Beauty

3 Water/Gel Sunscreens That You’ll Actually Want to Use!

Drink 2 litres of water, get 8 hours of sleep… there are many things we know we should be doing, but still can’t bring ourselves to actually do. Slathering an icky sunscreen on your face every morning is one of those things. As a beauty blogger who is constantly extolling the virtues of this serum or that treatment, can you believe that until a few months ago I wasn’t consistently using the one product that has the biggest impact in the anti-aging game? When it comes to skincare, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and I have 3 water/gel sunscreens to share that take all of the annoyances out of this essential step!

This year, a few “gel sunscreens” have hit the market with promises of no greasy residue, white cast, or tacky finish. But before you go ahead and drop $50+ at Sephora, let’s take a look at what’s been killing it in the Asian beauty industry for years. Let’s face it, not only is Asia way ahead of North America in the beauty game (we have them to thank for gems like sheet masks, facial essences and the “7 Skin Method”), but there’s no denying that they’re the OGs when it comes to sun protection.

NIVEA SUN PROTECT WATER GEL

  • PROTECTION: SPF 50 / PA+++ (Designation used in Japan to rate UVA protection–not universally accepted).
  • SIZE: 140 g – This is the largest of the three. Since they are all around the same price, this is the best value.
  • PACKAGING: This pump dispenser is hands-down the winner for me. Pumps allow for the greatest control and are the most efficient for rushed mornings (read: all mornings). BONUS: Rather than the typical twist-lock that wastes a full pump when securing for travel, the bottle comes with a pump cover that locks it into place and catches any leaks.
  • FRAGRANCE: Fragrance-free
  • EXTRAS: Hyaluronic acid and plant extracts keep skin hydrated throughout the day.
  • TEXTURE: This feels like a gel serum or gel moisturizer.
  • FINISH: I was impressed by how quickly this dried down to the point where it looked and felt like nothing was on my skin. This has a semi-matte skin finish.
  • STAYING POWER: NOT resistant to water or sweat.

DISCLAIMER: When I purchased the next two Biore sunscreens, I thought that the difference between the 2015 (light blue packaging) and 2017 (bright blue ombré packaging) versions was a change in scent—sorry, the packaging wasn’t in English! Further research showed that both products were reformulated in 2017 to be both water- and sweat-resistant. My review is of the 2015 Watery Essence and 2017 Watery Gel, but in order to help you make a more informed decision, I have included notes on how they compare to their respective 2017 and 2015 counterparts.

BIORE UV AQUA RICH WATERY ESSENCE

  • PROTECTION: SPF 50 / PA++++ (Designation used in Japan to rate UVA protection–not universally accepted).
  • SIZE: 50 g – This is the smallest of the three. Since they are all around the same price, this is the most expensive.
  • PACKAGING: This squeeze tube is OK but not my favourite. It makes it easy to get the last bit out, but it is not the quickest to use on a daily basis. This is the hardest to dispense since these sunscreens are quite runny and I find this tube’s opening to be too large.
  • FRAGRANCE: “Fresh fruit fragrance” – I would describe this as a light, clean and inoffensive scent.
  • EXTRAS: Contains a blend of hyaluronic acid and “mix[ed] citrus essence” to help skin retain moisture and softness.
  • TEXTURE: Similar to the Nivea but a bit creamier when applied. Feels like a very light lotion.
  • FINISH: Also a semi-matte skin finish. It takes just slightly longer than the Nivea to work into the skin, but it absorbs fully and eventually looks and feels like nothing.
  • STAYING POWER:
  • 2015/2017 COMPARISON: Reviewers have mentioned that the 2017 Watery Essence is slightly thicker, stickier and takes longer to dry than the 2015 one. While this reformulation may have a less pleasant feel than before, the difference is supposedly quite minimal. This new version also has a slightly more matte finish.

BIORE UV AQUA RICH WATERY GEL

  • PROTECTION: SPF 50 / PA++++ (Designation used in Japan to rate UVA protection–not universally accepted).
  • SIZE: 90 g – in between the other two in size and value.
  • PACKAGING: Pumps are always my favourite, but this one runs a close second. The flat top lets you stand it on its head when you are nearing the end of the bottle and its pointed tip and smaller opening (similar to the Kiehl’s sunscreen) allows for precise dispersal.
  • FRAGRANCE: “Fresh fruit fragrance” – I would describe this as a light, clean and inoffensive scent.
  • EXTRAS: Added “light correction powder” gives the skin a light-diffusing effect for a fresh, brightened look. It also contains a blend of hyaluronic acid and “mix[ed] citrus essence” to help skin retain moisture and softness.
  • TEXTURE: This product can best be described as a runny liquid with particles similar to, but not quite like micro beads. The liquid carrier is quite fluid and disperses the sunscreen easily, but once it absorbs the remaining bits of product have significantly less slip and feel a bit tacky until fully absorbed.
  • FINISH: The added “light correction powder” makes this seem like it has a minor white cast (not anywhere near normal sunscreen). It is barely visible while applying and disappears fully as you rub the product in. This one absorbs fully, leaving your skin looking and feeling like it has light moisturizer or primer on.
  • STAYING POWER:
  • 2015/2017 COMPARISON: Similar to above, reviewers agreed that the 2017 Watery Gel is thicker, stickier and takes longer to dry than the 2015 one. This difference is more apparent in the Watery Gel since prior to the reformulation, it would absorb even faster than the Watery Essence. The 2015 version also had zero white cast, while it takes a minute or so for the cast in the 2017 version to disappear.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • NIVEA SUN PROTECT WATER GEL: I bought this on a whim as a travel-sized, body sunscreen but liked its light texture so much that I used it on my face as well (don’t worry, it’s advertised for both and I haven’t broken out since!). I like that the packaging is well thought out, that it’s good value for the money and that it’s fragrance-free. This is my pick for warmer climates, but when it’s colder in Vancouver, I sometimes layer a moisturizer underneath so my skin feels extra comfortable. Of the three I have, this is the one I reach for most often.
  • BIORE UV AQUA RICH WATERY ESSENCE: The 2015 Watery Essence I reviewed was actually my least favourite because even though it was similar to the Nivea Water Gel, it has packaging flaws and you get less product for the same price. However, since its 2017 reformulation to become water- and sweat-resistant (with only minor changes in consistency and texture), this sunscreen has pulled to the front of the pack.
  • BIORE UV AQUA RICH WATERY GEL: I was surprised at all of the negative reviews for the 2017 Watery Gel, but I assume that it is just because people were so attached to the 2015 version. While this sunscreen takes a little bit longer to work into the skin, it still has the lightness of Japanese sunscreens and is worlds ahead of most North American counterparts. I would recommend skipping this in favour of the 2017 Watery Essence, but if you can get your hands on a 2015 Watery Gel, you should definitely snap it up!

So, there you have it! If you want a sunscreen that is truly weightless and feels like nothing, I highly recommend the Nivea! It’s the perfect “indoor sunscreen” for days when you won’t be breaking a sweat. But, if being water- and sweat-resistant are important to you, then I suggest you try the new Biore Watery Essence. It does all that and more while still having the cosmetic elegance that Japanese sunscreens are known for. Or better yet, get both! They’re pretty damn cheap anyway!

With love,
Veronique

+  As the packaging was in Japanese, general product information was obtained from this site (ingredients, product descriptions).

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