Patients in my dermatology practice ask me this all the time. They also ask if makeup with sunscreen will give enough sun protection to prevent sun damage.
If you plan to stay inside during the day then it may give you adequate sun protection for what little sun comes in windows (which will be UVA so you need broad spectrum protection) or bounces in from an open door. If, however, you plan to be outside for more than a quick run to your car, then that daily moisturizer or makeup with SPF 15 is probably giving you a false sense of sun protection security and your skin's getting new sun damage!
What is the problem with relying on moisturizer or makeup SPF for protection?
The sun protection you get from sunscreen depends on putting enough product on your skin and reapplying every 2 hours. You're not going to do this with your SPF 15 facial moisturizer or your makeup because your goal is different with these products. With a moisturizer you are looking to create the right hydration and feel to your skin. With makeup, you are looking to get the right look.
For adequate daily sun protection, the amount of SPF ingredients that you apply to your skin is THE critical step for sun protection. When the sun is shining on your skin for a sustained period of time - in direct sun, reflecting off buildings or pavement or sand, and coming through windows - you need the right amount of sun protecting ingredients on your face!
Plus, when you're using a product with chemical (also called 'organic') actives (which means anything other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), the 2 hour reapplication is really important. That's because UV rays break down 'organic' actives when they hit them. Most daily moisturizers or foundations with SPF rely on 'organic' actives, and have only the tiny amount sufficient to create an SPF 15 to begin with. This means your sun protection runs out during the day and you're unprotected!
Add to that the fact that when people use a daily moisturize or makeup that doubles as a sunscreen they don't usually do the first two important steps of sun protection: put enough on and reapply every 2 hours.
On the average day it's unlikely that you're going to reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours which means you have to be cleaver about that one morning application in the first place.
Bottom line: that daily moisturizer or foundation with SPF 15 is most probably giving you a false sense of sun protection security. I can help you figure out how to get better protection for your skin.
How can you get enough sun protection from the morning sunscreen application in your skin care routine?
What I tell my patients is that for their average work or school day, they need to use the moisturizer that their skin 'wants' and then on top of that apply a real sunscreen.
Your moisturizer serves that step in your skin care regimen where you dial in that perfect amount of hydration that protects your skin from drying out, and that makes your skin look and feel moist and plump. What I mean by a 'real' sunscreen is one with an SPF between 30 and 50 and that is labeled 'broad spectrum'. I also believe that the best protection comes from products that contain mineral zinc oxide at 5% or more concentration. The sunscreen should also be made by a highly reputable lab because sun screen ingredients inactivate each other as they sit in the bottle and so you need a product that's stood up to years of successful use under the highest scrutiny.
The zinc oxide (also called a physical or 'inorganic' sunscreen ingredient) is a physical block because it sits on the outer layers of your skin and bounces light off of your skin and back into the stratosphere. I think of the process as being like bouncing tennis balls off a racket.
Zinc oxide sunscreen technology has come a long way and now there are many transparent products. The micro/nano zinc products will go on completely transparent if you keep rubbing the product into your skin until you can't see it anymore. Products with heftier zinc oxide sunscreen may be tinted with advanced technology that blends into all skin color tones.
Rub your zinc product onto your skin well to disperse the zinc particles evenly across your skin surface. You've just created a fine, invisible or imperceptible protective layer of mineral particles covering your skin and the UV bouncing is ready to begin for the day!
If you wear makeup with your sunscreen, when do you apply that?
Makeup goes on top of sunscreen and it ideally should be a mineral makeup which gives you even more physical sun protection by this same bouncing mechanism.
Know that if you're planning to really out in the sun, you need a great hat and to try to aim for staying in the shade as much as possible. (Of course, for extreme and sustained outdoor sun exposure, like a day at the beach, you just have to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.)
It takes some effort and planning but your skin will reward you by looking younger than you expect, and for years! As you've probably already heard, most of the undesirable skin changes we see with age like wrinkles, age spots and skin thinning are actually due to sun damage. Who needs it! And remember, you need sun protection all year round because even those winter UVA rays cause skin aging and skin cancer.
I have a lot of information on practical sun protection on my blog because it's the single most important step a person can do for anti aging skin care and skin health. I invite you to scroll through the Sun Protection Advice listed on the right of this post or visit my sun protection product pages for products the highly scrutinized products that I use in my practice. They are made by expert chemists, I personally use them every day and I've witnessed them protect thousands of my patients from our California sun.
Photo: Thanks and Gratitude to Andrew Plewes