More On Year-Round Sun Safety

Now that those lazy summer days sitting by the pool are behind us, you might be tempted to simplify your beauty routine by skipping the sunscreen and relying on moisturizer and makeup with SPF instead. Dermatologists, however, would urge you to think twice.

“Makeup with SPF is never a proper substitute for sunscreen,” says Jeanine Downie, M.D., a dermatologist and an assistant attending physician at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, N.J., and Overlook Hospital in Summit, N.J. “Incidental exposure adds up quickly, so even 5 minutes of running to the bank can be too much time without proper protection.”

In addition to decreasing your risk of skin cancer, the less sun exposure that your skin gets, the better it looks as you age.

Regular sunscreen use can minimize the sun damage that shows up on the face in the form of wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging.

So what role should—or shouldn’t—these cosmetics have in your sun protection arsenal? We have some answers. 

Can SPF Moisturizer Replace Sunscreen?

That all depends on the SPF. Dermatologists recommend that you use sunscreen on exposed skin 365 days a year, regardless of the weather, and using a moisturizer with SPF is a convenient way to do so. The trick is choosing one that provides enough protection to eliminate the need for a separate sunscreen.

Many so-called “daily moisturizers” are only SPF 15, and the American Academy of Dermatology recommendations call for using sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. “Moisturizer with SPF 15 adds some protection, but I don’t think it’s enough,” says Doris Day, M.D., clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. You also need to apply it liberally or even your SPF 30 might not give you adequate protection. According to Day, you need to slather on at least ¼ teaspoon to protect your face.  

Will a Foundation With SPF Provide Enough Coverage?

The consensus is that no, it does not. The biggest problem with using foundation with SPF (and hoping it will protect your skin) is that it’s nearly impossible to use enough to get effective coverage without looking like you’ve applied a makeup mask.

“People do not apply foundation evenly, they don’t apply it everywhere and they don’t apply enough for it to be adequate protection on its own,” says Downie. The same is true for tinted moisturizer, BB, and CC creams with SPF, says Downie—they need to be used with a separate sunscreen (that’s applied all over your face, including your neck, chest, and ears if they will be exposed) or you risk being underprotected.

It’s also worth noting that SPF is not cumulative. “Layering an SPF 15 foundation over an SPF 15 moisturizer does not add up to SPF 30 protection,” says Day. “To make an SPF 30 formulation, the concentration of active ingredients is different than in an SPF 15.”  

Will Any Lipstick Protect My Lips?

“If it’s a dark shade and a matte formulation, it may offer a small amount of physical protection,” says Day, “but not enough to rely on it.”

The lips are a prime place for skin cancers to develop—in part because they are exposed to the sun year round but also because even people who are diligent about sunscreen often overlook the lips when it comes to protection.

“Lipstick and lip balm can be helpful to protect lips as long as they have an SPF of 30 or above,” says Downie. “And to be effective, they must also be reapplied throughout the day.” While this is true of all sunscreens, the lips may need even more frequent reapplication because anything you put on the lips wears off easily.

But beware of products that contain no SPF—especially those that are glossy. “Lip gloss without SPF can actually be worse than putting nothing on your lips,” says Day. “Like spreading baby oil on your skin, the gloss can intensify the sun and increase your risk of burning.”  

How Do I Reapply Sunscreen Without Messing Up My Makeup?

In in order to remain effective, sunscreen needs to be reapplied every 2 hours. “You can’t put it on at 7 in the morning and think you’re covered for the day,” says Macrene Alexiades, M.D., Ph.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology, Yale University School of Medicine. “Even if you’re just sitting in your office all morning, it’s inactivated in a couple of hours, so if you go out at lunchtime, you need to reapply it.”

But since no one wants to remove their makeup and start over from the sunscreen up before heading out to lunch, dermatologists have a few suggestions for staying protected during any incidental sun exposure at midday:

• Keep a wide-brimmed hat at your desk and throw it on before you go outside. An umbrella or parasol can also work—with the bonus of covering even more of you than a hat.

• Stay on the shady side of the street and underneath protective awnings whenever possible.

• Try brushing on a liberal coat of powder sunscreen—it can be applied over your makeup and will help boost your protection.