EDIT: This post was edited with the latest scientific information on 21/07/2017.
Should you apply moisturizer or sunscreen 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
Why? Simple: this 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.
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Theory #2: It Depends On What Type Of Sunscreen You’re Using
Did you know there are two types of sunscreens?:
- Chemical*: It uses synthetic UV filters, such as Avobenzone, Mexoryl, and Octocrylene.
- 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 thing. 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).
Otherwise, you’re just rubbing sunscreen off your face! See why it’s better to apply it last, anyway?
The Bottom Line
After examining the latest research, the moisturizer or sunscreen debate is no debate at all. Always apply sunscreen as the last step of your daytime skincare routine. Always.
*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? Let me know in the comments below.