Does Powder Sunscreen Work?

The convenient option is good for touch-ups but shouldn’t replace your traditional sunscreen
Person applying powder sunscreen with brush.

Whether the sun is shining bright or it’s a cloudy, overcast day, it’s always important to apply sunscreen.

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And while sunscreen comes in lotions, sprays, sticks and gels, you might be wondering if powder sunscreen is just as powerful at protecting your skin from harmful UV rays.

Dermatologist Alok Vij, MD, explains what powder sunscreen is and if you can use it in place of your traditional sunscreen.

What is powder sunscreen?

“Powder sunscreen is exactly what it sounds like,” says Dr. Vij. “It’s sunscreen particles that are dispersed in a powder instead of being dispersed in a cream, lotion or spray.”

Powder sunscreen resembles face powder that’s used for setting makeup. Most powder sunscreens are mineral based with ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which physically block UV rays from your skin. The loose powder is typically contained in a cylinder container with a built-in brush. Generally, powder sunscreen comes in SPF 30, not much higher.

And while most powder sunscreens are designed for use on your face, they can be used anywhere on your body. And a variety of powder sunscreens are available at stores or online.

Can a powder sunscreen replace traditional sunscreen?

Powder sunscreen has become a popular option for those who don’t like the feeling of applying lotion.

But powder sunscreen shouldn’t replace the traditional sunscreen you apply each day.

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“You have to apply a pretty thick layer of the powder to actually get to the concentration necessary to give you adequate sun protection,” states Dr. Vij. “And powder sunscreen can easily rub off your skin.”

Reminder: It’s recommended that you apply at least an ounce of traditional sunscreen — or about the size of a shot glass to your body and about a nickel-sized amount to your face.

So, can you use powder sunscreen? Yes, but only as a touch-up throughout the day after your initial application of traditional sunscreen.

“If you have a sunscreen in your daily facial moisturizer and it doesn’t have a completely matte finish, applying a layer of powder sunscreen can help,” says Dr. Vij. “Also, if you have an oily complexion, you can use the powder sunscreen to help give that matte finish. But it’s not enough generally to give you adequate sun protection on its own.”

How often you will need to touch up or reapply your powder sunscreen is based on your activities. If you’re outside in the sun, it’s recommended that you reapply sunscreen every two hours.

Benefits of powder sunscreen

While powder sunscreen doesn’t give you the same level of protection that traditional sunscreen does, it does tout some benefits like:

  • Can be used over makeup.
  • Mattifies skin.
  • Good for those with sensitive skin.
  • Can be applied on the go.

However, Dr. Vij notes, “For anyone who has sensitive skin, contact dermatitis, rosacea or eczema, there could be some ingredient like a fragrance or a preservative in a powder sunscreen that may not sit well with your skin. It’s important to read the ingredient list and choose a product accordingly.”

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Tips for applying powder sunscreen

First, you’ll want to find a powder sunscreen that’s broad-spectrum, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. And aim for a product that has a least an SPF of 30.

If you’re going to use powder sunscreen, Dr. Vij suggests applying it as your last layer. So, products like serums and moisturizers should be applied first.

“Start with lighter products first,” he continues. “Your powder sunscreen goes on as the last step.”

But overall, you want to stick with a traditional sunscreen in a lotion or cream form to get the maximum SPF protection. Using a powder sunscreen can be helpful for adding an extra layer of protection while you’re on the go.

“The most important thing to know about powder sunscreen is it’s probably not going to be used in sufficient quantities to give you the level of sun protection that your skin really needs,” Dr. Vij says. “You can use it as a touch-up or as an additive product. But don’t rely on it.”

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