Using Sunscreen and Make-up Together: Questions and Answers

I'm back Michelle from Lab Muffin here with more beauty and science. Today I'll be answering some common questions on how sunscreen and makeup work together.

Do I need to wear sunscreen every day even though I'll be inside most of the time?

It depends. What are you trying to achieve? If you're after skin cancer prevention or anti-aging, wearing a daily sunscreen can help with both.

In the biggest study on this so far, one group of people wore sunscreen daily while the other group only wore sunscreen when they wanted to. After four and a half years the skin of daily sunscreen users had no detectable increase in aging and was 24% less likely to show increased signs of aging. Invasive melanomas were almost four times less common in daily sunscreen users.

These benefits aren't limited to places with lots of sun either. Another study estimated that the melanoma rate in Norway in older women could drop by 18% with the daily use of an SPF 15+ sunscreen.

Benifits of Using Sunscreen Daily

If you're using photosensitizing ingredients in your skincare then you'll want to use a sunscreen because they can make your skin more susceptible to damage by UV light. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) make your skin more photosensitive. Retinoids can as well.

Yes, skincare ingredients can make you age faster if you're not careful! If you don't have a susceptibility to skin cancer and you don't care about keeping your skin looking nice then you don't need to wear sunscreen daily.

But because you're here watching this video, then chances are you probably should.

Do I need a separate sunscreen if my makeup has SPF?

Yes, you'll probably need a separate sunscreen. Sunscreen SPF is tested at two milligrams per square centimeter. SPF generally scales linearly with the amount you apply, so applying half of this amount will give you around half of the labeled SPF.

SPF / Amount

With most makeup products you probably won't be applying anywhere near two milligrams per square centimeter. On the average face, this translates to about 1.2 grams. Here's what 1.2 grams of powder looks like... And this is 1.2 grams of a foundation. As you can see, these amounts are way more than most people would normally use.

So how much protection would you get with regular use? A 10-gram powder lasts me about nine months of daily use so I'm using 40 milligrams at best, which is about 30 times less than the testing amount. This gives me an SPF of 1.7 for an SPF 50 product and SPF of 0.5 for a product labeled SPF 15. I personally use one pump of foundation which is 0.2 grams. For an SPF 50 foundation that gives me SPF 8 but for an SPF 15 foundation that gives me SPF 2.5.

The only non-sunscreen product that most people would use enough of is a moisturizer. So you'll either need a moisturizer or sunscreen with SPF if your makeup quantities don't measure up.

What happens when I layer multiple products with SPF?

Theoretically, if you're applying two milligrams per square centimeter and you can't fit much more than that on your face, the highest protection you can get is the SPF of your highest product, since any extra stuff you apply will wipe off.

But on average, people don't apply this much. So in general, SPF will stack if you're putting more sunscreen ingredients on your face and you aren't applying it perfectly.

In fact, a study found that applying two layers of sunscreen was a good way of getting more UV protection - 2.5 times more.

Another possibility is that different sunscreen ingredients can destabilize each other and break down, which means they'll stop working. A particularly sensitive one is avobenzone.

In finished formulations, the ingredients might be protected in certain ways, but if you're mixing them on your skin it's very difficult to tell if this is happening. It's a good idea to avoid layering sunscreens containing avobenzone with products containing octinoxate, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. It's safest to reapply the same sunscreen on top or sunscreens with similar ingredients.

Can I mix sunscreen into my makeup?

This is not a good idea. The key to a sunscreen working well is having it form an even film on the surface of your skin. It's incredibly unlikely that you'll be able to mix it evenly enough to get even coverage. You're also changing how the sunscreen spreads on your skin. This means you'll end up with microscopic holes in your coverage.

Is chemical or physical sunscreen better?

There are two broad categories of sunscreen ingredients: organic, which is commonly called chemical, and inorganic, which is commonly called physical. Both have advantages and disadvantages. I'll be referring to them as organic and inorganic since there are a few newer ingredients that are technically both chemical and physical and it gets really confusing. Inorganic sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, organic sunscreens are everything else.

