Why I Never Buy Sunscreen in the US

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European Sunscreen– the Most Useful Souvenir?

Sunscreen is bulky, messy, and not particularly interesting, so you may be wondering why I would suggest picking up some tubes on your next vacation outside the US. It’s simple– the sunscreens available in Europe, Japan, Australia and many other parts of the world blow our sunscreen away. Foreign sunscreens contain some of the most effective UV-blocking ingredients available, like Mexoryl XL (not to be confused with Mexoryl SX, which is the similar, but less potent formulation available in the US).
best sunscreen to buy in europeMexoryl XL has been tested and used safely in Europe for over 20 years. Yet despite the EU’s stamp of approval, the FDA still had not approved one of the most effective ingredients used in sunscreens worldwide despite allowing  1372 other cosmetic ingredients that the EU has banned for health and safety reasons.

The Test: European Sunscreen at Tennis Camp

So the science says these European sunscreens work, but what about in real life? I brought a big tube of Vichy sunscreen that I’d picked up in Europe to tennis camp last summer to test out the effectiveness. After spending a full weekend chasing balls under the scorching sun, I can confirm that the European sunscreen works better than anything I’ve ever tried– I didn’t burn at all. I also loved that the European sunscreen absorbed easily (unlike zinc oxide, which leaves a chalky residue). I was glad I’d brought a big tube as it didn’t take long for everyone else in my group to abandon their Coppertone and ask to use mine.

Convinced yet? The next time you travel abroad, walk into any pharmacie, apotheke, or farmacia and head for the sunscreen section. Now comes the tricky part, as the tube may not list the ingredient Mexoryl XL front and center on the label. You may need to flip over to the back and scan through tiny writing for the word “Mexoryl XL”.  Fortunately, the word is the same in all languages.

Souvenir Finder Shopping Details

  • What: Sunscreen with the magic ingredient Mexoryl XL.
  • Where to Buy it: Practically anywhere except the US (approved in Europe, Japan and Australia among others). Look for it at the local pharmacy.
  • Packing tips: Sunscreen counts as a liquid, so put large tubes in your suitcase. Seal in a Ziploc bag as protection from leaks.

Do you have a favorite brand of sunscreen you buy while abroad?  Let us know in the comments!

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23 Responses to Why I Never Buy Sunscreen in the US

  1. sueslaght 06/15/2014 at 9:52 pm #

    Kristin I found that sunscreen in Europe is very expensive but I had no idea it had special ingredients. As far as it working for a week long tennis camp I would have had a cardiac arrest after day one so I may not have needed it. 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 06/18/2014 at 4:04 pm #

      Sue, it wasn’t even the running around as much as the sore forearm by the end of the camp! Haha I went back to my room throughout the day under the pretense of changing to a fresh outfit– but it was really to score a brief break!

  2. Chanel 06/15/2014 at 10:59 pm #

    That is quite interesting information to know. When I return to Europe this summer, I won’t pack my own sunscreen, I will just buy some over there! 😀

    • Kristin Francis 06/18/2014 at 4:06 pm #

      Yes, it’s sold everywhere so you can’t go wrong! Bonus: there are often other great buys at the local pharmacy– I always pick up random shampoos and soaps.

  3. reeder 06/16/2014 at 4:06 am #

    I just picked up some physical sunscreen to take to Europe. My mother and SO are allergic to many of the chemical sunblocks and break out in rashes and hives when they come in contact with those chemicals, even by brushing up against another person wearing chemical sunblocks.

    On the upside, physical sunscreens are being produced in Asia and Europe as well. Shiseido Asia has a nice physical sunscreen “Shiseido Urban Environment UV Protector Extra Mild” (not-for-US-distribution) for use on the face.

    Sensitive skin people need to be able to read the foreign language labels or do their research. Severe allergies are a bad look. Don’t forget to patch test if you have sensitive skin or are around those with sensitive skin. This is one thing I opt to bring a bit extra of in the summer or to certain destinations, because I can’t just pop into a shop and find a substitute. I use an oil cleanser (or even olive oil) to remove physical sunscreens but a friend says her regular cleanser does the trick.

