This $25 Sunscreen Has Been on My Skin Every Day for a Year—Here's Why It's #1


Welcome to Deep Reviewsyour one-stop destination to discover the absolute best products and brands the beauty industry has to offer. The Who What Wear staffers you already know and trust will research, test, and review the market's most sought-after and buzzed-about products to see which formulas (of the hundreds up for consideration) are truly worth your hard-earned money and attention. You can expect honest, completely uncensored feedback and no-BS recommendations our hard-to-please testers endorse without reservations.


(Image credit: @kaitlyn_mclintock)

The majority of our Deep Reviews will feature our editors' honest, ultra-hot takes on entire product categories or multiple products from a particular beauty brand, but every so often, we'll sprinkle in a special single-product format called Honestly, I Love It. As the name suggests, these reviews will hone in on one standout beauty formula our editors quite literally can't shut up about. This time around, I'm highlighting Isntree's Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel ($25), which is an SPF I literally can't stop talking about. 

As someone who lived in Los Angeles for four years and then promptly moved to Austin, Texas, I know the importance of daily sunscreen. In fact, I'm pretty obsessive about it. I apply a generous coat to my face and neck each morning, I wear hats when I take long walks or hikes outside, and I even check the UV index on my weather app to know how often I should be reapplying during hot summer days. And by hot, I mean sweltering. Here in Austin, it regularly soars above 100° throughout the summer. 

I haven't always been like this, though. During the first two years that I lived in L.A., I was horribly inconsistent when it came to sunscreen. I'd wear it when I knew I was going to the beach or the pool, but other than that, I usually left my poor, defenseless skin vulnerable to UV rays. (It's proof that even beauty editors make some serious skin mistakes.) The reason I went so long without daily sunscreen application was simple—I hated wearing it. I have dehydrated, redness-prone skin, and so many formulas left a white-gray cast on my skin, pilled under my makeup, dried out my skin, or felt too thick and heavy. Back then, I thought it was easier to just go without it rather than put up with the unfortunate aftereffects. 

That all changed one fateful day when I decided to randomly order a Korean sunscreen I'd seen on Instagram. When it arrived at my doorstep, I ripped open the package and squeezed a generous dollop into my hand. When it touched my skin, I think I let out a shriek because it was like no other sunscreen I'd tried before then. It was silky, lightweight, and hydrating, and my skin basically drank it up. There was virtually zero white cast or residue, and it didn't ball up under my makeup. From there on out, I was obsessed, and I haven't stopped using it since. 


(Image credit: @kaitlyn_mclintock)

The magic, of course, is in the formulation. Like so many other Korean sunscreens, this one has an incredibly lightweight and hydrating texture. I would describe it as almost serum-like in consistency because it pours easily out of the bottle and all but melts into the skin, offering serious hydration. Trust me—there is very little blending and rubbing required. 

According to double board-certified dermatologist Brendan Camp, MD, it uses ethylhexyl salicylate and homosalate, which are two organic compounds commonly found in sunscreens. "They work by absorbing UV radiation and converting it to heat energy that is then evaporated off the skin," he says. "These two ingredients are approved for use by the FDA." Translation? They're not exclusively available in Korea. They're also available for use stateside. 

You might notice that the bottle is labeled as having PA++++ protection. Camp says this indicates the extent to which it protects the skin from UVA rays. He explains, "SPF ratings refer to protection from UVB radiation. UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays and are primarily responsible for sunburn. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and can accelerate the process of photoaging, such as the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. The Protection Grade of UVA (PA) is an index that measures a sunscreen's ability to protect the skin from UVA rays." In other words, it's seriously effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays, so I can rest assured my skin is protected on both fronts. 


(Image credit: Brendan Camp)

This product also contains a bevy of active ingredients, including eight (yes, eight) types of hyaluronic acid—large, medium, and small molecules—which is why it feels so hydrating on my skin. "The larger a molecule's size, the less it can penetrate into the skin, which limits its absorption," Camp says. "Including hyaluronic acid of different sizes may help improve the penetration of the ingredient and therefore its ability to moisturize the skin." 

There's also astaxanthin, which Camp says is an antioxidant that "helps to protect the skin from free oxygen radicals that develop as a result of UV radiation and that can damage cellular structures like DNA." Beyond that, there are ceramides, which support the skin barrier; fig-fruit extract, which is both an antioxidant and a hydrating ingredient; and centella asiatica, which is an extremely popular skincare ingredient known for its soothing properties. Camp says it "works to improve skin hydration and protect skin from oxidative stress." 

There you have it—a long list of effective ingredients that explains why my skin has been loving this formula for more than a year straight. It's worth noting that I have dehydrated, redness-prone skin that's prone to moisture loss, so I love the sheer hydration I get from this SPF. If you have oily skin, though, you may find that it makes your complexion a little too shiny for your liking. If that's the case, you can always add a little powder over top to dial it back. (That's what I do if I know I'll be wearing a dewy foundation.) Take it from Camp, who says, "This sunscreen may be a good option for those with dry skin. Those with more sensitive skin may want to use a mineral sunscreen, such as zinc, because they are thought to have less potential for irritation than chemical sunscreens." 

This year, I'm welcoming the searing sun because I have one-too-many tubes of this sunscreen on hand. Come June, July, and August, you can catch me applying a coat of this SPF each and every morning (and then touching it up throughout the day of course). It's official: I'm a daily sunscreen wearer and will be from here on out. 

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Kaitlyn McLintock
Associate Beauty Editor

Kaitlyn McLintock is an Associate Beauty Editor at Who What Wear. Although she covers a wide range of topics across a variety of categories, she specializes in celebrity interviews and skincare and wellness content. Having lived in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, she recently relocated back to her home state of Michigan where she works remotely. Prior to Who What Wear, she freelanced for a variety of industry-leading digital publications, including InStyle, The Zoe Report, Bustle, Hello Giggles, and Coveteur. Before that, she held a long-term internship and subsequent contributor position at Byrdie. When she's not writing, researching, or testing the latest and greatest beauty products, she's working her way through an ever-growing book collection, swimming in the Great Lakes, or spending time with family.