Should You Apply Sunscreen Before or After Moisturizer?

We asked two dermatologists to find out.

Woman applying sunscreen at the beach

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Even once you figure out which skin-care products are best for tackling your skin concerns, there's a whole other issue to contend with: how to apply them in the right order. It's more important than you might think, since understanding when to apply each product is critical for getting the best results from your skin-care routine. And if you're not seeing results, what's the point?

The problem is that determining the correct order for your routine can feel like a riddle, what with the many serums, moisturizers, sunscreens, and even SPF-infused makeup on the shelves these days.

With that, it doesn't come as a total surprise that a common point of confusion is: Does sunscreen go on before or after moisturizer? And while it may seem like a matter of preference, knowing which to apply first can actually impact both your skin's hydration and the level of sun protection you get. Translation: It's a big deal.

With that in mind, we sought out expert insight into how to layer your moisturizer, sunscreen, and even your makeup for the best possible payoff.

When should I apply sunscreen?

"SPF is the last thing that goes on during your skincare routine," says Shari Sperling, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Florham Park, NJ. First, she recommends applying 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 last step in your skin-care routine, as it acts as a shield from the sun.

For below the neck, you can streamline the process. "For the body, 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," says Elyse Love, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, who adds 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.

Worth keeping in mind: 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: definitely not. "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. " Plus, certain areas, such as the neck and ears, may be missed with this approach. Consider any SPF in your makeup to be a bonus, not your baseline.

The exception to this are tinted sunscreens. Since they're not makeup — but, as the name implies, sunscreen with a tint for subtle coverage — they can both offer protection and even out skin tones. Try Neutrogena Purescreen+ Mineral UV Tint Face Liquid Sunscreen, which offers broad-spectrum SPF 30 and comes in four sheer shades that you can wear alone or beneath makeup.

How often should I re-apply my sunscreen?

You should be slathering on the 'screen at least every two hours, since "the active ingredients in your sunscreen are broken down by the sun," Dr. Love says.

This is especially important in the spring and summertime. During the fall and winter, when UV exposure is lower and you're presumably spending less time outside, it's reasonable to only apply sunscreen to exposed areas once a day. That said, your location matters. For instance, "there will be variability between East Coasters and West Coasters, because our sun exposure patterns are different," says Dr. Love.

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. A few options to consider: Supergoop! (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF 35 or Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 30, which you can simply dust on.

As for the rest of your skin, simply re-apply liquid sunscreen to other exposed areas of your body.

What else can I do to protect my skin?

While staying out of the sun is always your first line of defense, that's not always possible. In addition to slathering on SPF, make sure to wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats while you're outside.

Sure, layering on sun protection — and re-upping it throughout the day — can feel like a chore in the short-term. But it's a small investment that'll have big payoffs down the road in the form of healthy, radiant skin.

Updated by
Kayla Greaves
Kayla Greaves
Kayla Greaves is the Executive Beauty Editor for InStyle, overseeing all beauty coverage on the site. She has previously held positions at HuffPost and Bustle.
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