Do Cosmetics With SPF Provide Adequate Sun Protection?

by Gio
cosmetics with spf provide adequate sun protection

If there’s a step I wish I could eliminate from my skincare routine is sunscreen.

It’s thick. Greasy. White.

Once I’ve finished patting it on (this diva that doesn’t like to be rubbed), my skin feels heavy and has taken on a paler hue.

That’s my cue to start looking for a better formula. But, geez, why are all the lightweight formulas loaded with alcohol?

Surely, there must be a better way.

Cosmetics with SPF! Moisturizers. BB Creams. Foundations. Powders. All loaded with UV filters.

They don’t suffocate your skin.

They don’t leave a greasy residue all over your face.

They don’t turn you into Caspar the Ghost.

And you’re using them anyway.

Why bother with sunscreens when your moisturizer with SPF does the job better and saves you time in the morning, too? (I know, you’d love to spend those 5 more minutes in bed, instead).

There’s a catch…

Why Cosmetics With SPF Aren’t A Good Alternative To Sunscreen…

Sunscreen is different from all the other cosmetic products. A pea-size amount of moisturizer makes your skin soft and smooth. A few drops of foundation even out your skintone. A thin layer of powder keeps oil and shine at bay.

Sunscreen is a lot more demanding. You need to apply 2.0mg/cm² to get the SPF stated on the label.

This equals roughly:

  • 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen
  • 7 layers of foundation
  • 14 layers of powder

That’s a whole lotta powder right there! Can you imagine applying that much? Your face’d start looking all cakey after the second layer.

Not to mention, you’d have to reapply all of that every couple of hours or so.

Sunscreen looks like the easy option now, doesn’t it?

How effective is your sunscreen? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Sunscreen Audit” Worksheet and find out if your sunscreen is really up to the job:

… But They’re Not Totally Useless Either

Let’s get one thing straight once and for all: cosmetics with SPF are NOT an alternative to sunscreen. You can’t dust on your powder with SPF30 and expect it to keep you well-protected all day. It won’t even keep you well-protected for an hour.

But, there are times when you can’t reapply your sunscreen. Maybe you put it on religiously every morning but forgot to keep a spare bottle in your bag with you for reapplication. It happens.

If you really have no alternative, using a powder or even moisturizer with SPF is better than nothing. Anything is better than nothing.

Just don’t use it as an excuse to skip your sunscreen.

What If You Use Multiple Skincare And Makeup Products With SPF?

I know what you’re thinking…

“But, what if I’m using a moisturizer with SPF20, a foundation with SPF15 and a powder with SPF30? Won’t SPF65 keep me protected enough?”

Sorry to burst your bubble, but you’re not getting SPF65. You can’t add up sunscreen like that.

If you use more than one product with SPF, you only get the SPF of the highest product you apply. In this case, 30.

But, only as long as you apply the required 14 layers.

Nope, there’s not getting around this one, ladies. Cosmetics with SPF are NOT a valid alternative to sunscreen.

Related: Sunscreen Math: Can You Add Up SPF?

Olay Total Effects moisturiser with spf 15

My Technique For Optimal Sun Protection

Every morning, I apply a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen, like Badger Balm SPF30 Unscented Cream. Sometimes, I’ll follow up with a foundation or powder with SPF, but I never take any notice of the number. I know their SPF won’t do me much good.

Every few hours, I try to be a good girl and reapply the sunscreen. If, for some reason, that’s not possible, I’ll use a powder with SPF. It’s my last resort, not my first.

Plus, I’m a weirdo who avoids the sun like the plague. You need to reapply sunscreen because it gets deactivated by sunlight. If you spend most of your time indoors, away from big windows, it won’t deteriorate as quickly.

If I know I’m spending a lot of time outside that day, I’ll bring a bottle of sunscreen with me and touch up. Relying on powders alone isn’t skin smart.

Related: How To Reapply Sunscreen When You’re Wearing Makeup

The Bottom Line

It was too good to be true: cosmetics with SPF aren’t a good substitute for sunscreen. You’d have to apply too many layers to get the SPF stated on the packaging. It just ain’t worth it.

If you’re struggling to find a good sunscreen, check out my top picks:

Do you rely on cosmetics with SPF to protect you from UV rays? If so, now that you know the truth, will be switching to sunscreen? Leave a comment below and let me know.



