Is the Sunscreen in Your Makeup Enough?

How to keep your skin healthy & happy

Woman applying makeup to her face

Your mornings are harried enough (and then some). You’re always looking for ways to shave a few minutes off your routine. So makeup with SPF — sun protection factor — is a great way to skip the hassle of putting on sunscreen…right?

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Maybe, or maybe not, says dermatologist Amy Kassouf, MD.

Sun protection matters

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that sunscreen is super important. (On the bright side, if you are living under a rock, you probably don’t need to worry about sun protection.)

Sun exposure is the top cause of skin cancer — including potentially deadly melanoma. Sunlight also ages your skin, leading to fine lines, wrinkles and discoloration.

To avoid wrinkles and worse, sunscreen is your friend. Happily, it’s easy these days to find concealers, foundations and powders with built-in SPF. Unfortunately, they probably aren’t powerful enough to keep sun damage at bay.

Understanding SPF

To protect skin, you should apply a product with at least SPF 30, Dr. Kassouf says. Trouble is, most SPF ratings are overestimates.

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When skin care companies test a product’s SPF, they slather on an extra thick layer. In the real world, we’re not spackling our faces with the stuff. “We put on just as much as we feel we can spread easily, then we’re off to the races. So we don’t usually get the full protection listed on the label,” Dr. Kassouf says.

If a product claims to be SPF 30, you can assume you’re maybe only getting half that, she explains. If your favorite foundation is SPF 30 or even SPF 50, it’s probably not enough.

A better bet — double up. Apply a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and a makeup with SPF 30. Together they’ll add up to the protection you need.

There’s another important reason not to rely on makeup for all your SPF: Your face isn’t the only thing that needs protection. Make sure you’re applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your neck, arms and any other skin exposed to the sun.

Aging rays and broad-spectrum sunscreen

SPF isn’t the whole story. The SPF rating only measures the solar energy of UVB rays. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and most melanomas, so you definitely want to send them packing. But it’s the UVA rays that cause wrinkles and other signs of aging. Odds are, you’d also like to repel the rays that could make you look like a Shar-Pei puppy.

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To protect against UVA and UVB, look for the magic words “broad-spectrum sunscreen.” Alas, you may or may not find them on your favorite makeup products. If not, you’ll definitely want a high-SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen as a base layer.

Mineral makeup

Looking for an excuse to go makeup shopping? Mineral makeups are great options, Dr. Kassouf says. The minerals they contain naturally block both UVA and UVB. “They’re broad spectrum by nature, and that’s a good thing,” she says.

Mineral powders with SPF are also great for touch-ups. To stay protected all day, you should be reapplying sunscreen every two hours. But you’re probably not eager to add a topcoat of sunscreen to your makeup multiple times a day. “Mineral powders are great for reapplying. They matte any shininess and add SPF at the same time,” Dr. Kassouf says.

Your mornings may still be rushed, but that’s what coffee is for. And your future face will thank you.

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