Does It Work: Sunscreen Without SPF?*

July 26, 2017

For the longest time I thought that "SPF" and "sunscreen" were inseparable. Like yin and yang, scone and jam, Harry Potter and his magic wand. So, imagine my astonishment when one of the Institut Esthederm skincare experts told me that their best-selling sunscreen had no SPF. And of course, being your restless beauty junkie, I had to investigate. 


How It Works? + Claims 

As you might remember from my previous Institut Esthederm reviews (they are linked below), the brand is big on their own [patented] cellular water. Unlike regular water, which is used in most skincare products, its structure is similar to physiological water; meaning it won't just sit on top of your skin, but will penetrate it on a deeper level and help your cell membranes hold water within a cell for longer. This is why most of the Institut Esthederm products I have tried so far - were incredibly hydrating. Their Hyaluronic Range? Ah-mazing.



Another unique feature is this product's patented "photo reverse" technology (hence the name). Unlike many other sun lotions and potions, this one also evens out your complexion. In other words you protect and brighten your skin at the same time. The brand claims that Photo Reverse deminishes the appearance of dark spots/ prevents and corrects hyperpigmentation/ prevents cell damage thanks to its "Global Cellular Technology".




Although there is no word SPF on the packaging, you get plenty of UVA/UVB protection. If this terminology confuses you, just think about it as:

SPF (Sun Protection Factor - measures UVB rays only);

UVA (A for ageing such as wrinkles);

UVB (B for burn such as sunburn and tanning).


UVA and UVB have different wavelenghts, which is why they penetrate our skin on various levels. Both, however, destroy collagen [elasticity] and can potentially lead to cancer - so it is vital not to underestimate the importance of suncare in general.



While broad spectrum sunscreen is good (one that protects from both UVA and UVB) - those digits you see next to the word "SPF" can sometimes be misleading. More often than not it is a great marketing technique. For example: SPF 100 costs more than SPF 50, when in reality the first one blocks 99% of bad UV rays and the second one blocks 98%. But when you don't know it, you might as well pay extra 20-30 USD for +1% only. Also, most sunscreens with "SPF" offer a very minimal protection from UVA, which can cause a DNA cell damage. Thankfully many countries have realized it now and, in order to limit unrealistic claims, the highest number brands are allowed to put on their labels is 50. Although many dermatologists agree that the best option here is SPF 30.


And if you think about it, Institut Esthederm just step away from conventional methods of labeling sunscreen products. To them the term "SPF" on its own is not sufficient, as it only provides information on sunburn, but does not protect your skin against photo-ageing. 



Texture & Application

I will not go into details on how much sunscreen one should apply (after all there is no exact measurement), but texture-wise Photo Reverse is quite creamy (not thick). It does feel lightweight at the same time, which is something I like. Although it absorbs well, it does set to a pretty dewy/shiny finish, so bear that in mind in case you want to use it underneath make-up. I have a feeling Photo Reverse might be a touch too rich if you have oilier skin type. You can, however, use it without a moisturizer during hot summer months. Since this product is based on cellular water, it feels pretty comforting and even a touch hydrating. I have dry skin and often use it alone during the day and it feels quite enough, if you know what I mean.


When you start working it into your skin, it might look pretty white at first, but when it is fully blended - it then sets to a very transparent/glowy finish as you can see on the photo above. This product has a very light scent, which disappears as soon as the liquid is blended. The brand suggests waiting for about 20 minutes before exposing yourself to sun.


If you wear make-up on top of it, make sure to apply it in sections; don't dot it all over the face. Thing is, once this product is in contact with air, it sets pretty fast and you might experience white traces. It's very hard to find a sunscreen, which leaves no white residue; the only one I know - is Caudalie Soleil Divin. My application tip is: take a small amount and blend the product before it has a chance to set, so that it absorbs better as a result. My only grudge about Photo Reverse is - it can ball up at times. Normally it happens if I got carried away and applied a little too much or if I didn't blend it well enough, so by the time I apply my foundation or concealer - it might sit funny on top of it. This is mainly why I enjoy it more on days when I wear no make-up.


Wear & Feel

I absolutely love the way this sunscreen feels on my skin. Surely, I would use a light layer of mineral powder on top of my foundation to set it, that is if I were to wear make-up; but even on its own - it is quite nice. Unlike many other sunscreens I have used in the past, it never feels tight or drying after a few hours, which is something I (and my Sahara skin) appreciate. It might itch a little if you apply it on any healing spots and things, but just like most Institut Esthederm products, this one too won't cause any irritation.


As for pigmentation, I personally don't have any major spots on my face, which I could test this product on. What I do have - are freckles on tops of my cheekbones (bridge of the nose) and hands too, which might (not) have appeared due to sun exposure. Being of mixed heritage, I find that I don't ever burn, but can easily get new freckles/spots on the face though, which is something I must have inherited from my Caucasian father (who has a ton of sun spots and turns red like a lobster, even if he hides in the shade). I will keep on using Photo Reverse to see whether my freckles disappear after all and will update you very soon on Instagram.



If you are on a hunt for a hydrating sunscreen, look this way. Photo Reverse has a high UVA/UVB + cell protection, which for someone living in Dubai, is a very comforting thought really. Now, due to minor white residue here and there, it might not be the best thing to wear underneath make-up. But if you think about Photo Reverse in a broad sense - I think it is totally worth it. I have a feeling it will feel even nicer during colder months. It is now my go-to sun protection whenever I train at the outdoor pool. Insititut Esthederm also recommend this sunscreen to people on any type of oral medication, which might cause skin pigmentation (such as antibiotics etc), which is a fabulous thing in my book. If you want to explore more suncare options, check out Institut Esthederm entire range here.








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