American Beauty is a series written by an American beauty writer temporarily marooned in Japan, a nation on the forefront of chemical sun protection technology.

It was the most wonderful time of the Japanese calendar year. At the dusk of April and dawn of May, a daisy chain of public holidays fortuitously collides to create four business days of paid time off for most of the nation. Including me! It’s called Golden Week, and I had a great time, thank you for asking.

I took a ferry to an island south of Tokyo and got sunburned within an inch of my life. Sunburns are annoying to complain about, being, as they are, so often the result of user error. The truth is that I did forget to purchase sunscreen and then I did decide to go visit the most beautiful beach I have ever seen and swim in its cerulean water. Have you ever seen with your eyes a white shore go completely vertical, like a cliffside on the moon? Or a velvet green volcano rise out of the ocean, perilously close to where you are vacationing?

Anyway, I spent a few hours in the sun, and sustained an embarrassingly severe sunburn — the kind that makes you nauseous and seems to actually radiate heat. Nothing more to say about it, other than that I recently found myself in the suncare section of various pharmacies, where certain degrees of fluorescent light still cause my skin to throb. Here are the best ones, in my opinion.

Also a color corrector: Skin Aqua Tone Up UV Essence

Skin Aqua’s toning sunscreen comes in two shades, and I am married to the green one. I love my minty husband that paves over the redness in my face every morning! It’s an inexpensive dupe for Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Cream with more SPF and less coverage. The sun protection is mostly chemical, leavened with a little titanium dioxide, but I am somebody who loves a chemical filter. It does contain alcohol, like many Japanese sunscreen formulas. I hope that isn’t a dealbreaker — I like the way it dries down in milliseconds. There is also a purple one that is less suited to my skin tone. Will you try it and let me know what you think?

The platinum standard: Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence

I know, you’re laughing at me, you’re booing at me, you’re throwing wet tomatoes at me and they’re splashing all over my conference whites, but there is no better example of a cosmetically elegant Japanese drugstore sunscreen than Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence. And it’s made with alcohol! But it is what it is: A flawless veil of high SPF. And I am pleased to offer you this helpful tip: It is a great, thoughtful, and offbeat gift for an outdoorsy person in your life, like your garden-loving co-worker or sun-battered uncle.

For sensitive skin: Isehan Kiss Me Mommy! UV Aqua Milk

The audience’s tenor has changed; everybody is clapping, cheering, and raining red roses upon my keynote stage: I have selected an option that is formulated without alcohol. This is as gentle as chemical sunscreens get, and the big version comes in a little teddy-bear shaped pump. It’s a jellier consistency than the others on this list, which, I think, makes it sometimes tricky to apply makeup over top. Not a problem for Kiss Me Mommy! babies, but maybe a problem for you.

Free Fun Fact

The town of Shimoda, where one gets the ferry that will take them inches from the sun’s surface, is the birthplace of the creator of the Pokémon games. Are you a Pokémon fan? Me too. It’s Pallet Town, from the Red and Blue game regions.


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