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

Photo: Getty/Westend61
In theory, SPF makeup should be the easiest way to keep your skin safe from the sun. But though swapping your usual foundation for one infused with UV-blocking ingredients may make you *think* you're properly protected, dermatologists caution that that's not necessarily the case—which is why wearing sunscreen under makeup is key.

"Often, women do not use enough foundation to get the proper SPF, which is why I usually recommend applying sunscreen before applying makeup, regardless of whether or not there's SPF in the makeup," says Jessica Dowling, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "This type of layering can help you avoid any missing areas of skin."

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

I know, I know: Adding another step to your already stacked routine probably feels like overkill. But these days, there are so many sunscreens specifically designed to wear right alongside makeup that it's never been easier—or more enjoyable—to double up. Not only will your skin be adequately shielded from the sun, but it will also look like its best (glowiest) self in the process.

The problem with SPF makeup

"While you can get enough SPF from an SPF foundation, most people do not use the recommended amount of product on their face to obtain the marketed SPF," says Dr. Dowling.

Generally speaking, you need at least "two finger lengths" of product (meaning enough product to draw lines down your index and middle fingers) on your face and neck in order to get the full amount of SPF that's advertised on the bottle. And chances are, you're not using nearly that much foundation in your regular application—so even if you're technically using an SPF 50 foundation, you probably aren't getting SPF 50 protection. 

This holds true regardless of what type of SPF makeup you're using. "Liquid makeup can be as effective as regular SPF, [but you have to] put enough on," adds Cybele Fishman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. "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."

All this is to say that while SPF makeup is great for upping your protection, it shouldn't be your only source of defense against the sun.

How much SPF do you need every day?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing at least SPF 30 every day and re-applying every two hours. The "two finger" rule is an easy way to ensure you're getting enough product on your face and neck (which equates to about 1/3 to 1/2 a teaspoon of product, or a quarter-sized dollop). One ounce of sunscreen (AKA enough to fill a standard shot glass) should be enough for the rest of your body.

In pursuit of hitting that golden SPF 30 number, it's important to keep in mind that SPF factors aren't additive. "If you're wearing an SPF 30 sunscreen under makeup with SPF 30, you're not wearing SPF 60," says Dr. Fishman, so look at whatever product has the highest SPF and go by that number for an accurate idea of how much protection you've got at any given moment.

How to layer sunscreen and makeup

Unless you're caking on a whole bunch of foundation (which, let's be honest, you're probably not), sunscreen layering should be a non-negotiable part of your routine. Thankfully, there are a few different ways to do it, and it's all about finding the method that works for you. The only application edict you should always follow? "Put on your skincare first, since you want the skin-nourishing ingredients closest to your face," says Dr. Fishman.

Sunscreen under makeup

Most people will choose to put on their sunscreen before their foundation, but the exact application order depends on what type of formula you're using.

If you're working with a chemical sunscreen—which uses filters like avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate to absorb and release UV radiation—you'll want to put it on before your moisturizer so that it's in close contact with your skin. In this situation, your application order should be serums, SPF, moisturizer, makeup. "Chemical sunscreen tends to rub into the skin a little easier on average, so I usually recommend a chemical sunscreen as a primer," says Dr. Dowling. 

Unlike chemical SPFs, physical SPFs use mineral "blockers" like zinc oxide and titanium oxide to deflect UV rays. This means these formulas should be the last layer before your makeup. So you'll want to apply your serums and moisturizer first, then your SPF, then your makeup. "Just make sure all your moisturizer is rubbed in sufficiently before applying the sunscreen," says Dr. Dowling.

With all of that said, don't worry too much about whether you're putting your sunscreen on before or after your moisturizer. While these are technically best practices, Dr. Dowling notes that as long as you're layering on SPF before you start your makeup, regardless of whether it's a chemical or mineral formula, you should be good to go for the day.

One last pro tip? Be sure to let your sunscreen sink into your skin for about two minutes before you put anything else on top of it. "You want to make sure the sunscreen feels as if it is absorbed into your skin so you avoid taking any of the sunscreen off or diluting it when applying your makeup," says Dr. Dowling.

Sunscreen on top of makeup

If you'd prefer to apply sunscreen after your foundation, opt for a powder formula. These types of products (which are almost always made with mineral ingredients) 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 protect the skin against visible light sources that can create problems within the skin.

And if ever you're reapplying throughout the day (which, you should be!), powders and SPF-infused sprays will allow you to do so without messing up your makeup.

Shop the best SPF to wear under makeup

Best SPF under makeup: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 - Tinted — $39.00

SPF: 46 (hybrid)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, chemical SPF filters (octinoxate), niacinamide, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid

Dermatologists are constantly recommending this SPF, which works just as well under makeup as it does on its own. Because it 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 on ahead of your foundation without giving any indication it’s there.

