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  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

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Sunscreen or moisturizer first? Unraveling the ideal skincare order

Dermatology experts explain what you need to know about which products you should apply first.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 29, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
woman applying moisturizer cream
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Sep 29, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Erin Pate, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

Why do I need to moisturize?
More

Figuring out the perfect sequence for your skincare routine can bring up many questions. One common debate stands out: Should you apply sunscreen or moisturizer first? 

Shielding your skin from the sun’s rays and sealing in moisture are both important, but does the order of application impact the effectiveness of these products? Let’s navigate through the science of both sunscreen and moisturizer so you can get a better idea of how to optimally order your daily skincare routine.

Why do I need to moisturize?

Moisturizing is important for your daily skincare routine, especially when your skin’s protective barrier is weak or lacks sufficient hydration.¹ This often happens in skin conditions like atopic disorders and dermatitis. Moisturizers help keep your skin healthy and tackle dryness-related problems. They can include a blend of hydrating helpers—emollients, occlusives, and humectants—all working together to keep your skin smooth and flexible.² To get the best results, picking the right moisturizer and using it regularly is key.

But moisturizers aren’t just for hydrating your skin. Some can also help reduce redness, and itching, and even speed up wound healing. How do they do all this? They team up with your skin’s outer layer to make a stronger defense against water loss. This helps boost skin hydration, softness, smoothness, and flexibility.³

While moisturizing is key, it’s important to also remember to use sun protection. Wearing sunscreen is like giving your skin an extra shield against the sun's rays, completing your full skincare routine.

Why do I need to wear sunscreen?  

Wearing sunscreen is a vital step for maintaining healthy skin. This skincare product protects against the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. 

Sunscreen can guard you in two key ways:⁴

Scattering and reflection: Mineral-based sunscreens form a protective layer that reflects and scatters UV light from your skin’s surface. 

Absorption and conversion: Organic sunscreens absorb harmful UV energy and convert it into heat energy that the skin can then release.

Chemical sunscreens often include different compounds to cover a broad UV spectrum. By using sunscreen, you're taking a solid step to defend your skin against UV radiation, protect your skin from damage, and decrease the risk of developing skin cancer.⁵

Which one goes first, sunscreen or moisturizer? 

When applying sunscreen and moisturizer, there’s a recommended sequence to follow. Apply your moisturizer first. Following that, apply sunscreen as the final step in your skincare routine. Research has indicated that sunscreen is best applied as the last step in your at-home skincare regimen to ensure its effectiveness.⁶

Creating an effective skincare routine means selecting products that align with your skin’s needs. As far as moisturizers go, Curology has a few options. Curology’s moisturizers are formulated to provide the essential hydration your skin craves, helping to maintain its health, softness, and vitality.

In addition to moisturizing, safeguarding your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is an important part of skincare. Curology’s Everyday Sunscreen has been designed to offer you comprehensive protection, acting as the final layer in your daily skincare routine. This sunscreen is meticulously crafted to shield your skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation, which can lead to premature aging and other skin concerns. 

Optimizing your skincare regimen means using products that cater to your skin’s unique needs. With Curology’s moisturizers and sunscreen, you can confidently address your skin’s needs and strive towards achieving a healthier, more radiant complexion.

Choosing and applying your skincare products properly

When choosing a sunscreen and moisturizer, it’s important to find ones with ingredients that work for your skin and to apply them as directed. Let’s look at how you can best choose the right moisturizer and sunscreen for your skin’s needs.

The right way to choose and apply moisturizers

Selecting and applying moisturizers correctly is important for achieving and maintaining healthy, well-hydrated skin. 

When incorporating new skincare products into your routine, opt for those free from alcohol and fragrances. These elements can strip your skin of natural oils, which are crucial for maintaining moisture. Fragranced products can irritate dry skin, especially if your skin is sensitive. And keep in mind that the “natural” label doesn't necessarily translate to hypoallergenic.⁷

As for ingredients you do want to look for, keep an eye out for products containing ceramides—a lipid molecule that enhances skin hydration. Hyaluronic acid is another beneficial ingredient known for its potent moisturizing properties. 

Use moisturizers immediately after showering while your skin is still slightly damp. This facilitates the smooth application of thicker creams and helps seal in moisture effectively. Curology’s licensed dermatology providers suggest a three-step skincare routine, beginning with cleansing and then moisturizing. This sequence ensures your skin receives the maximum benefits from moisturizers.

