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Understanding SPF makeup: Your guide to sun-protected beauty

It’s another way to help shield your skin from UV.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
Woman Applying Makeup
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 7 min read
Medically reviewed by Donna McIntyre, NP-BC
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.

Are you looking for different ways to keep your skin protected from harmful UV rays? Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen is the Holy Grail method to save you from sunburn—but what about SPF makeup?

SPF makeup—cosmetics that offer protection from UV rays—is another way to add an additional layer of protection to your skin. It’s not quite enough to replace your go-to sunscreen, but it can be a great tool in your sun protection toolkit. Allow Curology’s skincare experts to explain everything you need to know!

What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It measures how well a sunscreen product can protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that can cause sunburn and skin cancer. 

The higher the SPF number, the more protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. For example, an SPF 30 sunscreen offers more sunburn protection than an SPF 15 sunscreen.¹

Does makeup with SPF protect your skin from the sun? 

The more SPF in your makeup product, the more it protects your skin from sun damage.

Research indicates that using both sunscreen and makeup can help compensate for inadequate sunscreen application. This is because makeup provides an extra layer of protection against UV rays and helps improve the overall coverage of your skin.²

Makeup generally doesn’t contain very high levels of sun protection. SPF coverage foundations usually have titanium dioxide with an SPF of only 2-5.³ That said, there are products on the market that might offer higher levels than this. It is important to read the product packaging to understand what your specific product offers! 

It's important to take extra steps to protect your skin and keep it healthy, and one way to do that is by using makeup with a higher SPF rating. However, it's worth noting that relying solely on makeup with SPF may not provide enough protection; it should be paired with sunscreen for optimal results. 

What is the best way to apply SPF? 

To get the most out of your sunscreen, it's important to follow a few guidelines for proper application. Donna McIntyre, a nurse practitioner at Curology has some advice: “Guidelines suggest applying sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure is the best practice. This allows time for your skin to absorb it and give you adequate protection.” Sunscreens with broad-spectrum SPF values of 30 or higher should be used regularly and as directed, with reapplication every two hours or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating. 

While some sunscreens claim to have an SPF value greater than 50, there’s no evidence that they provide any additional benefit.⁴

Should I double up my sunscreen? 

Yes! It’s recommended to use more than one layer of SPF (whether that’s one layer of SPF makeup and one layer of sunscreen, or just two layers of sunscreen) to ensure adequate coverage and protection from the sun. This is because applying a double layer of sunscreen encourages you to apply the products at a sufficient thickness to achieve the expected SPF efficacy.⁵

How to choose the best SPF makeup products

Finding effective makeup products with a higher SPF doesn't have to be complicated. To make sure you’re getting the best sun protection, look for products containing ingredients like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone. These ingredients effectively block the sun's rays and help protect your skin.⁶ 

Makeup products that are water resistant and contain broad-spectrum protection (protection against both UVA and UVB rays) are also an effective way to ensure your skin remains protected from the sun.⁷

Makeup products with SPF 

You don't have to sacrifice your beauty routine when it comes to sun protection. Many makeup products on the market offer SPF protection.

Let’s take a closer look at some of them:

Summer Fridays ShadeDrops Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Mineral Milk Sunscreen

The ShadeDrops Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Mineral Milk Sunscreen is a lightweight and mineral-based sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. 

The formula is free of parabens and sulfates, making it a great option for those with sensitive skin.

The non-greasy formula absorbs quickly, leaving behind a natural finish, and provides a layer of protection that helps prevent sunburn and premature aging caused by sun damage.

Dermablend Leg and Body Makeup With SPF 25

Dermablend Leg and Body Makeup with SPF 25 is a long-wearing and transfer-resistant foundation that provides both coverage and sun protection. 

The formula is designed to cover imperfections on your legs and body while providing SPF protection against the sun's harmful rays. The lightweight formula can be worn for up to 16 hours, making it ideal for all-day wear, and provides a natural-looking finish that won't streak or smudge. 

With a range of shades to choose from, this product is ideal for anyone who wants to enhance their natural beauty while staying protected from sun damage. 

Other ways to protect your skin from the sun

In addition to using sunscreen, it's important to take other precautions to protect your skin from the sun's damaging effects. Avoiding going outside during peak sun hours and staying covered with protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses can help shield your skin from UV rays.⁸ 

Additionally, staying in the shade whenever possible can provide additional protection from the sun. By incorporating these steps into your daily routine, you can enjoy the outdoors while keeping your skin healthy and protected.

Protect your skin with the right skincare routine

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If you're looking for a reliable sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection, The Sunscreen by Curology contains effective ingredients such as zinc oxide that protects against UV rays.* It’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Protect your skin from the sun and check our sunscreen out today!

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Does makeup with SPF really work?

Makeup with SPF can provide some protection against the sun's harmful rays. However, it’s not enough on its own and should be used in addition to sunscreen for optimal protection. Experts recommend using sunscreen as a base layer and then applying makeup with SPF on top for complete protection.

What does SPF stand for in makeup?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, a measure of a product's ability to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UVB radiation from the sun. UVB rays are responsible for causing sunburn and can contribute to skin cancer. 

Sunscreens and other products with SPF are formulated to help prevent or reduce the amount of UVB radiation that penetrates your skin. It’s important to note that SPF measures protection against UVB rays and does not provide any indication of protection against UVA rays, which can also be harmful to the skin. That said, SPF is a better forecaster of protection against UVB since it is about 1000 times more erythrogenic than UVA rays.⁹

Do you need SPF if you wear makeup?

Yes, it’s recommended to use sunscreen with at least SPF 30 under your makeup, even if your makeup products also contain SPF. This is because the amount of makeup you apply to your skin is usually not enough to provide full protection from the sun's harmful rays. 

Sunscreen makeup can provide some added protection, but you should not rely on it as your sole means of sun protection. It’s important to apply enough sunscreen to all exposed skin before applying makeup and to reapply it every two hours, especially if you are sweating or swimming. 

Using a separate sunscreen in addition to makeup with SPF can help ensure that you are getting the full sun protection you need to keep your skin healthy and help prevent damage.

• • •

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

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sun Protection Factor. (2017, July 14).

  2. Kim, M.A., et al. Layering sunscreen with facial makeup enhances its sun protection factor under real-use conditions. Skin Res Technol. (September 2021).

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

  4. Dale Wilson, B., et al. Comprehensive Review of Ultraviolet Radiation and the Current Status on SunscreensJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (September 2012).

  5. Teramura, T., et al. Relationship between sun-protection factor and application thickness in high-performance sunscreen: double application of sunscreen is recommended. Clin Exp Dermatol. (December 2012).

  6. Gabros, S., et al. Sunscreens and Photoprotection. StatPearls. (2023, March 7).

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, February 17).

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  9. Gabros, S., et al. Sunscreens and Photoprotection. StatPearls. Ibid.

Donna McIntyre is a board-certified nurse practitioner at Curology. She obtained her Master of Science in Nursing at MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, MA.

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

• • •
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.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

Donna McIntyre, NP-BC

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