Did you know that using sunscreen on our skin is not often enough to prevent all the unwanted damage unprotected sun exposure inflicts to it? Not if we’re not using it properly anyway.
That means in the right order. But what’s that? Should sunscreen be applied before moisturizer or should it be the last product we put on our skin?
For a long time, I thought the second option was the best. I’d go through my skincare routine as usual – cleanser, serum, moisturizer (you know the drill) – and then, at the end of it, and just before applying makeup, I’d slather on a thick layer of sunscreen.
Little did I know that, sometimes, that reduced the effectiveness of my sunscreen. I say sometimes because the order of application depends on what kind of sunscreen you use. Here’s what I mean:
Chemical Sunscreens Need To Get In Contact With The Skin To Be Effective
According to Dr. Neal Schultz, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in Manhattan, chemical sunscreens (ie those that contain chemical UV filters like avobenzone, mexoryl, oxybenzone, and octocrylene, to name a few) should be applied before you put on your moisturizer.
That’s because active chemical sunscreen ingredients need time to bind to the skin so the chemical reaction that activates them can occur. That’s why your mom told you to apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before heading out the door.
By applying your moisturizer first, you’re interfering with this chemical reaction, preventing the sunscreen from interacting 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 sunscreens contain minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These two form a shield on your skin. When the sun rays hit it, this shield simply bounces them off and away from the skin, protecting it from sun damage.
This means that, unlike chemical sunscreens, they don’t need to be activated by any mysterious chemical reaction. They don’t need to be applied half an hour in advance (they work immediately). And they don’t need to be applied before moisturizer.
Of course, if that’s what you like and are used to, you can apply them before your moisturizer. Some experts think that’s better anyway. 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. But if you’re careful, you can use these sunscreens after your moisturizer, if that’s what you like best.
What About Sunscreens That Contain Both Chemical And Physical Sunscreen Agents?
Some sunscreens contain both a mix of chemical and physical sunscreen agents. That’s because titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can leave a white cast on the skin and be difficult to blend, so some brands prefer to use them in smaller amounts and complement their sun protection properties with chemical sunscreen agents.
But this just adds to the confusion. If they contain both type of sunscreen ingredients, when should we apply them? Before or after moisturizer?
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, I think it makes sense to apply this type of sunscreen first too.
The Exception To The Rule
Just like any other rule, this one has its exception too. We have already discussed the proper order to apply your skincare products: from thinnest to thickest. This means that products with a lighter texture, like serums, should be applied before products with a thicker consistency, like moisturizers, to be properly absorbed into the skin. Most sunscreens do have a thick texture, so where do they fit in?
Unfortunately, that’s another question without a clear answer (aren’t you tired of them, already?). 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, on the other hand, the sunscreen is lighter than the other skincare products you are using, then apply that first.
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, there isn’t always a definite rule to follow. The order of application depends both on the type of sunscreen you’re using and its consistency. But, if you want to be on the safe side, always apply it first (unless it has a super light texture).
Do you apply your sunscreen before or after your moisturizer?