Does Sunscreen or Makeup Go On First?

sunscreen or makeup go on first

As a dermatologist I’m often asked by patients, “Does sunscreen or makeup go on first?” It’s confusing because reapplying sunscreen over makeup can destroy all the work you have put into your makeup. It gets even more confusing because many makeup products claim to provide sun protection. Is the makeup SPF good enough? Do you reapply the product like you do sunscreen?

Get my dermatologist’s tips in my Layering Sunscreen and Makeup video so that you can confidently answer the question next time someone asks you “does sunscreen or makeup go on first?” Trust me, it’s a common question. I also help you understand what type of sunscreen is best under your makeup.

To know the order of applying sunscreen or makeup, it’s important to understand the role of makeup in your skin care routine.

Makeup is the final creative color product layer applied on top of your Complete Skin Care Routine™. Sunscreen is applied under your makeup as the last step in that routine. Your sunscreen, and any products layered underneath it, will significantly affect the look of your makeup and so picking the best sunscreen to layer under makeup is important.

Related helpful tips: read Dr. Bailey's makeup and skin health best practices.

How do you pick the best sunscreen to go under your makeup?

does sunscreen go under or over makeup dermatologist explains

1. Select mineral sunscreen active ingredients

First, know that mineral zinc oxide broad spectrum sunscreens work the best. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher labeled 'broad spectrum' protection. This indicates that it blocks both UVB (the mid-day summer sunburn ray) and UVA (the UV ray that's out all day, all year and comes through window glass). You want both rays blocked 365 days a year because they damage skin, leading to wrinkles, skin pigment problems, can trigger conditions such as rosacea and can cause skin cancer. 

2. Another great mineral to have in your facial SPF is iron oxide.

This is used to tint sunscreens to help reduce any white cast. More importantly, iron oxide can help reduce visible and digital blue light penetration into your skin. These forms of light also damage skin and contribute to skin pigment problems. Ideally you want over 3.2% concentration of iron oxide in your SPF to protect your skin from all of these forms of light. My Matte Tinted and Powder Refresh SPFs give you this level of protection.

3. Matte sunscreens work best under makeup.

My personal preference is a matte base for under makeup. A matte base forms the perfect palate for makeup and helps to keep your makeup in place during the day. Matte bases can also help reduce oily shine throughout the day.

If you have dry skin, you may think that a creamy SPF will work best. I did for years. I am updating this article at the age of 64 and matte sunscreen technology has advanced so much that I prefer to apply a Matte SPF over a rich moisturizer on my dry and post-menopausal facial skin. During dry weather, I even boost the richness of my moisturizer with a few drops of face oil. The combination creates deeply hydrated skin with the advantage of a matte canvas for makeup. I list my personal favorite products at the end of this article.

Your entire skin care routine determines how well your makeup goes on.

makeup of sunscreen first dermatologist answers

Create the right texture under makeup by layering your products. Remember that before your makeup, you have completed the other steps in your skin care routine. I call this Complete Skin Care™ and it includes:

  1. CLEANSE: cleanser and/or toner prepares your skin
  2. CORRECT: serums or medicated products that target skin problems usually go on freshly cleansed skin
  3. HYDRATE: moisturizer and/or face oil is layered next and selected for your skin type (oily, dry or combination).
  4. PROTECT: your sunscreen is layered on top of these products. See the EPAs paper for more on sunscreen

Makeup goes on top of your SPF!

The sum total of your product layering needs to create the perfect canvas for your makeup; it needs to prevent makeup from slipping, sliding, migrating into creases, flaking, and cracking. You put a lot of time into your makeup. Don’t let the wrong sunscreen sabotage your efforts. Matte base sunscreens applied under makeup work best. 

Is the SPF in makeup enough that you can skip the sunscreen?

NO! The SPF in makeup is not enough because your priority with makeup is to get a certain look and you will apply the right amount to achieve that goal. Sunscreen, on the other hand, is specifically dosed and you need at least 1/4 tsp to protect your face and the front of your neck IF you have a smallish face with good hair protection. People with larger skin surface areas on their face and neck will need more (think high foreheads!). Not many people put that much liquid foundation on. When it comes to powder makeup, who can even quantify that??

Plus, the sunscreen ingredients typically used in makeup are chemical sunscreens or titanium dioxide without zinc oxide. These provide inferior protection compared with zinc oxide. Look at your SPF foundation, do you see words like: avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate or just titanium dioxide listed as an 'active ingredient'? That's not good enough; I only recommend pure mineral sunscreens with 5% or more zinc oxide. You also need to apply the requisite 1/4 tsp of a sunscreen to get the promised protection.

The bottom line with SPF in makeup:

It's not reliable enough. For the most reliable UV protection, apply your broad spectrum SPF 30+ mineral sunscreen that contains at least 5% zinc oxide. Apply the requisite amount of 1/4 tsp to get the full SPF, and then apply your makeup on top to create the look you want for your complexion. Sun protection of your precious facial skin is simply too important to take chances. 

In my video on layering sunscreen with makeup, learn from a dermatologist how to layer these products like a pro.

