If you’re stocked up on SPF primers, foundations, bronzers, and beyond, we applaud your dedication to protecting yourself from the sun. But—sorry to disappoint—SPF makeup is just no substitute for real deal sunscreen.
Although allowing that it is better than wearing no sunscreen at all, Lily Talakoub, M.D., dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center, explains that there are two main problems with sunscreen in makeup. The first is that makeup with an SPF often protects against UVB radiation only. “Most do not have any coverage against the UVA rays that will go through your car window, your home windows, goes through all the clouds, the rainstorms and the snow,” she explains. “In other words, you’re failing yourself if you think you’re protecting yourself against all UV rays, especially since UVA cause more aging and skin cancer than UVB.”
The second problem is that even if you find a broad-spectrum product you like, there is basically no way you’re wearing enough of it to get the sun protection you think you’re getting. Forget makeup that looks a little cakey; Dr. Talakoub estimates you’d need to layer on makeup as much as 15 times thicker than you normally would wear in order to get the UV protection promised by the SPF rating on the bottle. “Most people dab a small amount of foundation or concealer on their hand and blend it in, but SPF has to go on thick to provide a benefit,” she says. If you’re not going to slather on enough to do the job—and let’s be real, you’re not going to—then it’s really not worth it at all.
You also may be limited in the types of sunscreens available to you in makeup products. “Chemical sunscreens incorporate more elegantly into makeup formulations,” explains Melanie D. Palm, M.D., San Diego–based dermatologist, cosmetic surgeon, and founding director of Art of Skin MD. “Physical agents, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are harder to incorporate into cosmetics without changing the formulation, spread, and wear of the product; however, they’re typically the preferred sunscreen agent of dermatologists.” But she points out that “mineral sunscreen makeup lines use these sunscreen ingredients as the basis of their sun protection.”
The experts agree that for real protection from UV rays, you have to use plenty of actual sunscreen, not (just) SPF makeup—and reapply. If we’re being honest, most of us aren’t wearing nearly enough sunscreen (you’d be surprised how much you use if you actually follow the directions), and we’re not reapplying every two hours like we know we should.
Anna Guanche, M.D., a dermatologist at Bella Skin Institute, recommends starting in the morning with a liberal amount of sunscreen—preferably at least SPF 30—and letting it absorb into your skin for a few minutes, before doing your makeup over it. For midday sunscreen touch-ups over your makeup, Dr. Palm likes the physical blocker-based BareMinerals Original Loose Powder, $29, and ColoreScience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50, $65, which she says, is “great not only for the face, but can be easily applied on the neck, chest, and back of hands.”
If you make sunscreen and touchups part of your everyday beauty routine, then you can feel like you’re doing your skin a solid and go ahead and use whatever makeup you want—SPF or no SPF.