Are You Making This Mistake When Applying Sunscreen?

by Gio
Can you apply sunscreen before moisturizer?

 EDIT 28/08/2017: This post has been updated with the latest scientific information.

Should you apply sunscreen or moisturiser first?

If you had stumbled onto my blog a few years ago, I’d have told you it depends on what type of sunscreen you’re using.

Slathering on a mineral sunscreen (you know, the type with zinc oxide)? Put it on after moisturizer. Prefer a sunscreen with synthetic UV filters like avobenzone? Put that on first.

Now I’m telling you to apply ALL kinds of sunscreens AFTER moisturizer.

Why the change of heart, I hear you ask?

Why I Used To Apply Sunscreen Before Moisturizer

When I first started getting into skincare, I stumbled on the YouTube channel of Dr. Neal Schultz, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Manhattan.

He taught me that synthetic UV filters like avobenzone need to touch the skin so the chemical reaction that activates them can occur. If you were to put them on after moisturizer, they wouldn’t touch the skin, right?

(P.S. This chemical reaction is just the sunscreen settling down nicely to create an even film on the skin. Sunscreen can do that even when applied after moisturizer).

Thing is, the more I researched about sunscreen, the weirder this theory seemed. Dr Schultz is pretty much the only one promoting it.

Now, I’m not saying he’s lying or anything. I’m sure he has the best intentions at heart. But even the professionals can get it wrong sometimes. This is what I think is happening here.

Related: Chemical VS Physical Sunscreen: What’s The Difference?

Shop My Fave Sunscreens

Why Sunscreen Is Always The Last Step In Your Skincare Routine

Dr Neil Schultz aside, every other expert I consulted said that sunscreen – no matter what UV filters it uses – is ALWAYS the LAST step in your skincare routine.

The reason is simple: scientists test the effectiveness of your sunscreen by applying it last. They don’t get creative and apply sunscreen under moisturizer to see if it works as well.

If that’s how they do it, it’s good enough for me.

P.S. To be fair, scientists don’t use 10 layers of products and apply sunscreen on top. They tend to keep their routine pretty basic. That’s why I only use cleanser, vitamin C serum and sunscreen in the morning.

Related: What Skincare Products Are Better Used At Night?

The Bottom Line

It doesn’t matter what sunscreen you’re using. Always apply it as the last step in your morning skincare routine.

Do you apply sunscreen before or after moisturizer? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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34 comments

Sandra L May 3, 2011 - 1:29 pm

Hi! I’ve visited your blog a few times, and I’m loving it, however I never commented. But I had to make a comment on this post. It makes so much sense to put chemical sunscreen directly onto the skin! And yet I always put my moisturizer first. It might also explain why some sunscreen lotions are difficult to apply after moisturizer, they seem to make rolls (I don’t know how to explain this better) and don’t sink into the skin. Thank you so much for this post!

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beautifulwithbrains May 4, 2011 - 7:50 am

Sandra, thank you for your comment. I’m glad to hear that you enjoy my blog and I hope you’ll stick around. 🙂 I know what you mean, the sunscreen can go on uneven and patchy on top of some moisturizers, especially rich ones, which isn’t good as all the areas need to be equally protected. That’s another reason why it is better to apply chemical sunscreens first.

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Eli May 3, 2011 - 3:22 pm

Actually, I’ve stopped using a moisturiser before sunscreen… I just think it’s too much – there are moisturising ingredients in the sunscreen as well, so no need to layer products. I’m now considering buying a sunscreen for oily skin (Uriage Hyseac or SVR Lysalpha), because they also have mattifying properties. I know they’re not meant to be used instead of a daily cream, but I just hate the feeling of several products on my skin 🙁

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beautifulwithbrains May 3, 2011 - 6:21 pm

Eli, if the sunscreen you’re using as moisturizing properties, then a moisturizer isn’t really necessary. On very hot days when I don’t want to wear too many products on my skin I skip the moisturizer and wear only sunscreen too. If it works well for your skin, why not?

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Trisha May 3, 2011 - 6:34 pm

Yeah, I’ve made that mistake. 😉 But, like Eli, I now tend to use SPFs that double as moisturizers. So, no more problems.

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beautifulwithbrains May 3, 2011 - 7:51 pm

Trisha, me too. I think it is a very common mistake. 😉 And that’s a great solution. 🙂

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La Bisbetica May 3, 2011 - 10:11 pm

I’ve made this mistake too… 🙁 Well, tomorrow I’ll follow the right sequence!
I’d like to use a moisturizer with medium/high SPF, but it seems that here in Italy only anti-aging and high end products have good SPF.

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beautifulwithbrains May 4, 2011 - 7:44 am

La Bisbetica, I know, it is so difficult to find a good sunscreen that doesn’t break the bank here. It’s so unfair. 🙁 But at least you know when to apply it to get the best out of it. 🙂

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Ozana May 4, 2011 - 8:20 am

I was doing the same mistake as I wanted to use an antioxidant cream under the sunscreen. And I also use a very light serum SkinCeuticals Vitamin C, E, Ferulic. Do you think I can still put that under the sunscreen since it says everywhere that Vit C, E and Ferulic enhance the effectiveness of the sunscreen (and to put it after will not work since the texture is much lighter than that of the sunscreen)? Thanks.

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beautifulwithbrains May 4, 2011 - 9:45 am

Ozana, serums with very lightweight textures can be applied before sunscreen as they won’t compromise its efficacy. But moisturizers and serum with a richer texture should be applied afterwards as those do get in the way and prevent the sunscreen from getting into contact with the skin properly. Hope this helps.

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Vonvon May 4, 2011 - 11:52 am

I just checked most of my sunscreens contain Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. So I have been using it the right way.

