What Should I Apply First: Moisturizer Or Sunscreen?

by Gio
apply moisturizer or sunscreen first

EDIT: This post was edited with the latest scientific information on 21/07/2017.

Moisturizer or sunscreen: what comes first? That’s the chicken and egg question of skincare. Everyone you ask seems to have a different answer.

Sunscreen always goes last.

Nope, it depends on what type of sunscreen you use.

Just put it on whenever, who cares?

I do. Because sunscreen is serious business. You get the order wrong, you may unwittingly reduce its effectiveness!

So, what should you do? Let’s see what the experts recommend:

Theory #1: Sunscreen Always Goes Last

Both skincare gurus Paula Begoun and Nicki Zevola Benvenuti of Future Derm agree: sunscreen is ALWAYS the last step in your daytime skincare routine.

This, Paula’s argues, is how scientists test the effectiveness of your sunscreen. They don’t get creative and apply sunscreen under moisturizer to see if it works as well.

If tests say that sunscreen on top of moisturizer works, that’s good enough for me. This is the theory that I’ll be following from now on.

Theory #2: It Depends On What Type Of Sunscreen You’re Using

Did you know there are two types of sunscreens?:

  1. Chemical*: it uses synthetic UV filters, such as avobenzone, mexoryl, and octocrylene.
  2. Mineral: it uses mineral UV filters, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

The theory goes that chemical sunscreens need to touch the skin so the chemical reaction that activates them can occur. Any chemical sunscreen goes before moisturizer while mineral sunscreens can still be applied last.

The only one who promotes this theory, as far as I know, is Dr. Neal Schultz, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Manhattan.

When I first started this blog and wrote this post, I was a huge fan of Dr Schultz’s work but, as my research about sunscreen continued, I’ve started to question some of his conclusions.

(Science isn’t a done science. New information can always come up to refute approved theories. When that happens, we should revisit our conclusions rather than standing firm on our positions for fear of looking stupid).

During my research, I couldn’t find any evidence that chemical sunscreens need to be activated by the skin. If that were true, those handy UV bracelets that tell you when your sunscreen is starting to lose its effectiveness wouldn’t work with chemical sunscreens. But, they do.

The only reaction that happens when you apply ANY sunscreen to your skin is the creation of a protective film. As the sunscreen dries, it forms a film on the skin that makes it harder for it to be wiped off.

This film takes around 20 minutes to form. That’s why your mum always told you to apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before leaving the house.

If you’ve been following Dr Schultz’s theory (I did for a while) and applied sunscreen first, I don’t think you have everything to worry about as long as a) you’ve waited for the sunscreen to dry properly and b) you gently pat on the rest of your skincare on top (that’s just common sense, anyway).

Related: Chemical VS Physical Sunscreen: Which One Is Right For You?

The Bottom Line

After examining the latest research, I now recommend that you apply sunscreen as the last step of your daytime skincare routine. Always.

Note:
*Technically, all sunscreens are chemicals. That’s because everything made of matter is a chemical. Even water. Even zinc oxide. But, recently, chemical sunscreen has become synonymous with non-mineral sunscreen, so that’s how I’m using it here.

Do you apply your sunscreen before or after your moisturizer?

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463 comments

Christina September 6, 2016 - 8:30 pm

Very informative. Thank you! I switched to applying my sunscreen first a few months ago. I’ve been wearing sunscreen on a daily basis for over 10 years. I’m in my forties now. I wish someone would have preached sunscreen to me when I was in my teens!

Reply
Gio September 6, 2016 - 9:30 pm

Christina, you and me both! It’s a shame no one was talking about sunscreen when we have growing up. But, at least we know better now. 🙂

Glad you found this article useful.

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Pavithra December 22, 2016 - 9:59 am

That was very informative . Can I apply my La Roche-Posay anthelios XL sunscreen on the skin around my eyes?

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Gio December 22, 2016 - 5:10 pm

Pavithra, glad you found it useful. I’d check the packaging. If you can’t use it there, it’ll tell you.

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Sam April 30, 2017 - 2:37 pm

Hello,

Thank you for the helpful information.
I have been using a physical sunscreen for several years because of an eye (cornea) condition which makes it impossible to tolerate some chemicals in all chemical sunsceens. Finally, it’s getting easier to find/buy good , affordable mineral sunscreen (Frankly, i can’t understand why anyone would choose chemical sunscreens).
I have also been using a powder (tinted to match skin) with a high content of titanium oxide and zinc oxyde.
In the morning, i do my usual wash, serum, moisturizer, liquid/lotion mineral sunscreen.( like a primer) I then do foundation and makeup and top it off with mineral sunscreen powder. My skin looks good and i feel my face is protected . If i’m in the sun for a longer period, i reapply during the day. The powder is in a tube with brush applicator.
Could you comment on mineral powder suncreen and it’s proper and efficient use?
Sam

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Gio May 5, 2017 - 7:19 pm

Sam, I hear ya! I too think is great that mineral sunscreens are finally getting the recognition they deserve. As for powders, they’re not my fave way to get sun protection because you have to apply a TON of it to get the SPF stated on the compact and it’s brushed off easily. But they’re the most convenient way to touch up so if the choice is between them or nothing, go with them.