Organic sunscreens can achieve higher UVA protection, which is great for anti-aging and fading hyperpigmentation. They also tend to have nicer textures than inorganic sunscreens.

Inorganic sunscreens often have a white tint that can be annoying if you have darker skin.

Organiv vs Inorganic Sunscreens

However, older organic ingredients that are still quite common can cause allergies. In the US many of the newer chemical sunscreens aren't available at all.

I personally prefer new organic sunscreens. There are also sunscreens which combine both types. Use whatever sunscreen works best with your budget, skin type, and skin concerns. Ideally, it should be higher than SPF 15, broad-spectrum and water-resistant.

Do I need to apply chemical and physical sunscreens differently?

Both chemical and physical sunscreens work pretty much the same way. They form a film that absorbs UV light and turns it into heat. A few sunscreen ingredients like inorganic zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and the newer organic sunscreens Tinosorbs M & S also reflect and scatter a small proportion of the incoming UV light.

 All of these sunscreen ingredients work without needing to react with the skin. This includes chemical sunscreens which already work when they're in the tube or applied to paper. But they do need to form a continuous even layer between the Sun and your skin to work well, so you can treat them exactly the same way. This is related to the next question...

What order should I apply my products in?

Before we start, a disclaimer. Sunscreen is one of the best-researched skincare products, but there's very little information on how sunscreen works with other skincare products because it isn't a priority in terms of money or health. But if we keep in mind how sunscreens work then we can make a few educated guesses.

Sunscreen needs to form an even film on the skin and stay there to work well. They're designed to spread and stick to bare skin. Because of this, you should limit using products under your sunscreen that are designed to stay on the skin's surface. This includes makeup products like powders, primers, and foundation.

Applying moisturizer on top of your sunscreen can decrease the protection you get. In one study, applying moisturizer before sunscreen didn't affect SPF but applying moisturizer after sunscreen reduced SPF by about one-sixth.

Water-resistant sunscreens usually form occlusive films that block out water, so any skincare you put on top is going to be less effective at getting into your skin.

Lots of sunscreens contain silicones which can help smooth out your skin surface much like a primer, so they can work well under makeup.

So the most practical order is skincare, sunscreen, then makeup. This means your skincare can actually get to your skin and work, your sunscreen is more likely to stay put, and your makeup doesn't get messed up.

How should I apply my products so I don't mess up my sunscreen?

A very common question is, how do I apply my other products so I don't mess up my sunscreen and make it ineffective? Again the key thing to remember is that sunscreen needs to stay in a continuous even layer to work most effectively.

Sunscreens are generally designed to do this automatically when applied to clean skin and allowed to dry down. So what we want to focus on is letting the sunscreen form this film, then disturbing it as little as possible. You don't want to use anything under the sunscreen that's designed to stay on top of the skin since it can interfere with how well the sunscreen film forms and how it lasts. Both of the studies I dug up found that moisturizers under sunscreen didn't affect SPF.

But one of them found that water resistance decreased. The authors suggest that it's because the skin can't absorb as much of the sunscreen into the dead upper layers so the sunscreen slides around on the surface. The oilier moisturizer had a larger effect.

So it's a good idea to avoid using products under sunscreen that are designed to stay on the skin's surface like powders, primers and oily skin care products.

For products on top of sunscreen, it's a bit worse. Sunscreen dissolves in oil and most makeup products like liquid foundations contain oils, so they can act like makeup removers when you apply them on top. How badly this messes up your sunscreen seems to depend on a few things: the formula of the sunscreen, the formula of the product you're applying on top, and how you apply it.

What we know:

  • Applying moisturizer on top of a non-water-resistant sunscreen reduced the SPF by around 1/6.
  • The oilier moisturizers caused a bigger drop and made the sunscreen slide around more.
  • Some sunscreens last better when rubbed with sand than others.
  • Sunscreens that claimed to be rub resistant stayed on better in one study.
  • Waiting 8 minutes for sunscreen to dry made it more resistant to removal when a t-shirt was worn on top of it.

