Everybody is NOT free to wear sunscreen (of their choice at least…)


You must have known that was coming right? So why am I writing this today? Well, if you aren’t involved in Asian Beauty communities online you may not have noticed the sunscreen drama unfolding recently.


I certainly had noticed and thought this might warrant a post to catch you all up on the goings on and put my perspective in place… Consider this a PSA and editorial all in one.

What has happened?

Nothing. Sort of. Most of the popular Asian Beauty sunscreens come from Japan, the formulations are good at their job and also don’t have the stereotypical ‘sunscreen’ problems like white cast, smell and nasty greasy feeling. Japan Post (the national postal carrier in Japan) a few years ago put in place rules restricting sunscreen being shipped internationally. This is, at least in part, because not everywhere in the world approves the same sunscreen ingredients (specifically the filters which are the parts that filter out the UVA and UVB light. If you have sat a recent GCSE in the UK you will be familiar with the physical barrier of titanium dioxide and the research into its use as a nanoparticle in sunscreen). The UK also has restrictions on exporting sunscreens so this certainly isn’t something that can be chalked up to just the insular nature of Japan and exports.

The issue is that this hasn’t really made a jots worth of difference, other than smaller retailers often labelling packages with sunscreen in as ‘cosmetics’ to avoid scrutiny at customs at the other end, until now. Recently, Japan Post has begun to enforce this rule much more rigidly and as a consequence, a number of the avenues for people outside of Japan wishing to import the sunscreens have dried up and we would expect more to follow. Amazon International will no longer even try and ship sunscreens from Japan, Some internationally shipping stores in Asia will not ship sunscreen internationally and larger domestic online storefronts in America have removed stock. While small local stores and some domestic Amazon sellers might still be stocking at the moment, it would seem inevitable that their stock will run out and they will not be able to re-stock either.

Bye-bye Japanese sunscreen? Perhaps not. Reddit user 2catsinjapan provided a better summary of this than I ever could so I will link it here.

So I guess it’s more that it will be more difficult/riskier purchasing these sunscreens in future as opposed to impossible.

Why is this happening?

As I said above, this is just implementing rules that already existed more stringently. The rules themselves exist partly because when these sunscreens get caught by destination customs they come back and are a right pain in the bum and postal carriers are all supposed to try and stop you exporting things you shouldn’t. As for why it’s ramping up now, my guess would be the massive amount of mainstream beauty sites extolling the ‘grey market’ of Asian sunscreen has probably resulted in an increase in these types of parcels.


The FDA debate

I did want to take some time to address a side issue that has come out of this, which is why America (and Canada as well, but America seems to be in the lead with this one) has this problem in the first place – these are not dodgy, untested products. They are high-quality well-tested sunscreens. To add to that, America has some seriously outdated sunscreens… To the point where some of the ingredients are now actually banned in Europe/Asia and have been desperately trying to improve rates of sunscreen wearing for some time. Surely approving these new ingredients would be a key way of doing that?

Well, there are two arguments here.

Argument 1: The FDA is protecting citizens. In the US, sunscreens are labelled as drugs, not cosmetics, to ensure the risks are fully tested and this requires long term studies. It is up to suppliers to make sure they are providing all these tests. We’d rather have this stringent testing than unknown consequences in 10 years.

Argument 2: The FDA is effectively a lobbyists’ agency (just consider why America uses sugar cane for everything ;)) and these companies are just not as in the pocket as domestic companies are. The FDA has cleared all sorts of dangerous things before and, usually, money is at the root of it.

Me? I think it’s a little from column a and a lot from column b. The principle of the FDA does have the best interests of the American people at heart, however, there are many other countries (particularly from my personal knowledge in Europe) with just as stringent, if not sometimes more stringent, agencies protecting these things that have approved more modern sunscreen filters (and of course the FDA has left lots of nasty chemicals that SHOULD be banned on the market). The big difference is the power lobbying has on the FDA – to deny that seems very much to me like you have your eyes closed.


Many people seem to be bulk buying, but what other options are there if bulk buying isn’t an option for you? Well, you could follow 2catsinjapan’s advice above and just take some calculated risks, or keep an eye out for small online domestic retailers who are taking that risk for you (just don’t spread around who they are or watch them get shut down, fast). If none of that appeals to you then YOU STILL NEED SUNSCREEN, THE FDA HAS NOT MADE SKIN CANCER DISAPPEAR.

If you are in Europe, local sunscreens may provide good protection, but be warned that they may not have the sought after ‘watery formulations’ that Asian Beauty fans love so much.

You could try other SE Asian sunscreens. Korean sunscreens, for example, often have similar ingredients and will still technically be restricted but it looks like Korea’s postal service aren’t blocking them going out… for now at least.

Wear a parasol, sun hat, gloves. Admittedly not a style decision that works for everyone, but I know some of you rock it!

I’m afraid I have used the same sunscreen forever… So I am limited when it comes to specific product suggestions but why not check out the r/asianbeauty thread. This sub is a great resource if you are looking for new products!

How do you feel about the changes? Do you have a sunscreen recommendation for everyone? Please let me know in the comments below!

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