Size: 1.7 oz.

Best sunscreen under makeup for mature skin: Murad, City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 — $68.00

SPF: 50 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Iron oxides, zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, lutein, polymer matrix

If you’re in the market for anti-aging sun protection, 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. This is particularly helpful for those with mature skin, as it works overtime to defend against visible signs of skin aging.

Size: 1.7 oz.

Best sunscreen under makeup for dry skin: Coola, Full Spectrum 360° Refreshing Water Cream Organic Face Sunscreen SPF 50 — $46.00

SPF: 50 (chemical)

Highlighted ingredients: Chemical SPF filters (avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene), hyaluronic acid, coconut water, antioxidants

This SPF 50 water cream will give you your SPF and moisturizer in a single step. It contains hydrators and antioxidants (which, as an added bonus, keep you protected against blue light), and will never feel goopy under your makeup. Slather a hefty helping onto your skin then layer foundation on top, and you’ll be set on sun protection until it’s time to reapply.

Size: 1.5 oz.

Best sunscreen for face under makeup for oily skin: Saint Jane Beauty, Luxury Sun Ritual Pore Smoothing Face Sunscreen SPF 30 — $38.00

SPF: 30 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, desert rose, jasmine

Create the perfect canvas to apply your makeup on top of with this pore-blurring sunscreen. The zinc oxide in the formula delivers a matte finish, and the peachy tint blends seamlessly into any skin tone. It contains oil-reducing jasmine and hydration-enhancing desert rose to keep your skin balanced and prevent it from getting slick throughout the day.

Size: 1.7 oz.

Best sunscreen under makeup for sensitive skin: Tatcha, The Silk Sunscreen SPF 50 Weightless Mineral Sunscreen — $64.00

SPF: 50 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, silk extract

If you’ve got sensitive skin, mineral SPF formulas are your best bet for avoiding irritation. This one, from Tatcha, really does go on as silky-smooth as its name promises while also hydrating skin, evening discoloration, and looking totally invisible.

Size: 1.7 oz.

Best primer sunscreen under makeup: YSE, Skin Glow SPF 30 Primer — $48.00

SPF: 30 (hybrid)

Highlighted ingredients: Titanium dioxide, iron oxide, chemical SPF filters (avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene), niacinamide, spirulina maxima extract, sodium hyaluronate

This SPF 30 primer sits beautifully under your makeup and gives skin a lit-from-within radiance thanks to pearlescent, light-smattering microspheres. It’s also got hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to hydrate skin and even out discoloration while you wear it.

Size: 1.7 oz.

Best bronzing sunscreen under makeup: Kosas, Dream Beam SPF 40 — $40.00

SPF: 40 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide, ceramides, peptides, hyaluronic acid, allantoin

If you’re a die-hard bronzing drops user, consider swapping your usual formula for this SPF-infused option. The zinc oxide in the formula creates a physical UV barrier on the skin, but instead of leaving a white cast (the way mineral SPFs often do), it gives skin a fresh-off-the-beach finish. Plus, with a slew of skin-friendly ingredients—including strengthening ceramides, plumping peptides, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and soothing allantoin—this is the complexion gift that keeps on giving.

Best sunscreen serum for under makeup: Summer Fridays, ShadeDrops Mineral Milk Sunscreen SPF 30 — $36.00

SPF: 30 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, squalane, antioxidant complex (vitamin E and ethyl ferulate)

This milky SPF serum is just as much skincare as it is sunscreen, and won’t pill under makeup. It’s got a gorgeous liquid texture, and comes packed with an antioxidant complex that makes its sun-protective properties even more powerful as well as squalane to keep skin hydrated (but never greasy).

Size: 1.7 oz.

Best sunscreen for face under makeup drugstore: Solara Suncare Vacation Glow Mineral Sunscreen - SPF 30 — $27.00

SPF: 30 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, acai fruit, skin illuminating minerals

This 100-percent mineral sunscreen works on all skin types (including sensitive), is packed with antioxidants, and leaves behind a subtle shimmer that makes skin look extra dewy under foundation. It delivers a triple threat of protection against the sun, pollution, and blue light, and at $27 a pop, is worth a spot in your daily routine.

Size: 1.7 oz.

Shop the best SPF makeup

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

SPF: 50 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, vitamin E

This CC cream has a whopping SPF 50 in it, which means layering it on top of your usual sunscreen will give you a hefty dose of protection. It’s the number-one selling CC cream in America and works on all skin types (it’s particularly great for mature complexions!), so you can rest assured that it’s a good buy.

Size: 1.08 oz.