All Women Stalker March 9, 2010 - 10:00 pm

I should seriously get into this habit. I’m almost 27 and should take putting on sunscreen seriously. Thanks for the info.

Amy March 10, 2010 - 1:16 am

I love love love the sun and love to spend my time in it. I also love smooth skin!

I noticed the beginnings of sun damage (little sun spots on the tops of my cheekbones) a couple years ago and immediately began using a broad spectrum sunscreen and an AHA product twice daily. If I’m diligent with both products, the spots are invisible. A single day out in the sun/water – unprotected- brings them right back and takes a few months to get rid of them again!

Anyway, I use Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 55 lotion (not cheap) and Walgreen Alpha Hydroxy Face Cream (ridiculously cheap and a miracle product when used properly). I also wear sunglasses and sometimes even hats when I spend the day outside.

I’d love to find a less expensive alternative to Shiseido … I’ll check out La Roche Posay.

Thanks for the post!

.-= Amy´s last blog ..Oscars! My Guilty Pleasure. =-.

Dao March 10, 2010 - 1:34 am

I use Neutrogena Pure Screen SPF 60+ because it is a physical sunblock. My skin is sensitive to chemical sunscreen. I wear it everyday before stepping out of the house and like you, I spend most of my days indoor.
.-= Dao´s last blog ..Hotel Room and Tiredness =-.

Tavia March 10, 2010 - 5:50 am

Great post! I always tried to buy creams and moisturizers that contain SPF and I’m also using foundations that has SPF. What I never did is applying sunscreen before I apply any face cream. My complexion is kind of oily anyway and I’m afraid if I’m going to put sunscreen it will get oily much faster. What do you think?
.-= Tavia´s last blog ..Essie The Art of Spring 2010 Collection Review – Round-Up =-.

beautifulwithbrains March 10, 2010 - 8:46 am

All Women Stalker, you’re welcome and you should! Sunscreen is essential to protect our skin from the sun, which can cause premature aging, sun spots and skin cancer too. You skin will thank you if you start applying sunscreen regularly. 🙂

beautifulwithbrains March 10, 2010 - 12:59 pm

Amy, I love the sun, just not spending time in it lol. I’m sorry you devloped sun spots, that’s awful but I’m glad that you’ve found a solution for them. I think when spending a lot of time outside, it’s essential not just to wear sunscreen but also use hats, sunglasses and clothes as protection against the sun rays.

LA Roche Posay sunscreens are usually really good. I’ve used a couple and they contain a mix of physical and chemical sunscreens and they don’t feel sticky on the skin. I think the price is pretty reasonable too.

beautifulwithbrains March 10, 2010 - 1:18 pm

Dao, I’m glad you found a sunscreen you like. The Neutrogena one sounds really good. I prefer physical blockers too but during the winter months, it’s hard to find any sunscreens at all here so at the moment I’m using one that contains both physical and chemical ingredients. I can’t complain though as it works well.

beautifulwithbrains March 10, 2010 - 5:06 pm

Tavia, those products you are using are fine if you only spend a very limited time outside, otherwise they aren’t enough to protect skin from the sun. A sunscreen should always be used daily but some can be too greasy, clogging pores and causing breakouts, which is a problem esp for those with oily skin. But then, by not using sunscreen, the sun rays will damage your skin, causing wrinkles and sun spots.

I think the best thing is to look for sunscreens formulated for your skin type like LaRoche Posay SPF 60 Fluide Extreme, which is a bit pricey but lots of people with oily skin swear by it, or Dermatalogica Oil Free Matte Block SPF 20. This one I haven’t tried myself but it claims to absorb oil and give skin a matte finish so it may be worth checking. Hope this helps.

Chic Enjoyed Reading! | Chic Profile March 14, 2010 - 9:55 am

[…] Do cosmetics with SPF offer enough sun protection? – Beautiful with Brains […]

tina June 18, 2010 - 10:19 am

dear Giorgia, if i apply a foundation with SPF 15, should i apply an additional layer of sunscreen with SPF 50 on top of it? is the foundation of SPF 15 alone effective enough for normal daily use?

beautifulwithbrains June 18, 2010 - 4:46 pm

Tina, I think it’s best to a broad spectrum sunscreen underneath foundation or any other cosmetic with sunscreen. That’s because to get the SPF stated on the packaging, you would need to apply several layers of your foundation, which could make your skin look very unnatural. I guess it’d be ok to use only the foundation if you’re spending very limited time outdoors (like walking from your office to your car for example), otherwise, use sunscreen as well.