So based on this information, my advice would be to use a sunscreen with a higher SPF than you need. It should be water and rub resistant if possible. Wait 8 minutes for the sunscreen to dry down before applying your makeup so it's less likely to be disturbed. Gently pat on the makeup rather than smearing it around. You can try using sponges or cushions to apply foundation. They also give a nice finish to your makeup.

How can I stop my sunscreen from balling up?

If you've tried a few sunscreens before you'll find that some of them might ball up on your skin when you apply them. This is both funny looking and bad for sun protection since rolls of sunscreen can't protect your skin when they're no longer on your skin. How can you reduce the chances of this happening?

Firstly balling up can happen when your skincare interacts with the sunscreen. Using the sunscreen on bare skin or waiting long enough between layers can get rid of the issue. Using a moisturizer with SPF might mean that you don't need skincare underneath at all.

Balling up also happens with more friction. Patting your sunscreen on gently can help. It can increase the SPF you get as well - one study found that rubbing the sunscreen in too hard reduced SPF by 1/4.

If all of this doesn't work then it's probably time to try to find a new sunscreen that's more compatible with your skin.

Since my skin is naturally quite oily a lot of sunscreens ball up on me, but I've still managed to find a couple that don't ball up at all.

How do I look less shiny? How can I get rid of all this oil?

Sunscreens are often quite thick and oily to help the sunscreen ingredients spread out and form an even film. The problem is sometimes this can leave your skin looking quite oily. Here's how you can mattify it.

  • Blotting papers: blotting will remove some of the sunscreen and lower protection but if you wait for the sunscreen to dry down for around 8 minutes most of it should stay put.
  • Powder on top: a translucent powder on top can soak up oil and reduce shine. Again, try to pat this on gently.
  • Find a new sunscreen: sunscreen technology is constantly improving and one of the areas where there's a lot of attention is on making sunscreens more cosmetically elegant, which means more pleasant to use. If a sunscreen isn't working for you, try to find an alternative.

Do I need to reapply sunscreen? How do I reapply my sunscreen with my makeup on?

Sunscreen works less effectively as time goes on, which is why bottles of sunscreen always recommend reapplying regularly. Sunscreen can be rubbed off if you brush against it or go into the water. The sunscreen film itself breaks up and clumps up and gets thinner over time because it evaporates and it interacts with the oil and water that your skin produces throughout the day. This is worse if you sweat heavily. Some older organic sunscreens aren't photostable, which means they break down after absorbing too much UV. Newer sunscreens and inorganic sunscreens are photostable which means they don't have this specific problem, but the other two factors mean reapplying is a good idea.

If you're reapplying sunscreen on top of makeup, you'll either mess up your makeup or you won't be applying enough sunscreen to ensure complete protection.

There isn't really a way around it. Here's what I do. If I know I'm going to need to reapply, such as if I'm doing a lot of outdoor activities, I keep my makeup simple with tinted moisturizer and cream blush, then reapply both sunscreen and makeup every two hours.

You can also limit the damage to your makeup by applying with a patting motion using a cushion applicator. Sometimes I don't even bother with makeup. I also try to seek shade and wear sun protective clothing where possible.

If I know I'm only going outside for a short period, like if I'm going on a walk after work, then I pack a light sunscreen that works well on top of makeup such as a powder or spray with SPF. I also try not to stay in the sun, and wear a hat and sunglasses. Some people have also managed to find a sunscreen-makeup combo that works when you apply with a cushion, but again you probably won't get enough for full protection.

If I know I'm only going to get incidental sun, like if I'm heading home after work on the train in summer, then I don't bother reapplying and just try not to get the window seat.

Keep in mind that the Nambour study found all those benefits of sunscreen with an SPF 16 product that was around in 1992. Sunscreen SPF have gone up a lot since then, the formulations are far more sophisticated and sunscreen ingredients have improved a lot as well. So even if you aren't keeping your sunscreen perfect, it's probably still making a big difference.

That's all from me today! Send me all your questions, if you like this video please subscribe, and check out my blog for more beauty science :)

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