What a Derm and Makeup Artist Want You to Know About Sunscreen and Makeup

Photo: Getty/Westend61
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. First up: 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."

Experts In This Article
  • Cybele Fishman, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital

One of the biggest reasons that sunscreen in foundation doesn't work well enough on its own is that 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 quarter-or-more-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.

You should really layer as follows: "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." But remember, when it comes to sunscreen, the SPF factors are not additive. "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. Ready to shop for options to keep you protected? Keep scrolling.

How to apply sunscreen under makeup

Figuring out how to apply sunscreen under your makeup really all comes down to determining which SPF you're using and where it falls in your routine. For liquid, serums, and sprays, if you're using a chemical sunscreen (one that has a filter like avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate), the order should be SPF, moisturizer, makeup. If you're using a physical sunscreen (one that has a filter like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) your order should be moisturizers, SPF, makeup.

If you're using a powder SPF, you can dust it on over your makeup. These types of products usually contain a bit of a tint, so they're helpful in absorbing any oil or shine that is lingering on your skin. In addition, powder SPFs usually contain iron oxides which can help to protect the skin against visible light sources that can also create problems within the skin.

Lastly, if you're using a foundation with SPF in it, it's important to take note of what kind of active SPF agent is included in your product. If it's a chemical filter, then you shouldn't apply moisturizer ahead of applying your foundation. If it's a physical filter, you should be fine to use a moisturizer followed by your foundation.

How much sunscreen to apply to skin

By and large, dermatologists recommend that you use about a quarter-sized dollop of SPF on your face. If you're applying product to your skin that's meant to function as both foundation and SPF protection, you should ensure that you're applying at least that much to keep the skin protected from UV rays.

Shop the best SPF under makeup

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 - Tinted — $39.00

Alternatively, you can opt for a tinted sunscreen like this one to layer under your makeup. Because this SPF combines chemical and physical filters and offers a tint that’s just enough to help offset the white cast that traditional zinc sunscreens often give on skin, it’s a great pick to layer under makeup without giving any indication it’s there.

Shiseido Clear Stick UV Protector SPF 50+ — $29.00

If you need a mid-day SPF touch-up (trust us, you do) bring along a clear stick like this one to easily slide over your face. If you like a bit of a dewy finish, you can leave it on its own, or you can powder over it, as well.

Supergoop Resetting Spray
Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist — $32.00

Atop whatever makeup you have, spritz this makeup setting spray and your foundation won’t budge and you also will be protected from the sun.

Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 — $68.00

If you live or work in a city, consider this completely physical sunscreen, which is truly one of the most advanced mineral SPFs around. It contains a potent blend of antioxidants to guard skin from pollution as well as iron oxides to protect from visible light sources inside and blue light from your computer.

Coola Full Spectrum 360° Refreshing Water Cream Organic Face Sunscreen SPF 50 — $46.00

Coola has long been making thoughtfully produced SPFs that tap the best that science and nature both have to offer in a single product, and we couldn’t be happier that this water cream moisturizer is combining two steps into one so that you can apply this, then your makeup and be done with it.

Scalp sunscreen powder
Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50 — $69.00

This product works double-duty by soaking up any mid-day shine and also distributing physical SPF onto skin. If you’re wanting full-on protection, make sure to go over your face a couple of times to get enough product on it to keep you guarded from the sun. We give this wand bonus points for iron oxides that help guard skin from visible light, and how handy it comes in when applying SPF to the scalp.

Shop the best foundations with SPF

Photo: Bare Minerals
Bareminerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer Hydrating Gel Cream — $30.00

If you’re looking to hurry two skin-care steps into one (and let’s be honest, who isn’t these days), you can opt for a product like this one. Often times tinted moisturizers will have higher SPFs than foundations, so if you’re looking for a product to wear alone without something below it or on top of it, this will do.

IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream with SPF 50+ — $40.00

This CC cream has a whopping SPF 50 in it, so as you dab it along your skin, you can remain protected from the sun’s rays. It’s apparently the number one selling prestige CC cream in America, as well, so you can rest assured that it’s a good buy.

M.A.C Studio Waterweight Liquid Foundation SPF 30 — $36.00

This SPF 30 foundation goes on like a splash of water, which is to say that you’ll feel like you’re wearing nothing with all the protection and artistry that comes from this makeup-beloved brand

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