Sunscreen Before or After Moisturizer? Derms Give The Verdict

We may include products - handpicked by our editors - we find useful for our readers. When you buy through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission — view our product review process and sources of information.

The best thing you can do for your skin is to apply sunscreen every day, 365 days a year. So to confess, I was ignorant for years, and I started using daily SPF in my 28. Ok, later is better than never. While reading lots about the importance of sunscreen, I came across this question multiple times ‘Should I use sunscreen or moisturizer first?’ Layering sunscreen is not a game, and doing the wrong order can reduce, cancel its effects, or some elements in your moisturizer could affect or inactivate ingredients in sunscreen. The order of application highly depends on what type of sunscreen you use.

This being said…

What type of sunscreen do you use?

Let’s take a step back: SPF is split into two: chemical, which works like a sponge, and physical, which acts as a shelter. You’ve probably heard “sunscreen goes last to have proper effects.” Well, not necessarily. There’s a theory that chemical sunscreens need to touch the skin so that the chemical reaction will take place. So, in this case, sunscreen should be applied before moisturizer. Are you feeling a bit puzzled?

Read on the differences between the two types of sunscreen, how they work and which order you should layer them.

Chemical sunscreens use synthetic UV filters such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, or avobenzone, creating a chemical reaction. They work by absorbing sun rays through their chemical bonds before UV rays interact with the skin. Chemical formulas tend to be thinner and spread easier. Still, they could increase discoloration as a chemical reaction of increased skin temperature, and they don’t last as long as a physical sunscreen. However, you’d probably want a sunscreen without oxybenzone and octinoxate — as these two elements get absorbed in the bloodstream and can interfere with how some hormones work. Plus, they aren’t environmental-friendly.

On the other hand, physical (mineral) sunscreens are made with active mineral ingredients, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They work by sitting on the surface, forming a shield that reflects damaging UV rays away from the skin. Mineral sunscreens last longer than chemical ones, are better for sensitive or blemish-prone skin types, and protect as soon as applied, no need to wait 20 minutes to get its effect. Now you may wonder, What is better: chemical or physical sunscreen? 

I asked this question to Dr. Meg Sison, a board-certified dermatologist. “Choice of sunscreen is largely a personal preference, and the best sunscreen is the one that you’ll use and reapply every day,” she saysIt widely depends on your skin type, concern, and skin tone. Some mineral sunscreens leave a white cast on the skin, making some formulas incompatible with darker skin tones, so it’s all about experimenting and finding the right match for you.

Sunscreen or moisturizer first?

Now that you’ve decoded the type of sunscreen you use, it’s time to answer your question: sunscreen or moisturizer first? If you opt for a chemical sunscreen, apply it before moisturizer since the sunscreen needs to be absorbed into the skin, and do it 20 minutes before you go out for proper effects. In case you’re using physical sunscreen, apply it after your moisturizer. It forms a protective film that won’t let rays enter the skin.

Should I layer sunscreen if my foundation has SPF?

Does your foundation give SPF? Great! Does it replace your sunscreen? No way. Sunscreen is not to skip, even if your foundation gives some sun protection. The SPF 30 in your foundation or primer isn’t as effective as an SPF 30 sunscreen. To get that SPF, you’d need to apply quite a lot of product, which would most likely lead to the cakey look which you don’t want. Dr. Meg said, “A separate sunscreen is required underneath your foundation. The SPF in your makeup is not enough to offer UV protection since it is only applied using a thin layer, which is less than the recommended amount of 2mg/cm2”.

Ok, the exception is if you’re planning to stay inside all day, away from windows, and you just do your makeup for that zoom meeting.

Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter to get access to exclusive content, offers, and products.
Was this article helpful?
Awesome! Would you like to share it?
That's too bad. Thank you for your feedback!
More topics for you
Why trust us?
Women's Concepts relies on the latest scientific research to provide accurate, complete, and fact-based information in skincare, on which we're willing to stake our reputation. Our team includes skincare experts who are highly regarded in their fields and committed to upholding the best standards of research. We spend quality time vetting every single product we recommend and double-checking all the facts shared on Women's Concepts. We always stand on the side of inclusivity, and our mission is to help everyone fix their skin issues as they arise and leverage the products they buy to achieve their goals. You can view our expert review board and everything about our editorial guidelines here.
Women's Concepts Logo
Join Us