What a derm and makeup artist want you to know about sunscreen and makeup


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Using sunscreen seems simple enough. You slather it on every single day (or every two hours if you’re enjoying a beach day) and boom, you’re protected. But for some reason, when it comes to mixing your SPF with your makeup, that logic sort of falls flat—because nothing ruins a perfectly highlighted canvas quicker than pasty zinc oxide.

What’s more: With the advent of SPF in makeup, there are a lot of questions about how protected you actually are if you live by the SPF in color cosmetics alone. So as the days of dewy skin are upon us, I checked with a dermatologist and a makeup artist to find out how to keep your complexion looking totally radiant while also protecting from sun exposure.  You know, so that the glow lasts a lifetime. Their advice to give you the best of both worlds, right this way.

Keep scrolling for how a derm and a makeup artist suggest using makeup and SPF together.

How to layer makeup SPF
Photo: Unsplash/Daniel Adesina

How effective is SPF in makeup?

If you wonder whether your tinted moisturizer or foundation with SPF are legit in terms of sun protection, it all comes down to the formula you’re using, according to Cybele Fishman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. “Liquid makeup can be as effective as regular SPF, provided you put enough on,” she says. “Powder would need to be caked on thickly for it to provide as good of coverage, but most women wouldn’t want to put it on that heavily.”

One of the biggest problems with sunscreens is that people don’t apply enough to stay protected. (Beauty editor PSA: For reference, you need a full ounce shot glass to protect yourself from head-to-toe, which when you think about it means a decent-sized dollop for your face). The same holds true here. “In general, people don’t apply enough product to get the SPF it says on the bottle, regardless of the form: makeup or sunscreen.” Moral of the story? If you’re not piling on your makeup—be sure to supplement with regular sunscreen. And remember that dermatologists regularly recommend a minimum of SPF 30, so if your foundation is lower than that you should consider topping it off with a little something extra.

How should you layer your skin care, makeup, and SPF?

So, now that you’ve figured out whether or not you need to supplement your makeup’s SPF, which layer goes on first? “Put on your skin care first, since you want the skin-nourishing ingredients closest to your face,” says Dr. Fishman. “The second layer should be your SPF, and then makeup goes on last.” If you’re looking for shortcuts (and TBH in the morning who isn’t?) opt for a tinted moisturizer with SPF coverage, such as the Bareminerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer Hydrating Gel Cream ($30) which often come with higher SPFs than traditional foundations (though not always) or tinted physical block sunscreens such as Elta MD UV Clear Broad Spectrum Tinted ($35).

To reapply, makeup artist Gisela Ballard, who also works in Shiseido training and US education, notes that clear sunscreen is a good option. “While an SPF product should be layered after your moisturizer and before your makeup primer, a product like Shiseido’s Clear Stick UV Protector SPF 50+ can be used over makeup and is ideal to reapply sunscreen during the day,” she says. Alternatively, these days there are even SPF mists such as the Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist ($28) that make SPF touch-ups a breeze and are specifically formulated to keep you protected while not messing with your look.

Does SPF 15 + SPF 30 = SPF 45?

A resounding *no*. And this is a wildly spread myth that dermatologists are keen on busting—so please stop everything and go tell your friends or Tweet this (#spfmath). It may go against common sense, but adding SPF to SPF is not like your regular addition equation—the numbers don’t add up. “I can say it’s not additive,” says Dr. Fishman. “If you’re wearing an SPF of 30 on top of makeup with SPF 30, you’re not wearing SPF 60.” So look at whichever product has the highest SPF, and go by that number for an accurate idea of how much protection you’re wearing at any given moment.

And know this: A recent study found that the higher the SPF, the less indication of sunburn. Researchers discovered that parts of the face protected with SPF 100 were markedly less sunburned than areas treated with SPF 50 (which has until-now been considered the gold-standard). In sun exposure for several hours, 55 percent of those participants who wore SPF 50 were burned as opposed to 5 percent of SPF 100 wearers.

Do chemical or physical sunscreens work best with makeup?

This one’s up to you. “The important thing is to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen and to apply it generously,” says Ballard to ensure that you guard yourself from UVA and UVB rays alike. She adds that that traditional physical blocks can be made easier to apply and wear when they have a chemical-filter component to them (this essentially lessens the level of zinc in the formulas, breaking up the chalkiness). Or, of course, you can always skip on the makeup completely and rock your SPF via the no-makeup look.

To help you stay sun safe, these are the best natural sunscreens. And *this* is how much SPF you should actually be applying, according to a dermatologist. 

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