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Hana June 15, 2017 - 6:42 pm

Hi,
I am a little confused when they say reapply the sunscreen every 2-3 hours. We only need to do that when there’s no makeup on right?

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Gio June 17, 2017 - 12:30 pm

Hana, UV filters lose their effectiveness overtime when exposed to sunlight. The longer you stay in the sun, the sooner the sunscreen stops working. At the beach, you should reapply it every two hours. If it’s cloudy and you spend most of the day indoors, you can apply after 5 or 6 hours. Even if you have makeup on.

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Laura May 24, 2017 - 1:12 pm

Thanks, this is really helpful! I couldn’t find any sort of cogent information on the web (some dermatologists saying always put sunscreen on first, others saying always put it on last?!) so I emailed the customer service department at Ultrasun to check (I use their -SPF Face 50+ tinted–mostly chemical filters). They told me to always put the sunscreen on first, and other products over, but it seems so weird to me putting light serums and eye creams over heavy sunscreen, plus I don’t like to skip the moisturiser stage because I find the sunscreen dries my skin a bit. Since it’s a tinted sunscreen, I can actually see the product rubbing off when I put moisturiser over the top (even when I pat a light layer on, gently), which doesn’t fill me with confidence! I also tend to put sunscreen over my make-up if I’m out playing sports in the evening in summer; I guess does that mean it’s ineffective?

Would you have any recommendations for a tinted sunscreen that is hydrating enough to use as a moisturiser (so I can skip the step entirely!) but which also offers really high UVA protection (the one I’m using now also has infrared protection)? Or alternatively, a sunscreen that can be re-applied over make-up and is suitable for sports? Probably a big ask, but I’m having a bit of a crisis realising that, despite having been so diligent with sun protection for the past few years, I’ve probably not been as protected as I thought due to applying it over moisturiser or over make-up! 🙁

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Gio May 27, 2017 - 6:03 pm

Laura, I’m afraid I couldn’t find a sunscreen that fits all your requirements (moisturizing, high UVA protection and water-resistant) that these are your best bet (if you don’t mind they’re not tinted): Banana Boat Protect & Hydrate Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 and Kiss My Face
Oat Protein Complex 30 Broad Spectrum SPF 30. If you want to apply it after skincare, make sure to wait a while for the other products to sink in.

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Laura May 31, 2017 - 7:53 am

That’s great, I’ll give them a go. Thank you very much for the tip! 🙂

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Gio June 3, 2017 - 3:25 pm

My pleasure! 🙂

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Nabila. N October 9, 2017 - 12:13 am

Thankyouu so much for the information, i find this article helpful for me…. Finally its answer all of my question about What should i put first on my face… Like sunscreen or moisturizer first,
And i know its late.. But have you guys know biore had watery base sunscreen?
It called Biore UV Aqua rich Watery essence
It has SPF 50+ pa++++, it works really nice.. Seriously…., it will absorb very well to your skin.. Cause it watery base, and i recommend this sunscreen… Not sticky and also not greasy at all.
It doesn’t contain ingredient to moisturize your face… But you will feel your face smooth and moist~~~

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Gio October 14, 2017 - 10:28 am

Nabila, that sounds amazing! Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

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Liana July 18, 2017 - 6:35 am

Hello from sunny Greece 🙂 This is a place where you definitely need a sunscreen.
I always apply my sunscreen first because for me, it is … the logical way to do it. I don’t wear makeup so it’s sunscreen, face cream and, off I go. Like so many people, I didn’t realise how important the use of sunscreen is until I reached 50 and got somehow wiser 🙂
I have just come across your page. Three words come to mind: “congratulations” and “thank you”! 🙂

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Gio July 22, 2017 - 11:05 am

Liana, thanks for your kind words. Sounds like a good way to do it if it works for you. The important thing is that you slather it on. 🙂

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ilovehorseyrides August 9, 2017 - 3:36 pm

I always put mine on last. Lotion first, then, then thick cream, then sunscreen. I am an eczema and sun sensitivity sufferer. Pp

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Gio August 12, 2017 - 7:23 am

Ilovehorseyrides, your order is perfect 🙂

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Shiva September 14, 2017 - 2:14 pm

I m shiva…how to use sunscreen and moistures cream at same time .Tell…how to use both at same time …plz..

