Skincare experts explain whether you should apply your sunscreen before or after moisturizer — and why
- If you use chemical sunscreen, apply it before moisturizer so your skin has time to absorb it.
- Mineral sunscreen goes on after moisturizer, as it needs to sit on top of your skin to shield it.
Sunscreen is an essential part of any skin care regimen, for people of every age, gender, and skin color. Applying sunscreen daily helps protect your skin from sun damage that can contribute to visible signs of premature aging and cause skin cancer.
Here's why this order matters, plus a few tips for maximizing the impact of sunscreen in your daily skin care routine.
Should I apply sunscreen before or after moisturizer?
You should apply chemical sunscreen before moisturizer and mineral sunscreen after moisturizer.
You can tell which kind of sunscreen you have based on its ingredients: Mineral sunscreen, also called physical sunscreen or sunblock, will contain the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreen contains chemical ingredients, such as avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone.
Why does order matter?
This type of sunscreen works by absorbing damaging UV rays from the sun before they can harm your skin. Its active ingredients absorb the UV rays and turn them into heat.
In order for chemical sunscreen to work effectively, you need to rub it into your skin and give your skin time to absorb it. That's why you should apply it before using moisturizer.
Important: After applying chemical sunscreen, you should wait 15 minutes before going out into the sun. This type of sunscreen can't protect you until your skin has fully absorbed it.
Since mineral sunscreen needs to sit on top of your skin in order to block UV rays, you should apply it as the last step in your skin care routine. In other words, you'll apply it after any moisturizer you use.
What about other skin care products?
Any skin care products you use as part of your facial cleansing routine — like toners or serums — go on before either type of sunscreen.
After applying a product, you'll generally want to wait at least 2 minutes before applying the next product in your regimen, Mohta says.
Mohta also recommends waiting for 3-5 minutes to put on makeup after you apply your mineral sunscreen. This is because makeup can act as a barrier and prevent sunscreen from fully protecting your skin.
Some facial moisturizers and makeup products contain sun protection factor — known as SPF — so they may help prevent some sun damage. However, these products often have a lower SPF than sunscreen, so you'll also want to apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30, says Dr. Alain Michon, Medical Director at the Ottawa Skin Clinic.
Medical term: SPF, or sun protection factor, measures how effectively a sunscreen or other skin care product blocks radiation from the sun.
- Always opt for sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above: The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity. Additionally, opt for sunscreen with "broad spectrum" protection, which means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, Mohta says.
- If you plan on swimming or sweating, choose a water-resistant sunscreen: A "water resistant" label on your sunscreen means it protects you for up to 40 minutes in water, while "very water resistant" means it protects you for up to 80 minutes.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors: You'll also want to reapply sunscreen promptly after swimming or perspiring heavily. You can apply sunscreen over makeup when reapplying, as it's not practical to remove makeup so often, Mohta says.
- Be sure to use enough sunscreen: For whole body application, use about two tablespoons of sunscreen, or the equivalent of a shot glass. When putting sunscreen on your face, use about a nickel-sized amount, evenly spread across your skin.
- Mineral sunscreens generally work best for sensitive skin: Their ingredients may help prevent stinging and burning when applied, and they're also less likely to irritate the skin on your face, Michon says.
- For acne-prone skin, choose a sunscreen labeled "noncomedogenic:" This term means it won't block your pores, so it may help reduce your risk of acne breakouts, by Michon says.
- Try a tinted sunscreen if you have darker skin: Tinted sunscreen may help minimize the whitish cast on your face that mineral sunscreen can sometimes leave, especially if you have darker skin.
- Opt for oil-free sunscreen if you have oily skin: Finding the right sunscreen can pose a major challenge if you tend to have oily skin, because sunscreen itself is usually greasy. "Your best bet is to find an oil-free sunscreen with an oil-absorbing protective base with a matte finish," Michon says.
- Best overall: Supergoop PLAY Everyday Lotion SPF 50, from $10 at Sephora and Supergoop
- Best mineral: Thinksport's SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen, $12.49 at Amazon and Target
- Best tinted with large color range: Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30, $46 at NARS and Ulta
- Best tinted mineral: Unsun Mineral Tinted Sunscreen, $29 at Amazon and Madewell
Applying sunscreen during your morning skin care routine, as well as throughout the day, will help protect you from harmful radiation that can cause skin cancer.
If you prefer chemical sunscreen, make sure to apply it before moisturizer or other skin care products. Use mineral sunscreen, on the other hand, as a top layer — apply it as the last part of your skin care regimen.
With so many sunscreen options on the market, you'll more than likely have plenty to choose from, no matter your unique skin care needs — but whatever type you choose, you'll want to make sure it has an SPF of 30 or above and offers broad spectrum protection.
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