In my video below, see how sunscreen fits into your skin care routine. Understand matte and oil absorbing sunscreen and makeup bases. Get the best sun protection with high quality sunscreens applied under your makeup AND get great results from your makeup. You don't have to compromise.

After watching the short video, look at the sunscreens that I use and note the attributes relative to complexion needs.

Important points to notice when you are looking for the perfect facial sunscreen to wear under makeup are:

  • Is the product invisible?
  • Is there tinting that blends with your skin tone to help hide complexion flaws?
  • Is the base matte to create a primer-like canvas for makeup?
  • Is there a texture to the product that may not mix nicely with your makeup or other layered products? 

best sunscreens to go on first under makeup

My Sheer Strength Pure Physical Mineral Sunscreens give you the best broad spectrum sun protection. I have an ideal matte SPF50 with iron oxide. I have an SPF 50 Refresh Powder Sunscreen for reapplication that also contains iron oxide. I also have a Water Resistant SPF 50 Spray for swimming and heavy sweating, times where makeup may be the last thing on your mind!

Pro-tip: check the expiration date on your sunscreens and never use expired sunscreen.

Sunscreens are drugs regulated by the FDA and tested for effectiveness. Sunscreen expires and you can't trust an expired sunscreen to give you the protection it promises. Also, start with a fresh new sunscreen if you are uncertain how your sunscreen has been stored as temperature extremes can shorten the lifespan of your sunscreens. 

My patients and I have put sunscreens to the test under infinite variables of complexion types, activities and climates. Learn what we’ve learned in my latest video.


What sunscreen am I, as a dermatologist, using right now under makeup?

best sunscreen for under makeup on your face

My complexion is loving the look of my Sheer Strength Matte Tinted SPF 50 under my makeup. It is weightless, contains over 3.2% iron oxide (the minimum recommended concentration to fight skin pigment problems from sun/visible/digital light!), and the matte finish is a perfect canvas for mineral powder. I apply my Baked Mineral Makeup Powder Foundation and loose mineral blush over my sunscreen when I wear makeup. 

best mineral makeup for on top of sunscreen


best mineral sunscreen powder to apply on top of your makeup

But, and this is a big but, if I am out in the sun for hours, I reapply an SPF powder on top of my makeup! I'Il use my Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 50 Refresh Powder - yes ON TOP! This is the one time when sunscreen is applied on top of makeup! The sun's UV rays are so damaging to your skin that you always want it protected. SPF powder allows you to reapply UV protection conveniently over your makeup during the day without washing everything off and starting over - it's brilliant!

Mineral makeup is the ideal makeup to layer over sunscreen

Mineral powders help augment the reflective UV protection of mineral sunscreens. It's the perfect combination to your mineral SPF. Plus, oily skin benefits from kaolin clay in mineral makeup as found in my Loose Mineral Makeup. Mineral makeup is also the best makeup for acne prone skin. To see all the pure mineral makeup that I recommend you use to top your daily broad spectrum sunscreen.

best makeup for over sunscreen

Flawless Mineral Makeup! This makeup goes on so soft and never settles into my large pores. Yes I have large pores and using this makeup has made my face look flawless and soft. Coverage is light, yet buildable to your coverage liking. This is hands down my makeup for the rest of my aging years. I’m tired of makeup promises that never follow through. Try it, give your makeup an overhaul I know I did and I will never go back to foundation. Love it and love Dr. B! My skin and my makeup have changed my life (self-confidence) for the better. Dianne C

These are pure mineral powders, made without artificial dye, filler, fragrance or any dubious ingredients. Just pure minerals, triple milled for a natural and flake-free finish that's long lasting and completely natural.

Pro-tip: know that your makeup does not last forever.

Click here to learn how long your makeup should last and when you should throw away old makeup. Also, don't share makeup or lipstick because you may be sharing an infection. Makeup is often applied with a brush or sponge that directly touches skin and then is re-dipped into makeup over and over. This allows the introduction of bacteria and germs that can be contagious. The same is true of sharing lipstick; sharing lipstick can put you at risk for sharing herpes. I recommend you keep makeup, makeup brushes and sponges and lipstick private!

Does makeup protect from the sun?

Mineral makeup powders will reflect some UV rays but they are NOT a substitute for sunscreen. So, yes, mineral makeup helps protect your skin from the sun. That said, you never skip your SPF. Apply mineral makeup on top of your SPF for the ultimate protection. 

Makeup that is not made with mineral powder will not reflect UV rays. Using a mineral makeup over your SPF 30+ broad spectrum zinc oxide sunscreen gives you excellent sun protection plus beautiful makeup coverage. For extended times in the sun, reapply a powder SPF to refresh your sun protection. This is the ideal way to take really good care of your facial skin!

Layer your makeup powder or foundation over your sunscreen

I want you to love your sunscreen, wear it daily, feel good about how you look, and take really good care of your skin. It’s your one precious cutaneous covering for your one precious body and life. Dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, MD

Under my sunscreen I apply my Daily Moisturizing Face Cream boosted with a few drops of my Omega Enriched Face Oil. This creates the perfect dewy hydration layered under my Matte SPF and mineral powder makeup!


I apply my Baked Mineral Makeup with my eco-friendly Makeup Brush Set. I love my skin care routine.