We all know by now that we should be using sunscreen everyday. If your typical day involves wearing makeup, you may dismiss SPF as an extra and unnecessary step. After all, your face is at least sort of protected by your layer of foundation, right? And you’re totally covered if your foundation has SPF in it—right? Many of us have likely asked ourselves the same questions and even shied away from using sunscreen in fear it will mess up our makeup or break us out, but no more.
Know that makeup alone is not enough
Makeup with SPF provides some protection, says Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist based in Los Angeles, but she recommends not depending on your foundation as your primary source of UV protection. “In order to achieve the sunscreen SPF on the makeup label, you would need to use seven times the thickness you would normally use if using liquid foundation, and 14 times the amount if using a powder foundation.” Probably not the look you’re going for.
Understand how SPF works
SPF, or sun protection factor, relates to the sunscreen’s ability to block UVB light, the wavelength responsible for sunburns. The number indicates how well it does that and for how long. For example, a product with SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays. It will also increase the amount of time your skin can stay in direct sunlight without burning by a factor of 15. (So if without protection, your skin starts to burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 increases that to 150 minutes.) A product with SPF 30 blocks 97 percent, and boosts sun exposure time by a factor of 30. The sun also emits UVA rays, which are the ones linked to premature aging. The ability to block UVA rays isn’t represented by the SPF, so it’s best to choose a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” to ensure you’re covered against both types.
“The problem is that, in the real world, we are not applying as much sunscreen as we should and we certainly are not reapplying, which means that the SPF value gets diluted out,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. For optimal protection, use broad-spectrum products containing a high SPF, and reapply every two hours (or even more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming).
Choose your products wisely
To find a sunscreen that works best with your makeup, look for one that’s labeled “for face” and described as “non-comedogenic” to reduce your risk of acne breakouts, and includes a moisturizer if your skin requires it, so you can eliminate a step (more on that in a moment).
Another decision is the type of active ingredient in the sunscreen. These fall into two categories, chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens' active ingredients, such as avobenzone, octisalate, and oxybenzone, absorb into the skin and convert the sun’s UVA or UVB rays—different ingredients work for each—into heat, which is then released into the air. Chemical-based sunscreens, like Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer and SuperGoop! Everyday Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50, have traditionally tended to absorb more fully into the skin and be more popular with makeup wearers for that reason. However, their use has been associated with some controversy regarding what, if any, risks that absorption may pose.
Physical, or “mineral” sunscreens, containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, sit on top of the skin and create a film that physically deflects the rays from penetrating the skin’s surface. Makeup wearers previously shied away from physical sunscreens, as they tended to cause a whitecast on the face. However, newer products—such as Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer Sensitive Skin or the SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50—now have tiny “micronized” particles that smoothly apply to the skin and do not cause this ghostly effect. “Often the most cosmetically elegant [SPF products] these days [contain] those micronized physical blockers,” says Dr. Suzanne Friedler, a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology based in New York City.
Regardless of active ingredient, choose one with a high SPF, even if your usual makeup contains SPF as well. “Do not consider the sunscreen effect to be cumulative,” Shainhouse says. Wearing SPF 50 sunscreen and then wearing a foundation with SPF 15 does not create an SPF of 65. In fact, Shainhouse says layering a lower SPF over a higher one can even dilute the higher one, which is why starting high is a good plan.
Get your sunscreen and your makeup to play nice
When applying anything to your skin, the golden rule is to layer products from thinnest to thickest so that they are all able to effectively penetrate into the skin. Shainhouse suggests washing and patting the face dry, applying any serums you use, followed by moisturizer, then sunscreen (or use a twofer moisturizing sunscreen, as described above). Once your skin is prepped with these steps, go about your makeup routine as normal.
Stay sun-safe all day long
As already mentioned, it’s important to reapply SPF every two hours, or at least before you head outside into the sun after you’ve been indoors a while. As it’s impractical to wash your face and start from scratch, Shainhouse recommends those who want a matte finish touch up with an SPF-containing powder, like the Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50. For people who prefer a dewy look, a setting spray infused with SPF, like the Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50, is a good option for reapplying your sun protection.