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Gio September 17, 2017 - 7:59 am

Shiva, I”m afraid you can’t use both at the same time, unless you go for a moisturising sunscreen. Otherwise, you need to apply your moisturiser first and your sunscreen second.

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PB September 1, 2017 - 5:11 pm

Hi there, thank you for this post! I use coconut oil as a moisturizer on my face and neck, will this have an effect on the sunscreen absorbing into/setting on my skin?

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Gio September 2, 2017 - 9:43 pm

Pb, no it won”t. Just wait until the oil has absorbed before applying sunscreen and you should be fine.

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SURESH PAUL September 17, 2017 - 1:20 am

Sir I use first sunscreen then faceclin and then a skin lighting cream is it right way. ..please answer me? ???

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Gio September 23, 2017 - 3:50 pm

Suresh, I’d use first faceclin, then the skin lightening cream and then the sunscreen.

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Ebby September 23, 2017 - 8:54 am

I use eucerin spf7 lotion both on body and face. And sunscreen spf60. Should I apply the lotion first or the sunscreen forts please. Thanks

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Gio September 23, 2017 - 3:15 pm

Ebby, use the lotion first and after that sunscreen.

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Ebby September 23, 2017 - 8:59 am

“First” I intended to write but not “forts” please. Thank you please.

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Gio September 23, 2017 - 3:16 pm

Ebby, no worries. Typos happen. 🙂

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Ebby September 23, 2017 - 9:16 am

I am so so happy and somehow relieved coming across you on this platform. I just believe most of my skin care problems are already solved. Bless you. A job well done pls

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Gio September 23, 2017 - 3:17 pm

Ebby, thank you. Glad you like my blog. 🙂

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Natasha September 28, 2017 - 9:04 pm

Your information on sun screen is very informative. My question is would you use serums, and moisuriser on top of chemical sunscreen ? Also do you need it ? Or do sunscreens act as a moisuriser ? I’m turning 40 this year, and have very good screen, but have only used Olay moisuriser for a year which has 30spf in it. Before a year ago I only ever used sun cream on holiday. Would you say it’s too late to use it now all the time ?

Kind regards

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Gio September 29, 2017 - 12:18 pm

Natasha, yes, you can use serums and moisturisers with chemical sunscreens, but apply them first.

That depends on your skin type. If your skin is normal or oily, then you may not need a separate moisturiser. Your sunscreen will do the job on its own. But if your skin feels a little dry from using the sunscreen alone, then yes, you need a moisturiser too.

Having said that, I’d encourage you to use your Olay moisturiser anyway because it has niacinamide, which moisturises, prevents wrinkles, soothes irritations, treats acne and brightens skin. I wouldn’t want to miss its benefits if I were you!

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Cherie October 15, 2017 - 8:41 am

Hi, thanks for sharing your research. I use a tinted moisturiser. Is this a problem to wear over sunblock? My products are: serum, sunblock,primer, tinted moisturiser, powder etc
I’m wondering if I should introduce a separate moisturiser after the serum and before the sunblock? My tinted moisturiser has a sun protection too but it is only a 15.

Thanks in advance

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Gio October 19, 2017 - 1:03 pm

Cherie, what you’re doing is fine. 🙂 Just applied your makeup on very gently so that it doesn’t rub your sunscreen off.

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Zeze October 31, 2017 - 10:57 am

Hi, my physical sunacreen is drying out my skin. Can i apply moisturizer after the sunscreen?

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Gio November 5, 2017 - 6:07 pm

Zeze, I’d apply it first or use a more moisturising sunscreen.

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Ann Chan November 15, 2017 - 11:05 am

Hi Gio!
I love yout post. It is very informative.
I do have a question for you.
In daytime, I really like to put petrolatum on my skin.
Since the texture of petrolatum is thicker, I apply it above sunscreen as my last step.

Do you think the sunscreen protection is unharmed, since petrolatums waxy texture can easily disolve the film.

Thank you so much.
I really appreciate the work you have done here and also your kindness to help people by providing your knowledge.

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Gio November 26, 2017 - 3:00 pm

Ann, is there a reason why you use vaseline on top of sunscreen? It’d be best if you used it at night.

