It’s a truth universally acknowledged that sunscreen is one of the most important aspects of one’s beauty routine, especially here in sunny Singapore. The photo-ageing and sun damage prevention benefits of daily sunscreen use are well-documented, making it more powerful than any magic skincare mask or foundation. It’s no wonder then, then, that Singaporean sunscreen aficionado Dwi Choong has earned herself a following of over 31,000 on TikTok thanks to her extensive sunscreen reviews.
Twenty nine-year-old Choong has tested a whopping 72 sunscreens so far, taking care to document their pros, cons and properties in a meticulously maintained Excel spreadsheet that she regularly gives glimpses of via her TikTok videos. Having spent approximately US$2,000 on her journey for the perfect ‘one and done’ sunscreen—an elusive tinted SPF with zero white cast—Dwi shares the ins and outs of her chosen products with a refreshing and clearly informed candidness. Vogue Singapore caught up with Dwi for more on her passion for all things sunscreen and her take on the complexities of finding a sunscreen suited to Southeast Asian skin tones.
You’re known for your testing and logging process when it comes to the sunscreens you review, from precisely measuring 1/8 of a teaspoon to your Excel spreadsheet. How did this process originate?
My testing process developed organically from my personal pet peeves using sunscreens that weren’t formulated for Southeast Asian skin types. My rating system allows me to have control over that which I can—like the amount applied—so I can observe differences in variables such as texture, finish, ease of blending, whether it pills under make-up or not, and whether it leaves a white cast. A few of my test variables are built on advice from the skincare community on TikTok. They ask great questions and have been so supportive of my curiosity.
Where does your passion for all things sunscreen-related stem from?
After living in sunny California for almost a decade, I realised that sunscreen is usually glossed over by the average skincare user, although it’s actually among the top three most important skincare products to use.
All the other skincare out there, like serums and masks, don’t hold a candle to how effective sunscreen is as a skincare active.
Regardless of location though, I think there is a lot lacking at the meeting point of colour cosmetics and sunscreens, especially for Southeast Asian skin tones that usually have a yellow or olive undertone. This persists in Asia too.
You currently have a TikTok following upwards of 31,000. How did you decide to start sharing your sunscreen search online?
Testing and reviewing different sunscreens was something that I was already doing casually. Within the first two weeks of sharing this content on TikTok, people appeared interested, had opinions to share, and fuelled discussion about it, so I began formalising the process and documenting more. It’s been really fun exploring this interest and interacting with other curious people.
Having tested over 70 different sunscreens, what are the qualities you look for—and look to avoid—in an ideal sunscreen?
It depends on the person’s use case, skin type, skin concerns, depth of shade, and skin undertone. Personally, I have oily to combination skin that’s prone to dehydration, hyperpigmentation from sun exposure, and a light medium depth of shade with an olive yellow undertone. Since I work out every other day, water resistance and no eye sting are features I benefit from on top of all the other variables I mentioned previously. I’m currently fixated on the idea of a one-and-done tinted sunscreen that is formulated for a 1/8 tsp application on the face, so I can skip foundation.
Share with us the best tips you’ve picked up along the way on applying and reapplying sunscreen.
I only learned in recent years that I was applying way too little sunscreen. To get the full SPF labelled on bottles, 2mg/cm^2 application is necessary. This roughly equates to 1/8 tsp or one full finger’s length. I used to apply only a few dots on my face—no surprise then that I have hyperpigmentation now which I struggle with. Without access to a dermatologist who can share this knowledge with us, I think the majority of sunscreen users don’t know this.
Like you, we find that tone-up sunscreens to be a smokescreen for colourism. What are your thoughts on tone-up sunscreens?
