Sunscreen in Japan – What you need to know

Sunscreen in Japan - What you need to Know
You have probably seen Japanese women sporting sun umbrellas, arm gloves and sometimes even masks during sunny days. It is common knowledge that getting a suntan in Japan is not considered as attractive as it can be in the western world. Even if you do not necessarily desire fair skin, you should still use sun protection, avoid over exposure and of course sunburns. With summer kicking in, here is a guide for sunscreen in Japan. First and foremost, for those of you who are not familiar with the Japanese sunscreen protection rating system, the two most important notions are SPF, and PPD or PA in Japan. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF protects the skin from UVB (Ultraviolet B), the rays responsible for skin reddening and sunburn. For instance, if without any protection your skin starts turning red after 15 minutes, by applying an SPF 15 sunscreen, it should take 15 times longer, which means about four hours. Then, there is PPD. PPD means Persistent Pigment Darkening. It indicates the skin protection from UVA (Ultraviolet A), the rays responsible for skin aging and wrinkling. In Japan, PPD is indicated as PA with plus signs. Japanese PA system: PA+ Offers a low protection equal to PPD 2-4 PA++ Offers a moderate protection equal to PPD 4-8 PA+++ Offers a good protection equal to PPD 8-16 PA++++ Offers a strong protection equal to PPD 16 and above The main difference between sunscreen sold in America and that available in Japan, many other places in Asia and Europe is that the US Food and Drug Administration regulates sunscreen as an over-the-counter drug, while it is classified as a cosmetic in the other parts of the world. Thus, fewer ingredients are approved for sunscreen sold in America and some legacy ingredients banned in Japan and Europe are still used. Compounds such as oxybenzone that may cause allergic reactions and hormone disruption, or retinyl palmitate which is alleged to speed the development of skin tumors when exposed to the sun. Meanwhile, new ingredients like tinosorb, with lower dermal absorption are used in Japanese and European sunscreen but still banned by the FDA. Bottom line, despite the smaller bottles, sunscreen in Japan may be of better quality and safer. In most drug stores, you will find a wide range of sunscreens in Japan offering varying levels of protection. You can also order sun protection online from websites like Amazon and Rakuten and even find organic options. If you are looking for sunscreen and do not want to whiten your skin, make sure to not buy products with whitening compounds, commonly indicated as Bihaku (美白). Types of sunscreen: There are also two types of sunscreen available on the market, physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. Physical sunscreens are also known as inorganic or mineral sunscreens and are designed to act like a shield and absorb and reflect UV rays from the screen. The active ingredients are usually zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals can also be reduced to nanoparticle size to absorb the UV rays. Zinc oxide is a known anti-irritant and protects the skin, hence why it is used in many skin care products. Physical sunscreen is a good option for those with sensitive or easily-irritable skin. Chemical sunscreen is also known as organic sunscreen and protects the skin by absorbing the UV rays and transforming it into heat that is evenly diffused over the skin. Unlike physical sunscreens, chemical sunscreen can cause skin irritation and dermatitis due to the active ingredients which are:
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • Ecamsule
  • Octinoxate
  A few reminders about how to use sunscreen Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours, regardless of the protection it offers. Use sun protection even on cloudy days if you stay outside, the Skin Cancer Foundation revealed that 80% of the sun rays go through the clouds.   Above image courtesy of stockimages at

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