Jul 19, 2019 · 9 min read
Updated June 2021
Whether you prefer lightweight sunscreens, full coverage foundation, or going au naturale: sun protection is proven to be effective when it comes to keeping skin looking healthy and youthful. As someone who loves a good pancake face every once in a blue moon, the best sunscreen for our face isn’t the only thing we’re putting on our skin. Whether you prefer a no-makeup makeup look or full face glam, your skincare and makeup products need to work together.
I don’t know about you, but in Florida, the struggle is real when it comes to reconciling proper skin safety with wearing the makeup that makes me feel best. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with some of Curology’s dermatology providers and skincare experts to get the full 411. It turns out that, when you want to throw makeup into the mix, sun protection can become super complex. Here’s what I learned (and I learned a lot):
So you applied the best sunblock for your face plus whatever makes you feel cute, but two hours have passed — how are you going to keep rocking your look while blocking the sun? Here’s a few things you can do to apply sunscreen over makeup:
Approach sunscreen reapplication delicately and let it add to your look. You might consider reapplying your foundation with SPF, and you can, but consider this: it won’t provide sun protection unless you reapply it all over the face. Also, because you need to apply a lot of product to effectively fight UV rays, this method will only be applicable for pancake face devotees.
Remember this when deciding how much SPF to apply to your face: 1) Is it at least SPF 30? 2) Does it offer broad-spectrum protection? 3) Can I comfortably apply half a teaspoon of this product to my face and neck? If the answer to all 3 of these questions is “yes,” then you’re good to go! But, more often than not, a large dollop of full-coverage foundation is often too much for even the most baked of faces — YMMV.
Forego foundation altogether by going light cover with a tinted moisturizer that blends in with your foundation of choice. While a full coverage foundation is intended to conceal, light coverage is an alternative for when you want to simply enhance the appearance of your skin. Tinted sunscreens are a great 2-birds-1-stone product when used correctly. Read last week’s post on no-breakout tinted moisturizers for more on this topic!
If reapplying cosmetic products is totally out, then what you need is a Holy Grail: a non-greasy sunscreen that flawlessly layers on top of your look, provides strong protection, won’t smudge your makeup, and won’t irritate your skin. This is where sunscreen sprays and powder sunscreens can be cloud-partingly awesome products for putting on top of makeup.
If you have oily skin, powder sunscreens with a matte finish might work best for you. These sunblocks often perform like setting powders, meaning that they reinforce your makeup, making it last longer. But because a sunscreen powder applied with a brush has to physically touch your makeup, so your lewk may need a touch-up after using this.
Personally, I use spray-on sunscreens on top of my makeup, because they’re easy to use and apply evenly. A good spray sunscreen can even perform like a luxurious makeup setting spray — although TIL that, per the FDA, it’s not actually safe to spray a sunscreen with aerosol directly into your face (or near an open flame, if you have some extra spicy bathroom decor). Since spray sunscreens need to be rubbed into the skin with your hands for maximum security, it can smudge non-waterproof makeup. I find that a good eye and face primer curbs this issue for me, personally. Whatever method you use, be prepared to do minor damage control; blotting papers or makeup wipes can be big time savers. Let me know if you’d like to see No Breakout Make-Up reviews of these supplementary products!
There’s no authoritative consensus on the best order in which to apply sunscreen and moisturizer. It might make the most sense to apply chemical sunscreens before moisturizer, because they need to absorb into the skin to be effective. Alternatively, physical sunscreens might work better after moisturizer, since they perform like a physical barrier on your skin. Check what kind of sunscreen you’re using and try these methods, but if this doesn’t jive with your other products, switch the order!
You can also cut down the number of steps in your routine if you find the best moisturizers with SPF for your skin. Two favorites around the Curology office are CeraVe AM SPF 30 and EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46, but in general, anything with a lightweight, non-comedogenic formula that has at least SPF 30 should work well.
For maximum security, reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. If you’re not sure whether you’ve used enough product recently, keep in mind that most people underapply — be vigilant with how frequently you apply your sunscreen and use plenty of product. You should apply 1–2 tablespoons of sunscreen all over your body. When it comes to how much SPF to apply on your face, up to half a teaspoon is recommended.
Seek out a sunscreen with broad spectrum protection that’s at least SPF 30. The SPF rating is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin, not how long it works. If it’s broad spectrum, it protects against UVB and UVA rays — the sneaky ones that can cause sunspots and wrinkles. Especially when you’re outside a lot, you should apply at least SPF 30 every two hours, but feel free to go even higher if you’d like to improve your odds.
