A Chinese Skincare Formulator’s Sunscreen Experiment Went Viral On Weibo

With temperatures running up to 34°C in the day, it’s been an incredibly hot week here in Singapore. A natural response would be to seek shelter in air-conditioned malls and offices — but not one Chinese skincare formulator based in Guangzhou. When temperatures peaked at 34°C in the city last week, a Chinese cosmetics formulator and researcher who goes by the Weibo handle, “Lele Team Leader” saw the weather as an opportunity for a sunscreen experiment.

On the 21st May, he shared images and findings from his grand experiment. In his post, he wrote:

“On the 19th May, I held an experiment in the Tianhe district of Guangzhou. The time was 1:30 PM to 4:45 PM (over three hours). The temperature outdoors was 34°C.”

He continued to explain the premise of his experiment—it was to compare the efficacy of American, European, and Japanese-made sunscreens. The products were to have an average of SPF 50.

What Lele did was to first set up a test grid. “Using black duct tape, 20 boxes measuring five by four were demarcated,” he wrote. He then applied 18 sunscreens. On the final two—one was deliberately left empty as a control test, another had Rohto’s Melano CC Essence (S$16.90), a vitamin C-based formula meant to combat dark spots.

Image source: Weibo (@乐乐_团长)
Image source: Weibo (@乐乐_团长)

Here, a list of the products used:

First row (from left): Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry Touch (S$31.90 from Guardian); Coppertone Water Babies (S$16.88 from Qoo10); Rohto Melano CC Vitamin C Essence (S$16.90 from Guardian).

First row (from left): Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry Touch (S$31.90 from Guardian); Coppertone Water Babies (S$16.88 from Qoo10); Rohto Melano CC Vitamin C Essence (S$16.90 from Guardian).

Second row (from left): La Roche-Posay Anthelios Shaka Fluid (approximately S$23 from escentuals.com); Kiehl's Ultra Light Daily UV Defense (S$56 in stores); Lancome UV Expert Youth Shield Aqua Gel (S$51.30 from Lazada); a version of L'Oreal UV Perfect sunscreen that's not available in Singapore.

Second row (from left): La Roche-Posay Anthelios Shaka Fluid (approximately S$23 from escentuals.com); Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily UV Defense (S$56 in stores); Lancome UV Expert Youth Shield Aqua Gel (S$51.30 from Lazada); a version of L’Oreal UV Perfect (not available in Singapore).

Third row (from left): Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Milk (S$39.90 from Watsons); Curel UV Protection Milk (S$21.60 from Watsons); Sofina Moisturising UV Cut Emulsion (S$53 from Isetan); Kanebo Allie Extra UV Facial Gel (not available in Singapore).

Third row (from left): Anessa Perfect UV Sunscreen Milk (S$39.90 from Watsons); Curel UV Protection Milk (S$21.60 from Watsons); Sofina Moisturising UV Cut Emulsion (S$53 from Isetan); Kanebo Allie Extra UV Facial Gel (not available in Singapore).

Fourth row (from left): Ultrasun Tinted Face Sun Cream (S$46.50 from lookfantastic.com); ISDIN Sunscreen Fusion Water (S$36.84 from Carethy); Dr. G Brightening Up Sun Cream (discontinued); W. Lab Lightcare Aqua Sun Gel (S$24.90 from Qoo10).

Fourth row (from left): Ultrasun Tinted Face Sun Cream (S$46.50 from lookfantastic.com); ISDIN Sunscreen Fusion Water (S$36.84 from Carethy); Dr. G Brightening Up Sun Cream (discontinued); W. Lab Lightcare Aqua Sun Gel (S$24.90 from Qoo10).

Fifth row (from left): Kose Cosmeport Suncut Perfect UV Protect Gel (S$22.90 from Robinsons); Biore UV Perfect Milk (S$14.10 from Guardian); Sunplay Skin Aqua UV Watery Gel (S$18.90 from Guardian);

Fifth row (from left): Kose Cosmeport Suncut Perfect UV Protect Gel (S$22.90 from Robinsons); Biore UV Perfect Milk (S$14.10 from Guardian); Sunplay Skin Aqua UV Watery Gel (S$18.90 from Guardian); Sun Bears Super Waterproof (S$13.70 from Qoo10).

The Chinese skincare formulator and researcher who goes by the Weibo handle, "Lele Team Leader" (pictured right) and his test subject. Image source: Weibo (@乐乐_团长)
The Chinese skincare formulator and researcher who goes by the Weibo handle, “Lele Team Leader” (pictured right) and his test subject. Image source: Weibo (@乐乐_团长)

Lele then presented his findings. The most effective sun protection product? The black tape. “The black duct tape had the most sun protection, haha. It goes to show that accompanying physical sun protection (umbrella, hats, masks) are indeed effective,” he wrote.

That was followed by six sunscreens which gave the best protection—namely La Roche Posay, Kiehl’s and Lancome. “Western brands like La Roche Posay and Kiehl’s provided more sun protection. They belong to the L’Oreal Group, which has patented sun protection mechanisms. So, their sun protection capabilities are unparalleled.”

Equally good were the Japanese sunscreens—in particular, Kanebo Allie and Kose Cosmeport Suncut. Lele cited the textures to be closer to skin. “Kanebo’s sun protection capabilities were shocking,” he wrote.

What about the other products?

“With the Swiss Ultrasun, Spanish ISDIN, Korean Dr. G and W. Lab, you can look at the results and decide for yourself,” he continued.

A shot of the test subject immediately after the three-hour long sun exposure experiment. Image source: Weibo (@乐乐_团长)
A shot of the test subject immediately after the three-hour long sun exposure experiment. Image source: Weibo (@乐乐_团长)

Of course, the worst sunburnt came from the box (and surrounding area of the torso) where no products were applied. “In the empty control box, there was severe sunburn and darkening,” he observed.

What about the box with the Rohto vitamin C essence? Though it suffered significantly less sun burns, the skin darkened drastically.

Lele then went on to warn readers to not follow skincare marketing blindly: “In the recent years, there have been numerous ‘top searches’ products coming from the Thai and Korean markets. But in the end, most of them fell flat.”

He then listed a favourite: Kose Cosmeport’s Suncut (S$22.90). “From its composition, texture, to efficacy, it can totally be compared to Anessa’s (S$39.90) sunscreen. So, individuals with budget constraints can safely choose the more affordable products. Quality in life has never been defined by price.”

“I hope this experiment can help everyone to understand sunscreens more objectively,” he concluded.