mineral sunscreen for youth

What's the Difference Between Asian, European, and US Sunscreens?

We've been seeing a lot of content on TikTok and Instagram about Asian sunscreens. And the beauty industry is buzzing about the advantages of Asian sunscreens. What's all the hype about? We turned to Double board-certified Dermatology Angela Casey MD to get some fact-based answers about choosing the best sunscreen for your skin.

US vs Foreign Sunscreens

There is certainly validity in examining the standards and testing of sunscreen options in countries outside of the US, especially when your are looking for broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers full protection. Many sunscreens that are manufactured outside of the US measure persistent pigment darkening (PPD) as well as SPF. Immediate pigment darkening that is seen after sun exposure is primarily caused by UVA rays, and UVA protection is measured by the PA rating of a sunscreen.

The majority of UV rays that reach the surface of the earth are UVA. UVA penetrates more deeply into the skin compared to UVB; UVA rays are responsible for much of the collagen and elastic fiber breakdown, sagging, discoloration, and wrinkling that we see on photoaged skin.

What about sunscreen ingredients? Avobenzone is the only chemical sunscreen ingredient that is FDA-approved for UVA protection; avobenzone is a very unstable compound and protects against only a fraction of UVA rays. To combat the instability of this ingredient, many sunscreens containing avobenzone will use stabilizers such as vitamin C, vitamin E, or octocrylene to stabilize the formulation.

In the US, if a sunscreen demonstrates even a tiny bit of UVA protection, it is allowed to be labeled as "broad-spectrum." Comparatively, the PA (protection grade of UVA) rating noted on many sunscreens manufactured outside of the US gives a concrete measure of the amount of UVA protection in a product. PA ratings range from + to ++++ with PA++++ offering the highest amount of UVA protection.

Outside of the US, sunscreens that target UVA typically include at one of the following sun protective ingredients: Mexoryl SX (terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid), Mexoryl XL (drometrizole trisiloxane or ecamsule), Tinosorb M (bisoctrizole), or Tinosorb S (bemotrizinol). These ingredients are superior to avobenzone in regard to UVA protection; they are not widely FDA-approved in the US. There are, however, 2 FDA-approved sunscreen formulations that contain Mexoryl SX in the US: LaRoche-Posay Anthelios SX in SPF 15 and 40. 

Should You Choose and Asian or European Sunscreen?

When seeking the best sunscreen for face or body, it's important to have a clear idea of use: Are you looking for the best mineral sunscreen? A mineral sunscreen for face or body? A clean sunscreen formulation? Sunscreen for kids? A tinted spf sunscreen product or a sheer sunscreen?

At first glance, it seems to be an easy decision to consider Asian or European sunscreens. The caveat is really understanding the quality and variability of sunscreen formulations that are manufactured abroad. Consumers must be able to decipher ingredient lists and also understand that many Asian and European sunscreen brands contain the same active sunscreen ingredients that US sunscreens do. Also, the same company/brand can have very different products available in a US line vs their European line. Consumer savviness and understanding these nuances are critical to optimal product selection.

Mineral Sunblock

A quick note on terminology: technically "sunscreen" describes products that absorb UV light energy and transform it to heat as it hits your skin, thereby dispersing the UV. "Sunblock" refers to products that physically shield your skin from UV light energy, causing the UV to "bounce" off of your skin and into the surrounding atmosphere. Mineral sunscreens technically fall into the "sunblock" category.

Regarding physical/mineral sunblocks: active sunblock ingredients are typically zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide is superior to titanium dioxide in terms of UVA protection, in part due to the larger particle size of zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide might be slightly more effective in protecting against UVB. Therefore, I recommend physical/mineral sunblocks that contain both of these active sun protectants to our patients; this ensures true broad-spectrum protection.

For individuals with melasma, an iron-oxide-containing sunscreen will also protect against visible light, which, in addition to UVA, can exacerbate pigment darkening. Iron oxides are found in many tinted sunscreens/sunblocks.

Why I Prefer Mineral Sunblock

Let's talk about choosing the best mineral sunscreens. Often in my practice, I get asked by moms about the best mineral sunscreen for kids. I also get inquiries on the best mineral sunscreens for sensitive skin. Many of my patients are seeking clean sunscreen formulations, free of potentially irritating chemical ingredients.

Having 3 daughters of my own, I have been on a search for over a decade for the perfect spf for girls. I do think that there are some subtle differences between products formulated for face spf versus those that are designed to provide spf for the body. I searched high and low for a girls' mineral sunscreen that offers superstar protection while being supremely cosmetically elegant. My daughters prefer a tinted spf for face and a sheer sunscreen formulation for their bodies.

When I couldn't find the perfect product for them, I embarked on founding Bright Girl. The Bright Girl collection includes purely mineral sunscreens based on my comprehensive research on sun protection, skincare ingredients, and shaped by my perspective as a skin cancer expert and cosmetic dermatologist. The Bright Girl sunblocks work while offering superior UV protection, gentle formulations, and skin support. They are non-comedogenic sunblocks, which is especially key when selecting sunscreen for acne-prone skin. And they don't pill when applied to the skin over your moisturizer or other skincare product (a BIG differentiator compared to many similar brands on the market.)

In today's world, the precision of mineral sunscreen formulations has evolved tremendously, offering beautiful lotions and creams that blend seamlessly into the skin.

Final Thoughts

The best sunscreen/sunblock is the one that you are excited to use every day. Whether that's a tinted spf for face, a hydrating sunscreen formulation, or an all-in-one sunscreen for face and body, choose sun protection that you love! And apply that sun protection: every. single. day.


--Dr. Angela