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Sindhu November 15, 2017 - 3:55 pm

Hi..my skin is oily…I’m using only sunscreen lotion now a days..after applied sunscreen lotion my skin becoming so oily whole day…please help me how to control that oily

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Gio November 26, 2017 - 3:01 pm

Sindhu, I recommend you switch to a more lightweight sunscreen. You can also try using a salicylic acid exfoliant underneath the sunscreen.

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Rebecca Reilly November 28, 2017 - 7:56 pm

Gio , Hello.
Is there a sunscreen that is not greasy ?
And not expensive.?
Thank you

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Gio December 3, 2017 - 6:56 pm

Rebecca, yes there are many sunscreens that are cheap and non-greasy, especially Asian sunscreens. That’s because they use chemical filters.

If you want to stick to mineral sunscreens, a bit of greasiness is to be expected.

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Edith December 21, 2017 - 7:54 am

Thanks for the good information. Is there a difference between a sun screen and a water resistant moisturizing sun lotion?.

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Gio December 23, 2017 - 7:03 pm

Edith, as long as they contain UV filters that give you broad spectrum protection and you apply the recommended amount, both will do the job. But the moisturizing sun lotion will be more moisturizing. That’s great news if you have dry skin and bad news if you have oily skin.

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Janette January 15, 2018 - 12:07 pm

Hi. I use simple age resisting day cream with SPF15 and Ambre soldier sensitive advanced sun cream SPF50. How should I apply them?

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Gio January 19, 2018 - 1:47 pm

Janette, moisturiser first, sunscreen second.

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Bella February 6, 2018 - 5:00 am

Hi Im using theraderm bb white with sunblock… i used it with moisturizer at first then after put my bb white .. I found out that they have bb white with moisturizer.. and since my skin is very dry often times can i just put straight bb white with moisturizer without moisturizer on top? Because im too lazy to put many? Thank you for your help?

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Gio February 10, 2018 - 5:45 pm

Bella, I’m not sure I understand your question but if bb white with moisturiser isn’t leaving your skin dry, you can skip the moisturiser on top.

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Bella February 14, 2018 - 1:38 am

Oh okay thank you,, by the way bb white it has a sunblock spf50… anyway i mean if sunblock have moisturizer on it then i can put directly without moisturizer?

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Gio February 17, 2018 - 8:19 am

Yes, if your sunscreen has moisturiser, just use that. 🙂

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selina February 13, 2018 - 10:34 am

Hi Dear am my skin type is compensation i use different types of sunscreens over years but every time i use it it makes my skin color darker should i stop using it or should i keep using it and it well get use to it ??

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Gio February 17, 2018 - 8:15 am

Selina, sunscreen doesn’t make your skin colour darker. If your skin gets darker, it’ll likely because it got tanned, which means the sunscreen you’re using either isn’t powerful enough or you’re not reapplying it as often as you should.

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Bonnie Bliss February 25, 2018 - 2:59 am

Does this mean you can reapply chemical sunscreens over makeup? For example, put on moisturizer, then chemical sunscreen, then foundation in the morning, but put more chemical sunscreen over your foundation at lunchtime.

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Gio March 2, 2018 - 5:18 pm

Bonnie, yes you can do that. 🙂

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Shera March 1, 2018 - 10:18 pm

Hello, I’m using rosken skin repair vitamin E moisturiser right now. But I’m not really sure when should I apply it on my face since it contains mineral oil. Should I apply it before my sunscreen or after my sunscreen?

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Gio March 9, 2018 - 7:16 pm

Shera, you can apply it before sunscreen.

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dee March 4, 2018 - 1:19 pm

Hi Gio I would like to know if I need to reapply sunscreen every hour.

For example on a working day in the morning i use my skincare then use my sunscreen, then do i need to reapply before going out for lunch at 12 noon?

Thanks.

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Gio March 16, 2018 - 2:33 pm

Dee, I wouldn’t say any hour but it’s a certain a good idea to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. How often depends on how much sun exposure it gets. Check out this post for more info: http://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/is-it-really-necessary-to-reapply-sunscreen-every-2-or-3-hours/

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Shrreijit March 26, 2018 - 6:08 pm

Hello mam,
I m using lakme sun expert Spf 50. So can i apply fair&lovely before applying lakme sunscreen. As i use fair&lovely from many years or should i apply only lakme sun expert?

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Gio March 31, 2018 - 8:17 am

Shrreijit, you can use both. Just apply your sunscreen last.

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chinitapr March 29, 2018 - 6:09 pm

Hi Gio! Is it okay to use a chemical sunscreen then layer a mineral one on top? My skin is dry and I always use a mineral sunscreen but it doesn’t matter the brand, they are always so dry. However, the chemical one I have feel great on my skin but due to hyper-pigmentation, I rather use the mineral one. (Plus chemical one’s eventually break me out). BTW, I just found your blog and have read articles for the last 3 hours. LOVE IT!