I have two points of view. Firstly, having been an Asian immigrant in America, it’s very uncommon for brands there to formulate foundation that matches Southeast Asian, or olive undertone, skin. Rather, the majority of big drugstore make-up brands have only focused on pink undertones most common to Caucasian skin types. There is also a lack of understanding around olive undertones. Couple this problem in colour cosmetics with sunscreen that is as hard, or more difficult, to formulate and release? Big hurdle. For a huge make-up conglomerate, that’s a lot of effort to cater to a minority customer group, so they often just won’t bother if it doesn’t affect their profits.
Secondly, having been raised in Singapore, the Southeast Asian market is heavily influenced by East Asian beauty trends including K-Beauty, J-Beauty, and [the Chinese version of TikTok] Douyin. However, only a small part of the Asian population has pink or neutral undertones that truly match Asian chun bai, or tone-up, sunscreen products. The more I think about it, the more I assume that these products are intentionally made to ‘correct’ yellow and olive undertones, with the result of making people look washed out, like they are wearing a grey mask, and by extension, a shade lighter.
This really, really, really bothers me because I love my yellow-olive undertone skin. It is an uphill battle, though, because the skin whitening and bleaching industry is estimated to grow to US$8.895 million by 2024, doubling since 2017. If anyone else wants a better understanding of colourism, the book I’ve learnt a lot from is Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters by Evelyn Nakano Glenn.
If you had the chance to formulate your dream sunscreen for our humid climes in Southeast Asia, what would you include and how would it perform?
Ever since some of my new friends on TikTok have suggested I formulate a sunscreen, I’ve become curious about doing it. If I have fun in the process, why not? Colour and undertone is important to me, so it has to broadly match and flatter olive and yellow undertones that’s most common to Southeast Asian skin types, and simultaneously range in shade depth from very light to very dark. It would be formulated for a 1/8 tsp application on the face.
Name the top 5 chemical and mineral sunscreens that you’ve discovered so far.
I’ve rated these products well that are available in Singapore:
Ultra Violette Extreme Screen SPF 50+ Hydrating Body & Hand Skinscreen
This is a water-resistant sunscreen with a 4-hour water- and sweat-resistant claim, which I haven’t heard of among any other sunscreens. The most I’ve heard of otherwise is 80 minutes! I truly enjoy this on my face, hands and body. I trust the testing and claims of this brand. Even with oily combination skin, it doesn’t become too greasy for me.
Paula’s Choice Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF 30
I foresee oily skin people benefiting the most from this formula, or anyone who wants zero sheen and a completely weightless dry down. Nowadays, I prefer SPF 50 though. It is a myth that the difference in protection between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is minor, because the amount of UV that gets through to the skin doubles from SPF 50 to SPF 30. Likewise, SPF 30 is twice as effective as SPF 15. The reason there is a pushback against higher sunscreen ratings is because people felt a false sense of security—that if they had a higher SPF sunscreen they could apply less. (Maybe I am just kiasu but I care about all of the following: the SPF rating, reapplying, and applying the right amount.)
Omi Verdio UV Moisture Gel SPF 50
This blends very easily and wears great under make-up. If I am in a hurry, this is what I pick up, because it takes me a few seconds to apply 1/8 tsp, whereas other sunscreens usually take a minute or three. Some poorly formulated sunscreens don’t ever blend and set with that amount! Also when I bought this, the cost per ml was the 7th cheapest in my list. Great value!
Hada Labo UV Perfect Gel SPF 50
This was the first sunscreen that kicked it all off for me. I had been using some awful US sunscreens before this. I felt so relieved using this for the first time in years since I came back to Singapore when the COVID pandemic began. I would also recommend this to people who want an ultra lightweight texture, though it does set to a natural dewy finish. This one checks all the boxes for me.
La Roche Posay Anthelios Ultra Cream SPF 50
I like this one when I travel to cold climates. I picked this one up when I was in Europe during winter, and I still use it in Singapore when my skin feels dehydrated and sensitive. Some days, I have also used it as a one-step moisturiser and sunscreen. It has a faint scent that I really enjoy—it reminds me of banana cream pie.
In the end, though, the best sunscreen is the one you wear everyday!