By incorporating these insights into your skincare routine, you can nurture your skin’s well-being and help achieve a radiant complexion.

The right way to choose and apply sunscreen

As far as sunscreen goes, opt for those that contain zinc and titanium for sun protection, as recommended by the Environmental Working Group.⁹ These mineral-based options are considered safer and more effective than others in the U.S. You should also avoid using powder and spray sunscreens since inhaling their particles can pose trouble for your health.¹⁰

Apply sunscreen following the FDA’s suggestion of 2 mg per square centimeter of skin for optimal protection.¹¹ Or, to make things simpler, just follow the two-finger rule. For your entire body, you might need around 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover most of your exposed skin.

Sunscreen should be your final skincare step. Applying it last ensures it forms a protective barrier on your skin. Remember to reapply sunscreen regularly. Every two hours is ideal, but apply more frequently if you’re sweating, swimming, or drying off with a towel.¹²

Also, be mindful of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV radiation is strongest. If you can’t avoid the sun during these hours, add extra protection with sun-protective clothing and umbrellas.¹³

Following these steps, you can confidently choose and apply sunscreen, better safeguarding your skin from the sun’s harmful effects.

Hydrate and protect your skin with Curology

When it comes to skincare, the right products—for your skin, specifically—can be game-changers. It’s not just about moisturizing, but also protecting your skin from daily environmental challenges.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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curology bottle

This is where Curology comes in. Nourish and shield your skin with our expertly curated products, like Curology’s moisturizers, which can keep your skin well-hydrated, and, Curology's sunscreen, which will help protect your skin from harmful UV rays.* 

FAQs

How long should you wait to apply sunscreen after moisturizer?

After applying moisturizer, you can generally put on sunscreen right away. However, be sure to wait about 15 minutes before going outside. This gives your skin time to absorb the sunscreen so it’s adequately protected. If you apply sunscreen while you’re already in the sun, your skin may not be shielded properly, making it susceptible to sunburn.¹⁴

Can I mix moisturizer and sunscreen before applying?

Mixing moisturizer and sunscreen before applying is not usually recommended. While certain moisturizers have SPF, research suggests there’s a higher chance of improper application of SPF moisturizers.¹⁵ For better protection, it’s advised to use separate sunscreen. Or, it may be helpful to use sunscreen with a moisturizing base.

What are the key ingredients to look for in a moisturizer and sunscreen?

Opt for moisturizers that contain ceramides and hyaluronic acid for enhanced skin hydration. For sunscreens, look for mineral-based options that contain zinc and titanium for optimal sun protection, as advised by the Environmental Working Group.¹⁶

How much sunscreen should I apply for optimal protection?

You should follow the FDA’s suggestion of applying 2 mg of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. For practical terms, this equates to about a third of a teaspoon for your face. For full-body coverage, you may require around 1 ounce of sunscreen.¹⁷ Always make sure you have covered your skin thoroughly before stepping out into the sun!

What is the best time to apply moisturizer and why?

It's beneficial to apply moisturizer immediately after showering while your skin is still slightly damp.¹⁸ This approach allows for smoother application of thicker creams and helps to effectively seal in moisture, maximizing the benefits of the product.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Purnamawati, S, et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. (December 2017).

  2. Purnamawati, S, et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  3. Purnamawati, S, et al. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review. Clin Med Res. Ibid.

  4. Geoffrey, K., et al. Sunscreen products: Rationale for use, formulation development and regulatory considerations. Saudi Pharm J. (November 2019).

  5. Geoffrey, K.,et al. Sunscreen products: Rationale for use, formulation development and regulatory considerations. Saudi Pharm J. Ibid.

  6. Rodan, K., et al. Skincare Bootcamp: The Evolving Role of Skincare. Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. (2016, December 14).

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). How to Pick the Right Moisturizer. (2022, January 25).

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). How to Pick the Right Moisturizer. Ibid. 

  9. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (January 2013).

  10. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  11. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  12. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  13. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  14. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). Sun Protection. N.d.

  15. Lourenco, E.A.J., et al. Application of SPF moisturisers is inferior to sunscreens in coverage of facial and eyelid regions. PLoS One. (2019, April 3).

  16. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (January 2013).

  17. Latha, M.S., et al. Sunscreening Agents: A Review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. Ibid.

  18. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). How to Pick the Right Moisturizer. Ibid.

Erin Pate is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She earned her Masters of Science in Nursing at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL.

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Erin Pate Nurse Practitioner, NP-C

Erin Pate, NP-C

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