When You Apply Sunscreen in Your Skincare Routine Actually Matters A Lot

And make sure it's at least SPF 30.

You could spend thousands of dollars on the best skincare products ever made, but if you don't apply them in the right order, you're not going to reap all the benefits.

It's a pretty hard and fast rule, but when to apply each product still happens to be one of the most confusing beauty topics for consumers. In fact, there's one question that continuously pops up on our radar that proves it: Does sunscreen go on before or after moisturizer?

In all fairness, when you have five bottles of nearly identical white cream in front of you, things can get a little puzzling. So we reached out to two dermatologists to get you a straight answer.

When Should I Apply Sunscreen?

"SPF is the last thing that goes on during your skincare routine," explains dermatologist Dr. Shari Sperling.

First, she recommends applying any topical medications or prescriptions, then moving to your serums and moisturizers. Finally, your sunscreen (which Dr. Sperling says should have an SPF 30 or higher), seals the deal as the very last step in your skincare routine, as it acts as a shield from the sun.

Dr. Elyse Love adds that you can also apply sunscreen in conjunction with your lotion to wrap up your skincare routine. "For the body, I think it's good to find a sunscreen that can replace your normal moisturizer, because it should be applied before getting dressed to prevent missing areas at the border of clothed and bare skin," she explains, noting that SPF should be applied 15 minutes before going outside.

Can I Wear Makeup Over Sunscreen?

"Yes, you can apply your makeup on top of sunscreen," confirms Dr. Sperling. "Cosmetically, you're not going to want to put a thick, white sunscreen cream over your makeup." And as long as you're applying an SPF 30 or higher before your foundation, Dr. Sperling says you're still getting the same amount of protection.

But even when you have makeup on, if you're going to be outside, you still need to reapply SPF.

Is It OK to Skip Regular Sunscreen If I Wear Makeup with SPF?

Long and short answer: Hell no.

"The makeup product should have the marketed SPF, but that is only if it is applied as heavily as it was during testing," Dr. Love explains. "With no-makeup makeup looks dominating, I think it's unlikely most people are applying enough makeup to get the marketed SPF. In addition, there are areas like the neck and ears that may be missed with this approach. Think of SPF in makeup as a bonus."

How Often Should I Re-Apply My Sunscreen?

At least every two hours. "The thing to understand is the active ingredients in your sunscreen are broken down by the sun," Dr. Love explains.

This is especially important in the spring and summertime, the MD says. During the fall and winter when UV exposure is lower and you're spending less time outside, it's probably okay to only apply sunscreen to exposed areas once a day. "Of course, there will be variability between East Coasters and West Coasters because our sun exposure patterns are different," she adds.

If you're wearing makeup while you're out, re-application can get tricky, but you do have a few options. You can either throw your hands in the air and apply that liquid SPF over your makeup or if messing up that contour isn't an option, you can also brush on a powder-based SPF product, like Supergoop! (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF 35 or Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 30.

Just make sure to re-apply liquid sunscreen to other exposed areas of your body.

What Else Can I Do to Protect My Skin?

Staying out of the sun is always your first line of defense. You should also make sure to wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats while you're outside.

Updated by
Kayla Greaves
Kayla Greaves
Kayla Greaves is the Executive Beauty Editor for InStyle.com, overseeing the brand's beauty team and strategy. She previously held senior editorial roles at Bustle and HuffPost. She loves skincare, a long-lasting red lipstick, oxtail, and being Jamaican. Kayla has also dedicated 17 years of her life to Grey's Anatomy, and won't give it up any time soon — no matter how ridiculous the drama gets
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