Does the SPF in Our Moisturizer Even Matter Anymore?

Valis Vicenty

No matter the amount of makeup we choose to apply, the one beauty buy we know we shouldn’t skip is sunscreen. Thankfully, the beauty industry has made it easier to protect our skin from harmful UV rays by infusing a dose of SPF into many of our favorite products. As helpful as that added protection may seem, it actually won’t make a difference if you’re not applying it properly. Yes, really.

According to recent findings presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Meeting in July, moisturizers with an SPF value tend to provide less protection than typical sunscreen formulas. Researchers from the University of Liverpool used a special camera that detects UV light to see how well the participants applied both sunscreen and moisturizers with an SPF value. Results showed that they missed about 16 percent of their face when they applied the moisturizer as opposed to 11 percent when they slathered on the sunscreen.

Sure, we try our best to be as thorough as we can. But in the rush to get ready for our day, there are a few places we tend to forget to apply that can become painfully obvious later on, like the hairline, the hair’s part, ears, lips, the neck and chest, and the hands. The riskiest spot to skip, though, has to be the eyelids since it’s the most likely place for skin cancer to pop up. The study found users missed 14 percent of the eye area when using traditional SPF compared with 21 percent with SPF-infused moisturizer.

It’s not just about where you’re applying; the quantity is also important. The study showed that its subjects didn’t apply the moisturizer as thickly as they applied the sunscreen. And according to cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos, this can affect how well the moisturizers protect since any product containing sunscreen ingredients is tested the same way as traditional sunscreens due to FDA requirements. In other words, if they’re tested the same, then they need to be applied the same for optimal benefits. Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner elaborates on this, noting a good rule of thumb is to apply about a quarter-sized amount of sunscreen for full face coverage. So the same should apply to moisturizers as well.

Dobos says it’s pretty easy to see why there would be a difference in application techniques since sunscreens are usually reserved for hanging by a body of water as opposed to an everyday essential like a moisturizer. “Sunscreens often contains film formers or other ingredients to enhance wear, resistance to sweat, and water exposure,” she explains. “Additionally, the ingredients allowed to make SPF claims have some aesthetic properties that are unappealing, like a greasy skin feel… And we may be more forgiving about those effects with a sunscreen for use at the beach than a product applied to our faces every day.”

The same logic could also be applied to makeup that contains SPF ingredients (think: titanium dioxide) since they’re already part of the combination of pigments used to create different shades and provide coverage. Zeichner says that you have to use a generous amount in order to score the same protection as a sunscreen, which can make for a less-than-desirable finish. “When we are talking about makeup, however, if you apply that much, the face will look caked on,” he says.

But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your beauty routine to ensure proper protection. Dobos suggests layering your array of SPF-infused beauty buys. Zeichner recommends starting with a moisturizer like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Broad Spectrum SPF 15 ($20) or Aveeno Positively Radiant SPF 30 Daily Facial Moisturizer with Sunscreen ($12). Once your base skincare steps are situated, you can slather on a facial sunscreen with a matte finish, like Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 ($32) to serve as your primer before applying a foundation or BB cream with SPF, like Lancôme Bienfait Teinté Beauty Balm 24H Moisturization Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($49) or Bobbi Brown’s BB Cream ($47). Then use a powder like Colorscience’s Sunforgettable Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($65), which comes in a variety of adaptable shades, to touch up your SPF throughout the day. Even with this in mind, it never hurts to add a hat and pair of sunglasses to keep your sun-sensitive skin protected from all angles.

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(Photo via JGI)