When it comes to the best under makeup sunscreen, look for a lightweight sunscreen that leaves no white cast with an SPF of at least 30.
Chemical sunscreens are pretty good sunscreens for a face full of makeup because of their absorbency. Typically, these are sunscreens with no white cast, that blend into the skin, appearing invisible. Unlike physical sunscreens, chemical sunscreens need a little bit of patience before they start working. After applying, wait (typically 20 minutes minimum) for the product to fully absorb into your skin before going outside or putting any makeup products on top.
On the other hand, a physical sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide is also often the best sunscreen for sensitive skin. These babies offer protection as soon as you apply it and are less likely to cause a skin reaction than chemical sunscreens. And when it comes to how to apply sunscreen on top of makeup, absorption is not what you typically want — you want to layer on your look, not penetrate it. This is one reason why most of our aforementioned over-makeup sunscreens have zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide!
The drawback is that physical sunscreens can be difficult to blend into the skin; even if your sunscreen doesn’t leave a white cast, the thick, paste-like consistency of most physical sunblocks might not mesh with your makeup routine. That’s another reason why we’re happy that physical sunscreens are becoming increasingly available as translucent and semi-translucent powders and sprays.
That’s enough SPF nerdery for now — let’s get to my favorite part: the sunscreen product reviews.
As far as trendsetting goes, the Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Body Mist sunscreen has been making headlines as the setting spray of choice by makeup artist Scott Barnes. (I know I’ve seen ads follow me all over the internet!) While this product works flawlessly for J. Lo, a key ingredient gives us pause: denatured alcohol. According to the Environmental Working Group, denatured alcohol is a low-hazard cosmetic ingredient; however, it is often drying and irritating, especially if you have sensitive skin. If you have dry skin, you may also find that alcohol-based products are overly drying. So in reviewing products for this post, I tried to avoid products with this ingredient on the list.
Without further adieu, whether you’re aspiring to celebrity skin or to be the next winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, here are some spray sunscreens that are less likely to make your skin freak out.
Alba Botanica’s mineral sunscreen has a non-comedogenic formula that’s made this a favorite for those with sensitive skin. With titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, this is a physical sunscreen that gets to work immediately.
Babo Botanical has done the unthinkable: created a sheer physical sunscreen spray, which means that this one gets to work immediately and is less likely to leave a white cast. It has a non-comedogenic formula with zinc oxide and aloe juice, making this another fave for sensitive skin.
Babyganics Sunscreen Spray has a great non-comedogenic formula that has aloe leaf juice as a main ingredient, so this is another favorite for sensitive skin. The baby spray nozzle might be tricky for some, though — and because this is a chemical sunscreen, you should wait at least 20 minutes after application before exposing yourself to the sun.
The main ingredients in this SUPERGOOP! product are aloe barbadensis leaf juice and zinc oxide. Although the formula is non-comedogenic according to CosDNA, it contains many naturally-derived and essential oils, which may interact unpredictably with your skin, so you might want to avoid this one if you’ve got sensitive skin.
What’s with all the fuss over aloe? Read more about the benefits of aloe vera skincare.
Sunscreen sprays are a lot easier to hunt down than powder sunscreens, but powders are starting to catch on. Powder sunscreens are a great option for anyone who struggles with oiliness in their makeup looks, not to mention, they can offer pretty solid protection against UV rays.
This product from Tarte is specifically made to go on over makeup. In terms of sun protection, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide start blocking out UV rays as soon as it goes on. It also has vanilla oil added for fragrance, which may sound tasty, but might act unpredictably with sensitive skin.
Similar to Tarteguard, this product is a mineral-based physical sunscreen with zinc oxide. This formula is alcohol and fragrance free, making it a better choice for those with sensitive skin.
This powder is translucent, making it a great option to apply over makeup. This sunscreen may also appeal to many due to its being vegan, gluten, and soy free. But if you’re concerned about skin allergies, consider this: one of the main ingredients includes a synthetic fragrance. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to skip this product altogether.
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Giving my skin what it needs is the crucial first step of every makeup routine, but everyone’s skin is unique. While sun protection is crucial to preventing sun damage, using good cleansers, moisturizers, and topical creams keep my face healthy and happy. If you’re curious, sign up for a free trial of Curology and see why simple skincare is the greatest beauty hack of all time.