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Gio March 31, 2018 - 10:49 am

Chinitapr, I guess you could use two sunscreen if that works for you. Just be aware that you can’t add their SPF. You’re still only getting the SPF of the highest product you apply. For example, if your chemical sunscreen has SPF 50 and your mineral sunscreen has SPF 30, then the overall SPF level you’re getting is 50. Hope this makes sense.

Aww so glad you love it! Thanks for your support. 🙂

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Nitu April 2, 2018 - 7:52 am

Hi,
I m using organic sunblock hydrating cream pa+++ uva spf 45+UVB with organic grean tea and aloevera . I m forty years old and from last one year i hd blemishes or u can say pigmentation on my cheeks. I hd an tanning problem on all over the body . Specially on face and hands as well. My question is can i use any other anti ageing or anti pigmentation cream moisturiser wid this sun block??? Or how can i use it like before sun block or after sun block?? I m from india and please recomend the best cream for me as well. Lot of thanks in advance.

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Gio April 8, 2018 - 4:19 pm

Nitu, yes you can use anti aging and anti pigmentation creams with this sunscreen. Apply them first and sunscreen as the last step.

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Diana Katsantones April 22, 2018 - 6:00 am

Help me plz. I am prone 2 getting sebaceous cysts. At 64 I have zits & wrinkles. But the sebaceous cysts seem to be more frequent. My physician retired abruptly due 2 health issues. Having trouble finding a physician that takes medi-medi,4 referrals. I’m all alone & sinking into major depression.

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Gio April 27, 2018 - 9:31 am

Diana, so sorry to hear about your problem. Unfortunately it’s hard to help without knowing more about your skincare routine. Are you using salicylic acid, for example? That would be the first step.

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Elaine April 28, 2018 - 12:53 am

Hi. I use sunscreen first, then pink tinted moisturizer. However if I use make up on top of that I feel like I am erasing the color on my face. Is make up necessary? What do you suggest?

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Gio May 4, 2018 - 6:42 pm

Elaine, no, makeup isn’t necessary. If you don’t want to wear it, don’t.

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Mush May 3, 2018 - 1:03 am

Heya! I use a thick, water based gel moisturiser. Would it be better to wear sunscreen before or after as I wonder if my moisturiser dissolves the sunscreen altogether irrespective of when it is applied.

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Gio May 5, 2018 - 10:15 am

Mush, yes you can apply sunscreen after moisturiser.

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Darshana May 22, 2018 - 5:50 pm

I have a sensitive oily skin…is it good for me directly to use Neutrogena sunscreen directly on screen..wid out any other cream or moisturizer use

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Gio May 27, 2018 - 7:26 am

Darshana, yes you can do that. Just use a cleanser first.

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RK July 5, 2018 - 11:41 am

Hi! I just had my facial warts removed and the doctor told me to use the antibacterial cream and sunblock after 24 hours. What shall i put first? Sunblock or the antibacterial cream?

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Gio July 5, 2018 - 6:31 pm

RK, use the antibacterial cream first.

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Jade October 28, 2018 - 9:46 pm

I use Ponds cold cream as a facial cleanser. Ponds has a mineral oil base, and whenever I cleanse my face with it, it leaves my skin with an oily feel. If I use a chemical sunscreen after cleasing my face with Ponds, would the oiliness from the Ponds cause the sunscreen to not be effective at protecting my skin from the sun?

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Gio November 1, 2018 - 4:37 pm

Jade, the residue shouldn’t dilute the sunscreen but it’s best to wait a few minutes before you apply it to give it time to settle.

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Natasya November 14, 2018 - 4:04 am

Thanks for the great information! So the conclusion is, whether we use chemical or physical sunscreen, we must apply the sunscreen on the last step after skincare routine & before make up right?

But i’ve red before that physical sunscreen should be apply last, so it can reflect the UV rays. So does it mean should apply physical sunscreen after makeup? If so, i think the make up will rubbing off & no point of wearing make up. So what do u think? I’m confused

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Gio November 23, 2018 - 10:48 am

Natasya, yes that’s correct. Always apply ANY type of sunscreen as the last step of your skincare routine and before makeup.

Physical sunscreens don’t reflect UV rays. That’s a common myth – one I admit I believed for years too!! Until I saw the studies. The truth is that physical sunscreen reflect only a tiny amount of UV rays. They neutralise the rest like chemical sunscreens do, by absorbing them and transforming them into a less damaging form of energy (heat).

In other words, physical and chemical sunscreens work the same way so apply them in the same way.

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