
Why you’re going to buy Nivea Sun Protect Super Water Gel SPF 50/PA+++
It doesn’t feel disgusting
The formula dries down to feel like a light egg white + water glaze that’s a little bit slick and slippery, but just the right amount for easing makeup application. Nivea says that the sunscreen can be used as a primer and as long as your idea of primer means something that adds slickness, not something that adds staying power and matteness, I can see that being true.
The scent/alcohol fumes aren’t bad
I don’t feel like alcohol wafts off my skin when I use this, and I don’t pick up a stomach-turning playdough sunscreen scent from it, just a light playdough scent.
The bottle has a pump
A pump! A PUMP! You can buy the no-pump version for easy toting, but A PUMP! Two pumps = 1/4 teaspoon, the average amount of sunscreen a face needs. (Yup, I pumped it out and measured it.)
There’s no white cast
This goes on as a milky gel, but quickly spreads out to become clear.
The sun protection is better than most things you can buy in the US
The US FDA is a damn mess in so many ways, and the approval of sunscreen filters is no exception. US sunscreens are pretty terrible and the ones that aren’t tend to be pricey.
It’s possible to get the recommended amount on your face
This is a rare sunscreen where I can get a whole 1/4 teaspoon on my face in one go (I have oily, pretty well-hydrated skin, so it’s hard to force so much product on it.) Since I need to allow 8 minutes for my sunscreen to dry before applying makeup, trying to squeeze in a second layer after an initial drying time would make me even later than usual to work. 1/4 teaspoon in one go is ideal, and the Nivea delivers.
It’s not a million dollars
It’s about $15 for a 140g pump bottle even if I take the lazy way out and order on Amazon. There are ways to get it more cheaply, but I’m not going through enough bottles to do the research; I’d save a few bucks a year, but my time is more valuable at this point. $15 for a fantastic sunscreen is damn good imo.
How Nivea Sun Protect Super Water Gel SPF 50/PA+++ beats 11 other sunscreens I own
- Nivea Sun Protect Plus UV Milky Essence SPF50+ PA++++: While this popular sunscreen has a better PA protection rating than the Water Gel, I find that I’m not able to get my face to accept a full dose of it in one coat, which means that…I’m not actually getting the stated protection. The cost per ml ends up being higher, too. Still nice. Slight white cast, but more like Hourglass Mineral Veil primer than anything mask-like.
- Skin Aqua Sarafit Essence UV SPF50+ PA++++: less greasy finish than the Skin Aqua Super Moisture Gel (below), but it still has a heavy feel on my skin and the alcohol fumes coming off of this when I apply it are pretty strong.
- Skin Aqua UV Super Moisture Gel SPF50+ PA++++: this sunscreen has a greasy feel on my skin even after 8 minutes, and the residue sits right on top of my skin. Also not a fan of the playdough sunscreen scent.
- Glossier Invisible Shield: formula so bad even I understand why it’s not good, crazily high price per ml. Full review.
- Biore UV AQUA Rich Watery Essence SPF50+/PA++++ (2016 version): this was my JAM…until Biore reformulated it this year. I’d say that the Nivea Water Gel and the Biore Watery Essence 2016 version formulas feel very similar, but the Biore has a better SPF rating while the Nivea is cheaper and has a pump.
- Biore UV AQUA Rich Watery Gel SPF50+/PA++++ (2017 version): the Biore Watery Gel has a bit of white cast, feels kinda clumpy, and just isn’t that fun to wear.
- Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence 2017 SPF50+/PA++++ (2017 version): the Biore Watery Essence has a thicker formula feel, longer drying time, and heavier feeling on my skin — but the protection rating is higher than the Nivea.
- Kose Cosmeport Suncut Super Water Proof Super Perfect UV Protect Gel SPF50+/PA++++: I tried this while searching for a truly waterproof sunscreen and omfgggg it feels so wrong. I don’t know if I got a bad tube or what, but it feels like pure slippery oil on my skin. Like wearing a cleansing oil. urhghghg
- Make P:rem UV Defense Me Blue Ray Sun Gel 75ml SPF50+ PA++++ (blue cap): this blue ray formula has a better SPF rating than the Nivea, but it feels very greasy on my skin and it costs quite a bit more.
- Make P:rem UV Defense Me Capsule Sun Gel SPF50+ PA+++ (orange cap): this formula is super cool and moisturizing, but it takes way more than 8 minutes to sink in on me, leading to a really slick, ‘coney feeling (even though it doesn’t have them). It’s also quite a bit more money.
- Earth’s Recipe Waterful Sun Gel 50ml SPF 50+ PA+++: this is a very nice sunscreen that feels like lotion and has a great scent, but it costs $25 for a 50ml tube and it takes a damn long time to dry down.
Where to buy it
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