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beautifulwithbrains May 4, 2011 - 12:42 pm

Vonvon, that’s great. 🙂

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Dee May 4, 2011 - 7:10 pm

Haha, I always apply my sunscreen after my moisturizer, but thankfully, it has zinc/titanium dioxide. Nice post Gio, always learn new things from you!

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beautifulwithbrains May 4, 2011 - 7:23 pm

Dee, no problem then hehe. Thanks, I’m glad you find my posts helpful. 🙂

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Prettykitty May 11, 2011 - 6:17 pm

Too much sunscreen can cause ricketts!

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beautifulwithbrains May 11, 2011 - 6:54 pm

Prettykitty, yes but scientific studies show that 30 minutes of sun exposure a week are enough to get all the Vitamin D we need. The rest of the time it’s better to wear sunscreen. 🙂

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Prettykitty May 12, 2011 - 9:19 pm

No offense but thats nuts!!!!!!! We DO NOT need to wear sunscreen everyday!

How do we know if theres no proof! Think about that eh!

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beautifulwithbrains May 13, 2011 - 10:14 am

Prettykitty, none taken but there are proof that it is safer to wear sunscreen everyday. Here is a study that shows that daily use of sunscreen can prevent melanoma: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/29/3/257.abstract You will also find others if you look on sites like Pubmed. It is also a fact that UV rays cause premature aging and wearing sunscreen can prevent that too. You can choose not to wear sunscreen, but you’ll age a lot better and reduce the risk of getting cancer if you do. Again, there is a lot of research proving this but posting all the studies would take too much time. Just look on Pubmd. 😉

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Stavroula Plag May 18, 2011 - 8:55 pm

I have oily skin, so my sunscreen is my moisturizer as well 😉 Good post though, I learned something new 🙂 x

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beautifulwithbrains May 19, 2011 - 9:33 am

Stavroula, no problem then. 😉 And I’m glad you found the post useful anyway. 🙂

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Adia December 31, 2011 - 8:14 am

I never know this fact before ,thank you so much!
(In winter time) is it ok if I use only moisturizer with spf (It’s only spf15) alone or I still need to apply sunscreen too?

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beautifulwithbrains January 1, 2012 - 9:28 pm

Adia, you’re welcome.

It would always be best to use sunscreen too, but as long as you spend most of your time indoors, and away from windows too, a moisturizer that provides full spectrum protection should be just about enough. But be sure to apply it generously.

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Janessa May 22, 2012 - 2:51 am

Lots of comments! Shows how important of a post this is. ;D I don’t think I’ve had much of a problem with using moisturizer under sunscreen because I used to not use moisturizer a few years ago and sunscreen. By the time I knew to use sunscreen, I knew what to do anyways. I wish someone had told me the importance of sun protection earlier. I have really pale skin and well, all I can do is protect it from further damage.

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beautifulwithbrains May 22, 2012 - 6:21 am

Janessa, I started using sunscreen in my twenties and I wish someone had told me to start using it sooner too. It’s a shame that its importance wasn’t that known by most people till a few years ago.

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Janessa May 22, 2012 - 2:17 pm

I agree. Your skin looks pretty amazing though, honestly. I’ve seen so many people in their early twenties have skin looking a decade older. I guess the California sun has its effect too, and the tanning fad! Still, there’s many other things to worry about and I usually don’t think too much about what I wish I could change because that just depresses me. Think of what you can still do! 😀

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beautifulwithbrains May 22, 2012 - 6:31 pm

Janessa, thanks. I think it’s because from the age of 14 I started spending more and more time indoors so the damage was limited. And I now use products with retinoids and antioxidants which are good for skin, but I can’t help thinking about the damage done in the early years. I agree with you, though, let’s think about what we can do to prevent and limit the damage from now on. 🙂

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Titus November 20, 2012 - 12:20 pm

Hi I got question about mosturizers that are water base gel type wherein you can barely feel any traces left on your face because it’s so light your skin absorbs it immediately. Can this be an exception to that rule. Thanks

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beautifulwithbrains November 20, 2012 - 9:05 pm

Titus, I think that would depend on the ingredients. It doesn’t matter how lightweight a moisturizer is, if it contains ingredients whose molecules are too big to penetrate the skin, those are gonna remain on the surface and prevent your sunscreen from working properly.

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Titus November 20, 2012 - 12:32 pm

And I got one more question , you mentioned that applying a moisturizer before sunscreen interferes with chemicals binding with the skin, so does it mean that it’s good as having no suncreen at all if it’s applied incorrectly. I’m in a tropical area so maximum skin protection is a must. This info scared me because I got a lot guts to go out in the sun thinking my sunscreen is effectively blocking uv rays. Just to find out I’m mistaken.

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beautifulwithbrains November 20, 2012 - 9:14 pm

Titus, applying moisturizer before a chemical sunscreen will definitely affect its performance. I wouldn’t say it will make it completely useless, but it will affect the level of protection you’re getting. Unfortunately, this is a very common mistake. From now on, try to apply it before moisturizer or switch to a physical sunscreen. Those can be applied afterwards with no problems.

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Titus December 14, 2012 - 1:06 pm

Thank you for the tips, I already switched to a physical sunscreen.

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beautifulwithbrains December 14, 2012 - 8:00 pm

Titus, great! And you’re welcome.

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Zoha November 8, 2017 - 9:12 am

My skin gets tanned even after i apply sunscream. What does this mean. Is it bcz the cream is not working bcz i have to spend 4 to 5 hour in scorching sun

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Gio November 26, 2017 - 12:21 pm

Zoha, a little tan is too be expected because every sunscreen lets between 1-3% UV rays through. A sunscreen that stops 100% of UV rays hasn’t been invented yet. But if your tan is getting quite darker, I’d recommend you choose a sunscreen with a higher SPF and reapply it more frequently.

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