Josh September 3, 2010 - 9:45 pm

It’s actually only 1/4 teaspoon of sunscreen required for the face (and the same again for your neck). Testing is standardised across the world and it’s done using 2mg of product per cm2 which is approximately 1/4 teaspoon for an average sized face.

beautifulwithbrains September 4, 2010 - 9:08 pm

Josh, thanks for your comment. I had always heard 1 teaspoon but I did some further research after reading your comment and you’re right. The recommended amount for the face is about 1/3, 1/4 teaspoon. Still, you’d have to apply several layers of foundation or powder to achieve that anyway.

Josh September 5, 2010 - 7:18 am

Totally! There’s no way you’d be able to apply enough makeup to achieve that. My feelings are that SPF numbers should be based upon real-world application rates. So, a powder with SPF would be rated based upon the average amount somebody is likely to apply. This of course would mean most would be lucky to achieve SPF 2, and no doubt the cosmetics industry would lobby hard to stop that from happening, so it’s unlikely to ever happen. They should be forced to specify how much you’d need to apply though – we are, after all, talking about peoples health when we’re talking about sunscreens!

beautifulwithbrains September 5, 2010 - 1:20 pm

Josh, I completely agree with you. There are lots of people that buy cosmetics with sunscreen or even just sunscreen and apply a thin layer cos they think it’s enough to protect them from the sun when it isn’t. The correct way and amount to apply it should definitely be specified but sadly I can’t see that happen anytime soon.

Lan October 5, 2010 - 12:25 pm

I have learned so much reading these posts thank you, I have a question and hope its does not sound silly, someone suggest that when i go out in the evening, I should also use sun protection, but there are no sun in the evening? so do I really need to use sun protection in the evening? i do suffer from hipermigmentation. Thanks

beautifulwithbrains October 5, 2010 - 8:49 pm

Lan, I’m so glad you find these posts useful. 🙂 And your question is not silly at all. I know there are people that wear sunscreen at night because the lightening and some computer screens can emit some UV rays, but these are so minimal compared to that emitted by the sun rays that sunscreen isn’t really necessary. Protecting your skin from the sun is important, but wearing sunscreen at night is just taking things too far in my opinion and there’s no need to get paranoid about it. Of course you can use sunscreen in the evening if you prefer, but skipping it won’t make your skin or hyperpigmentation worse. But it will save you lots of money.

Angela December 8, 2010 - 11:48 am

La Roche Posay do a tinted version of their SPF50 melt in cream. I use that in Summer with just concealer for any extra red marks. Otherwise, it’s their usual SPF50 cream, every single day. I’m now 45 (eeek) and barely have any wrinkles – just some crinkles when I smile. Institut Esthederm (another French company) make great sun-intolerent products, although it’s very expensive and you have to ask a specialist at the store since it doesn’t come labelled SPF30, 50, 60 etc.

Shisheido do an SPF30 foundation (I’m in London, I think the SPF is higher in the ones in the US) which, in Winter, is great if you are just going out for a short while. London…you know..not much sun! Finally, Peter Thomas Roth, which is a US firm I think, do a mineral SPF30 and 40 which is great for carrying around with you when you need to nip out for lunch or something. Yes, I am SPF fanatical!

beautifulwithbrains December 9, 2010 - 7:31 pm

Angela, I am a SPF fanatical, too. It is so important to wear sun protection to keep our skin lookier younger and healthier! Thanks for all your recommendations, I’ll check them out. 🙂

fiona January 11, 2013 - 7:59 pm

hi, your post are really helpful , I can’t stop reading them. You are doing a huge job there.. 🙂 anyway, I wanted to ask something that might sound silly, but still. I just bought Sunscreen – L’Oreal – Solar Expertise Active Anti-Wrinkle & Brown Spot Matte Fluid Protection SPF50+ ,and it seems to cause acne on my face. My question is ,despite causing breakouts ,does this sunscreen still protects my skin from UV?

beautifulwithbrains January 11, 2013 - 10:00 pm

Fiona, thanks. I’m glad you enjoy them. And that’s not a silly question. I’m sure there are many others that are wondering the same thing. Yes, the sunscreen still protects from UV rays even if it is causing breakouts, which I’m very sorry to hear. And because of it, I think you should switch to something else that offers the same protection without side effects. 🙂

S July 23, 2017 - 8:05 am

“Every morning, I apply a broad spectrum mineral sunscreen, like Badger Balm SPF30 Unscented Cream. Sometimes, I’ll follow up with a foundation or powder with SPF, but I never take any notice of the number. I know their SPF won’t do me much good.

