What should I apply first: moisturizer or sunscreen?

We all know how important it is to use sunscreen daily to avoid the damage sun exposure can do to our skin, but there’s still a lot of confusion in what order to apply it in our skincare routine. Is it better to slather sunscreen on before moisturizer or should it be the last product we put on our skin?

I used to think that this latter option was best and when I first started applying it daily a few years ago, I would always put it on after my moisturizer. But I’ve done a lot of research on the topic since then, and while there doesn’t seem to be a clear answer to this question, most experts think it’s best to apply sunscreen first. Here’s why:

Chemical sunscreens need to get into contact with the skin to be effective

According to Dr. Neal Schultz, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Manhattan, chemical sunscreens should be applied before you put on your moisturizer. That’s because active chemical sunscreen ingredients need time (20 to 30 minutes which is the time you should wait before going outside after application) to bind to the skin so the chemical reaction that activates them can occurr.

By applying your moisturizer first, you’re interfering with this chemical reaction as the sunscreen won’t be able to interact with the skin the way it should. What about reapplying sunscreen during the day, when you already have your moisturizer on? Well, by the time you need to put on your sunscreen again, most of your moisturizer will have already worn off, and won’t therefore interfere with it much.

What about physical sunscreens?

Physical blockers are products that contain Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. These two ingredients work differently from chemical sunscreen agents as they don’t need to be activated through a chemical reaction with the skin. Think of them as a shield for your skin. When the sun rays hit them, this shield simply bounces them off and away from the skin, thus protecting it from sun damage. For this reason, physical blockers can be applied both before or after moisturizer.

However, even in this case, some experts think it’s best to apply them on clean, bare skin before using any other skincare products. That’s because some of the ingredients in our moisturizing creams can interfere with the sunscreen and make them less effective. For example, your moisturizer could contain ingredients that could dilute your sunscreen, reducing the protection it offers, or make it harder to spread evenly so that some parts of your skin may be left unprotected.

What about sunscreens that have both chemical and physical sunscreen agents?

Again, there is not a definite answer on this, but considering that chemical sunscreens need to be in contact with the skin to work and physical blockers are better applied before moisturizer too (although you could still put them on afterwards if you wanted as long as you’re careful with application), I think it makes sense to apply this type of sunscreens first too.

The exception to the rule

Just like any other rule, this has its exception too. We have already discussed in a previous topic that the products in your skincare routine should be applied based on their consistency. This means that products with a lighter texture, like serums, should be applied before products with a thicker consistency, like moisturizers. Most sunscreens do have a thick texture, so where do they fit in?

Unfortunately, that’s another question without a clear answer. If you’re using an exfoliant or serum with a very light consistency, then you can apply it before sunscreen without compromising its efficacy. If the sunscreen is lighter than the other skincare products you are using, then apply that first. But as mentioned above, there isn’t a definite rule to follow so in the end, it is up to you to make a choice based on your best judgement and personal preference.

Do you apply your sunscreen before or after your moisturizer?

264 Comment

    • Ayushi, glycerin does NOT make your skin darker. If it did, that would happen to everyone, considering how widespread its use is. The culprit is likely to be your sunscreen. Are you applying enough? And what UV filters does it contain?

  1. spf 15 sunscreen I use n a layer of glycerine dat keeps me moist..n in summer too I use a layer of glycerine with rose water ..will it make my colur dark??

    • Ayushi, as I’ve already told you several times, glycerin does NOT make your skin colour darker. Glycerin is NOT the culprit.

      Imo, the sunscreen is. SPF 15 is probably too low to provide adequate protection for your skin type, so I’d recommend you switch to SPF30.

  2. ohk thanku gio so much ..n answering my question so frankly..now can you recomnd me something to be fair and glowing I’ll be very thankful

    • Ayushi, you’re welcome. If you’re planning to use an exfoliant with Salicylic Acid (my favourites are from Paula’s Choice), then that would make your skin brighter too. Salicylic Acid is able to exfoliate both inside the pores, where it removes the gunk that’s causing breakouts and pimples, and the surface of the skin, where it removes the dark and dull skin cells on top of it, revealing the brighter and fairer ones underneath.

    • Ayushi, a fash wash isn’t a face wash and it isn’t a cleansing milk. It is a product designed to remove dead cells from the surface of the skin.

      I don’t know where you live and what brands are available in your area, so it’s difficult to recommend something. My favourite exfoliants are from Paula’s Choice. Can you buy those in your country?

    • Ayushi, I don’t know how young you are, but you could use a product with retinoids (forms of Vitamin A, such as retinol). Just don’t apply it together with the exfoliant. Use the exfoliant during the day and retinoids at night.

    • Ayushi, retinol products tend to be pricey, and if you’re only 17 you may not need them yet. But of course, you can use them anyway if you like. I wouldn’t use pure retinol as that will be too harsh for skin. Is Olay (or Oil Of Olaz) available in your country? They have some products that contain retinol and they aren’t too expensive.

    • Ayushi, I think it’s the sun that’s darkening it. Try using at least SPF 30 and, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, reapply it every 2 hours.

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