    • Kristin Francis 06/18/2014 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks so much for your comments! I love Shisheido products too– I find the physical sunscreens don’t absorb as well on me though. I agree, reading the label can be tricky, I should test one of the apps that is designed to do this. I always feel like anything I buy in Europe is going to be safer than the US version (even of the same product) because they ban so many potentially dangerous ingredients there.

  4. Ryan Biddulphr 06/23/2014 at 12:57 am #

    Excellent tips Kristin, especially the Ziplock note 😉 Thanks!

    • Kristin Francis 06/23/2014 at 1:41 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes I’ve had items explode before so I always pack spare ziplocks!

  5. Packing my Suitcase 07/08/2014 at 6:05 am #

    Hi Kristin! Very interesting post… I didnt know about this difference. I am from Brazil and Live in Germany, and I am the type of person that really cares about sun protection, for my face I use everyday Eau Termale Vichy, and whenever I go to the beach or lake I use a new formula that is Paraben free, it is from “Artemis of Switzerland” from the line “More than”, I have their after sun too…its amazing! I normally dont suffer with sunburn, as my ski is brownish Brazilian 🙂 but my husband always gets sunburn, but we tested this sunscreen last month while we were in Croatia and its totally approved 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 07/08/2014 at 9:34 am #

      Thanks so much for commenting! I have no idea if my formula is paraben free (I should look into a translation app) but I would love to find one that is! Thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out on my next trip!

  6. Beth (@besudesuabroad) 07/24/2014 at 5:11 pm #

    It’s so funny you mention this! We knew we’d be running low on sunscreen after 40 days, so we picked up an extremely cheap bottle (like 2 euros) in Germany. It’s been the best sunscreen I’ve ever used– and my mom agrees! We’re both so pale, so we usually burn within 10 minutes and need to continually reapply, but with this, one application in the morning has been plenty. It’s magic 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 07/26/2014 at 11:29 am #

      I don’t even burn that much so I wasn’t expecting a big difference, but I was shocked at how well it worked!

  7. kathy 09/27/2014 at 4:16 pm #

    Beth, what is the name of the sunscreen you used. My friend will be in London & Paris next, would like her to pick some up for me. Thanks

    • Kristin Francis 09/27/2014 at 10:04 pm #

      Hi Kathy– just spoke to Beth (who has an awesome blog at She said she bought something called Sundance for only a couple euros– but I think she bought hers in Germany. The Vichy was expensive, can’t quite remember how much– at least 15 euros I think. You might just ask at one of the pharmacies for a recommendation

  8. kathy 09/27/2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Kristen, can you tell me the cost of Vichy sunscreen?

  9. rashred 07/19/2015 at 9:13 pm #

    Ok do it help from geting darker

    • Kristin Francis 07/19/2015 at 10:06 pm #

      yes, absolutely.

  10. Adriana 12/06/2015 at 12:26 pm #

    Good to know, thanks for sharing

  11. Kristen Moux Events 12/21/2015 at 2:03 pm #

    I’ll be traveling to Japan this coming March and happened upon your blog through a Pinterest post… looking for spring outfits. I totally enjoyed reading your best travel boots blog and will probably have to invest in one (more like bargain hunting). Since I’m from Hawaii and have almost no need for boots, the post was very helpful! 🙂 Is there a particular brand of sun block that is good in Japan? I’ll have to look up the translation. LOL. Is there any other must-get items I should look out for?

  12. Carmen Everywhere 02/23/2016 at 4:00 pm #

    Excellent post. Never thought that much about sunscreens. But I travel a lot in Asia and with the scorching Sun there I am sure to need one that works really good. Thanks for the good advise on this.

  13. dbestesolak 11/26/2016 at 2:51 am #

    It looks like a useful product. I want to try.

  14. Wineart 02/12/2018 at 3:07 pm #

    This is number one on my list ALWAYS. I think your website is right on the mark for good souvenirs. Headed to Portugal and never considered a hat. So…”Obrigada” for that tip!

    • Kristin Francis 02/26/2018 at 9:36 am #

      Look for gold jewelery too– I haven’t written about it yet but bought a beautiful ring there. All jewelry must be over 18 carats by law.

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