Every few hours, I try to be a good girl and reapply the sunscreen. If, for some reason, that’s not possible, I’ll use a powder with SPF. It’s my last resort, not my first.

Plus, I’m a weirdo who avoids the sun like the plague. You need to reapply sunscreen because it gets deactivated by sunlight. If you spend most of your time indoors, away from big windows, it won’t deteriorate as quickly.”

I think you mean that it will deteriorate if it is a sunscreen with “chemical” filters like avobenzone.
If it is like Zinc oxide it will not deteriorate, so it is a great option for ladies who wear makeup and go to work and are not swimming and sweating(well, that’s assuming u can find a formulation that plays nicely with makeup lol).

It makes sense that moisturizer with spf would not be effective as sunscreen if its spf is under 15 and it lacks UVA absorbers (and you were like swimming),buteven if it was well formulated and was at least an spf 15 or 30 and offered excellent UVA protection,like if it contained zinc oxide,it would not be effective in protecting you and living up to the spf rating on the bottle if you didn’t apply enough.

So if the reason “that moisturizer with spf should not be used as sunscreen” is based on the idea that it is not good for sun protection because you may not want to put the adequate amount on (and if it is a chemical sunscreen, reapply it!),couldn’t the same be said for “normal,plain sunscreen”? If it is all about getting proper protection, assuming the moisurizer would be less heavy and more cosmetically elegant, wouldn’t you more likely want to put 1’4 tsp of that on than of casper mask grainy stuff spf that sucks under makeup? You save money too,in not having to buy an extra product.

Like lets say there are two products. One is an spf moisturizer,and the other is just sunscreen. And they both have ten percent zinc oxide.You have the option of applying 1/4 tsp of the spf moisturizer or 1/4 of the just sunscreen. Assuming that you were not going swimming or swimming or strenuously exercising, why would the spf moisturizer not be enough protection? Doesn’t make sense. They both use the same active ingredient and you put on enough. One is just more moisturizing.

Feels like companies just want you to buy more.

Gio July 28, 2017 - 5:53 pm

S, I recommend you reapply all types of sunscreens because, even if they don’t get deactivated by sunlight, you can always brush them off your face. Reapplication ensures your skin always has an uniform coat on.

I agree that if you apply enough moisturizer with SPF, you do get adequate sun protection. But most people don’t do that. Again, it depends on the formula. Some are really inelegant when you apply too much. Even so, you’ll run out of that moisturizer pretty fast so you’ll have to buy more anyway.

Natasha December 30, 2018 - 2:53 pm

I thought I was really good at using sunscreen (at least on my face) until discovering your blog at 32. I’ve been using tinted moisturisers with SPF since I was a teenager. Luckily I don’t spend much time in the sun, so hopefully there hasn’t been too much damage.

Gio January 6, 2019 - 12:57 pm

Natasha, we’ve all been there! Don’t worry, if you didn’t spend too much time in the sun, UV rays didn’t do you much harm. I started wearing sunscreen every day only in my mid-20s and before that, I just avoided the sun. I’ve heard derms examine my level of sun damage and it wasn’t much. Phewww! But just use a proper sunscreen every day from now on if you want to keep it that way! 🙂

Nicole J March 16, 2019 - 11:55 pm

I’m not sure I understand the difference between sunscreen and moisturizer with SPF. Assuming you use the same amount with the same SPF…

Gio March 21, 2019 - 4:59 pm

Nicole, if you were to apply 1/4 of a teaspoon of a SPF moisturizer, then there’s no difference. It’d work as sunscreen. But I know very few people who use that much moisturizer.

TJ April 26, 2019 - 12:48 pm

Here’s what I don’t get: how to re-apply sunscreen if you’re wearing foundation. Surely if you layer more sunscreen over your foundation you’ll just be adding more gunk to your skin? To remove, and reapply all your products throughout the day also seems mad.
The dream is to not wear foundation at all.. but that’s not practical for most people.

Any advice?

Gio June 5, 2019 - 12:55 pm

Comments are closed.