Japanese Sunscreens that Doubles as Makeup Primer for Wedding (Flash) Photography

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During this past Summer, I traveled to Asia to attend a few special functions: a day-time wedding in a resort and an unrelated formal banquet in an air-conditioned restaurant. Each time I travel to Asia, I am reminded of how unsuitable my current Western skin care is under the sweltering heat and humidity. To add to the complexity, I needed to look decent under flash photography.

I picked up these Japanese sunscreens before I left (they are all readily available from Amazon.com) to try and see how compatible they are under makeup. I read a few blogs here and there and found that, for example, the Biore one is almost a "dupe" for Hourglass Mineral Veil Primer that has been hailed as the best primer for photography/weddings.

Note all these sunscreens contain alcohol. Combined with film former, alcohol (mostly ethyl alcohol) simply help disperse the chemical sunscreens (and other ingredients) on the skin. As the sunscreen is applied, the film former creates a net over the skin and alcohol evaporates, which can leave the skin feeling dry. I do have dry skin, but I found this not to be an issue when worn in such humid climate, and with the addition of moisturizer underneath. YMMV, but when put under makeup, you'll have enough emollients pilled on the skin that the effect should be minimum.

Finally, for consistency, I applied a full teaspoon (5 mL) of sunscreen on each test. I am a preacher of wearing enough sunscreen: no matter how good is the sunscreen if you don't wear enough of it, you won't get a full protection. Five mL of sunscreen is quite a lot of sunscreen to pile on the face, so I made up the rule of "5-peas" : apply a pea-sized amount of sunscreen (approx 1 mL each) onto each areas: left cheek, right cheek, forehead, nose and chin, and neck. Rub them until all is gone. Easy, peasy!

Shiseido SENKA Mineral Water UV Essence Aging Care, SPF 50+, PA++++
Shiseido SENKA line has a few sunscreen offering, they all have different textures. The one I tried was the "Aging Care" one in the orange squeeze-tube above. The creamy-gel texture squeezes out as cream but melts like water when applied. It contains 100% chemical screens, unscented and a joy to use. It dries to slightly tacky, silicony-smooth finish. The tacky finish helped my foundation glides but I found that it perform somewhat mediocre as primer as I did notice breaking of coverage on fine-lines, around the nose and forehead areas. As it is a 100% chemical screen, I did not get any flashback on photography. I thought it was a decent sunscreen for everyday use, but it may not hold as makeup primer under very humid/very hot weather.

Biore UV-Perfect Face Milk, SPF, 50+ PA++++ (new formulation)
I had high hopes for this one: it is marketed as sebum and sweat resistant, and a makeup primer. I can tell you that it did deliver! In fact, it was the sunscreen that I brought and used to the events. This sunscreen contains physical block of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, along with other chemical screens. I can tell you right away that I did not get any flashback on photography, despite of the physical screens, but it does go on somewhat white initially.
It has the consistency of liquid silicone -- be sure to shake vigorously before use. Application can be a bit messy, since it is very fluid, and can be hard to apply a full 5 mL on face and neck without the greasy-silicone feeling. I waited a good 5-10 minutes before layering foundation on top. I did not experience any balling-up of foundation despite of the high amount of silicone in this sunscreen (I tested application with brush, fingers, and sponge), but I think it's safe, when wearing any sunscreen, to wait the sunscreen is set and dried well on the skin before applying makeup.
It performed beautifully: on the sweltering outdoor wedding (it was not as hot but the humidity was probably close to 100%), my foundation looked perfect with minimal powdering, and it didn't break as much around the nose and fine lines. For the indoor dinner, it kept my makeup pristine all night long. An overall winner, I highly recommend this for sunscreen as makeup primer.

Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel Super SPF50 PA+++
Among the three, I thought this Nivea sunscreen would perform best as makeup primer. It uses 100% chemical screen, marketed as a makeup base that is suitable for face and body.
It has the consistency of creamy gel, but more of a gel than a cream (not as creamy as the Shiseido one). It spreads nicely and dries beautifully to an even, smooth finish that I found drying. So drying, in fact, that I felt my skin taut even with the lotion and foundations I layered. As makeup primer, it does a great job preserving the longevity of my foundation. I found this as a great option for those with oily skins. Like all of the chemical sunscreen, I did not notice any flashback in photography.

Finally, here is a list of foundations that I tested with these sunscreens, and my brief thoughts on them. They are not my everyday foundations: they are long-wearing and contains no SPF (for photography):

  • Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
    This foundation is supposedly a holy-grail for red carpet and such. It applied incredibly smoothly over all of the sunscreens I tested but but it broke around skin folds after a few hours. I was quite surprised by this as I have dry skin, but I figure, if the foundation broke during low-humidity Seattle summer weather, it probably wouldn't hold up in a sweltering Asian summer. It has a lovely satin finish with medium coverage (I did need to top-up coverage with concealer around the cheeks). I would use this for shorter, maybe indoor events, but the foundation I planed to bring on my trip has to perform well both indoor and outdoor.
  • Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24 H (non-cushion version)
    This was my foundation of choice. It comes in a huge array of skin tone so you'll more likely to find your perfect match than the GA. It definitely lasted until the end of the outdoor wedding (a good 4-5 hours under intense humidity), and the indoor dinner. It leaves a satin finish that is not too matte, medium-heavy build-able coverage. I've forgotten how good Lancome foundation can be, do give this a try!
  • Too Faced Born This Way Foundation
    I would not have picked up this foundation had it not for the event: I have dry skin and this foundation is catered to oily skins. It has the most coverage of the foundations that I tested, so much so that I thought it went on quite chalky. I didn't find the finish to be radiant at all, but it stayed on quite well under the sunscreens I tested. The lack of color option steered me to another brands.
  • Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick
    BB Foundation sticks is the go-to foundation for weddings. It has high coverage and no SPF, so high, in fact, that I can buff a bit over areas I need more coverage instead of using concealer. Win-win? Although I love the versatility of it, on close-up view BB stick foundation tends to accentuate my fine-lines and pores. Granted, nobody will take a close-up picture of me during someone else's wedding, but still. Even with powder on top, it creased ever so slightly around my mouth and forehead, or wherever I have fine lines. 
Edited to add: honorable mention to Estee Lauder Double Wear foundation (the original, full-coverage formula). This foundation clung on all of the above-mentioned sunscreens like there's no tomorrow but I found no suitable color match for my skin (as many of EL foundations), so I fell back on the Teinte Idole.

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