The Truth About SPF in Makeup

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Woman buying cosmetics in a beauty store.

You’ve probably run into them a million times before; combination sunscreen+makeup products littering the shelves of the cosmetics aisle, promising extra sun protection along with stellar coverage and perfect tone-matching. There are foundations, powders, eye creams and even lipsticks with added SPF that’s supposed to protect you against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation and add convenience to your usual makeup routine through simplification; if you have the effects of multiple products in one, that means you can use fewer products, which means your routine takes fewer steps and less time while still achieving the same results, right? …Right?

Actually , the truth in this matter is a lot different than what you might think, and in the interest of keeping you well informed and therefore empowered when it comes to your skin care, Vine Vera wants to lay down the truth when it comes to SPF in makeup.

Woman applying liquid foundation.

SPF Doesn’t Stack
Or at least it doesn’t when it comes to chemical sunscreens. The jury’s out in regards to physical sunblocks’ stacking capabilities, but since we don’t know, you shouldn’t assume they do.

What do we mean by this? Well, what would you expect to happen if you apply an SPF 15 sunscreen+moisturizer, let it dry, then apply an SPF 15 sunscreen+foundation as part of your skin care and makeup routine? Most people would assume that your overall protection would be equivalent to SPF 30 at that point (the minimum you need to be safe), but that’s actually incorrect. When you apply multiple SPF products, you only get the benefit of the higher one, and you may not even get that if it’s not applied directly to clean skin, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

The main issue here is that people will apply multiple layers of SPF protection that’s too low to actually do much, and think they’re okay, when they’re not. It doesn’t help that most combination makeup+sunscreen products don’t have a sufficiently high SPF rating, which brings us to our next point….

Woman applying lip balm.

The SPF is Too Low
The magic number when it comes to sun protection is 30. Specifically, broad-spectrum (meaning you get protection from both UVA and UVB rays) SPF 30 or higher. The problem? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a makeup with SPF that exceeds 20. If you’re going out with anything less than broad-spectrum SPF 30, you’re going out under-protected.

That said, SPF 30 and higher makeup does exist, but even then, you’ll probably run into layering issues, as we’re about to explain.

Woman applying sunscreen in a beach.

Chemical Sunscreens MUST Go Right On
What we mean by this is that, due to how they work, chemical sunscreens (the most common and widely available kind, which relies on chemical reactions with UV rays to protect your skin) need to go on to clean skin as the very first step in your skin care and makeup routine. If you’re layering them on top of other products—which you usually are when it comes to makeup—you run the risk of them simply not working, and getting little to no protection from them.

All that said, if your makeup contains physical sunblock, meaning it contains one or both of the active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which simply reflect UV light away, then you can apply it at any layer and still gain the benefit.

In Summary
So basically, SPF in makeup usually fails to give you adequate protection. However, you can make it work for you and skip a separate sunscreen application if you get a makeup which contains SPF 30 or higher physical sunblock and apply it liberally.

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