Tower 28 Beauty, SunnyDays SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen Foundation — $32.00

SPF: 30 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide, prickly pear extract, white sage extract

As the first-ever foundation to receive the stamp of approval from the National Eczema Foundation, you can apply this stuff to even the most sensitive skin without having to worry about irritation. It offers light, buildable coverage with a natural finish, giving you SPF 30 protection and an even complexion in one fell swoop.

Size: 1 oz.

Iris&Romeo, Weekend Skin SPF 50 Instant Glow Tinted Mineral Sunscreen with Vitamin C + Niacinamide — $50.00

SPF: 50 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, vitamin C, niacinamide

This stuff may technically be a primer (not a foundation), but it’s so good at evening your skin tone that it makes makeup an optional second step. The one-and-done tinted formula contains vitamin C and niacinamide, which help fade existing discoloration over time, plus SPF 50, which prevents future damage from occurring. It comes in three shades, all of which have a subtle tint that blends into the skin and leaves behind a luminous finish that never looks ashy.

Size: 1.18 oz.

ILIA, Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 Skincare Foundation — $48.00

SPF: 40 (mineral)

Highlightedingredients: Zinc oxide, squalane, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid

This skin “tint” is your serum, sunscreen, and foundation all in one. A combination of niacinamide, squalane, and hyaluronic acid brightens and hydrate skin, while SPF 40 keeps it protected. It comes in 30 flexible shades and leaves a light, radiant finish.

Size: 3 oz.

Estée Lauder, Futurist Hydra Rescue Moisturizing Foundation SPF 45 — $54.00

SPF: 45 (hybrid)

Highlighted ingredients: Chemical SPF filters (octinoxate, octisalate), zinc oxide, chia seed extract, probiotic technology, ioncharged water

“This lightweight foundation works to hydrate and protect the skin while helping to conceal blemishes. It uses chia seed extract and probiotic technology to nourish and soothe the skin,” says board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD. It promises 12 hours of hydrating wear, and won’t cake or flake no matter how sweaty your skin gets throughout the day.

Size: 1.2 oz.

Saie, Slip Tint — $36.00

SPF: 30

Highlighted ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide, hyaluronic acid, licorice root

Cut out your moisturizer step with this ultra-hydrating skin tint, which checks all the boxes for hydration, sun protection, and a gorgeous finish. It’s super lightweight but packs a heavy punch of active ingredients (namely, hyaluronic acid and argan oil for hydration and licorice root for skin-tone evening), and leaves behind the sort of dewy finish that’s tough to come by in a zinc-infused formula.

Size: 1.3 oz.

L'Oréal, Age Perfect Radiant Serum Foundation — $18.00

SPF: 50 (hybrid)

Highlighted ingredients: Titanium dioxide, chemical SPF filters (homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene), niacinamide

Top up your anti-aging routine with this “Age Perfect” SPF foundation, which was specifically designed with mature skin in mind. It’s made with L’Oréal’s proprietary hydrating serum, which gives it a moisturizing quality and ensures it won’t sink into fine lines and wrinkles. Plus, it’s got SPF 50—which is just what you need to prevent the sun from causing visible signs of skin aging (as long as you’re wearing it on top of another sunscreen, of course).

Size: 1 oz.

Shop the best SPF to wear on top of makeup

Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50
Colorescience, Sunforgettable Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50 — $69.00

SPF: 50 (mineral)

Highlighted ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, hyaluronic acid, antioxidants

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 ensure there’s enough product 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.

Size: 0.2 oz.

Naked Sundays, SPF50+ Hydrating Glow Mist Top Up — $30.00

SPF: 50 (chemical)

Highlighted ingredients: Chemical SPF filters (avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene), hyaluronic acid, watermelon extract, kakadu plum

Setting spray is a must-have for keeping your makeup intact during summer’s sweatiest days, and this one holds its own against some of the best in the market—the fact that it’s got SPF 50 is just an added bonus. It’s rich in antioxidants that offer further protection from environmental stressors, and has a nice cooling effect when you spritz it on your skin.

Size: 3.4 oz.

Shiseido, Clear Stick UV Protector SPF 50+ — $29.00

SPF: 50 (chemical)

Highlighted ingredients: Synchroshield technology, licorice root extract, soy lecithin

A clear stick, like this one, is great to keep in your bag to easily slide over your face for a midday touchup. What makes it stand out is its syncrhoshield technology, which makes the SPF even more effective when it comes in contact with heat and water (so, basically every sweaty day from now through October). It also contains licorice root extract to soothe breakouts and even skin tone, plus soy lecithin to smooth wrinkles. If you like a bit of a dewy finish, you can leave it on its own, or you can powder over it, as well.

Size: 0.7 oz.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.
Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...