Moisturizer and Sunscreen: Which One First?

Sunscreen isn't just for days spent sunbathing on the beach or for those hot, super sunny days. It's essential to wear SPF daily, even on a cloudy day.

While sunscreens are now an ingredient in many daily moisturizers, it's important to know that studies have found that these combination products are inferior to sunscreen.

Read on for SPF recommendations for facial products, as well as ways to easily incorporate sunscreen use into your daily routine.

Woman applying cream to face
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SPF for Your Face

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying an SPF (sun protection factor) 30 or higher sunscreen to exposed skin every day—including your face.

The sun's harmful rays can penetrate your skin even on cloudy days. So, even if you only plan to be outside for a short time, it's good to get into a routine of applying sunscreen to your face daily.

Your lips are also at risk from sun exposure. So, apply a lip balm or lipstick with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Sunscreen should have broad-spectrum protection. That means it should contain protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

UVA vs. UVB Rays

UVA rays have a longer wavelength and cause skin aging symptoms, like wrinkles and sunspots.

UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and are responsible for burning the skin.

Dermatologists recommend applying an SPF 30 or greater sunscreen to your face every day. Using an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen daily is the easiest way to protect your face from the harmful rays of the sun.

Nowadays, most sunscreens tout broad-spectrum protection right on the label, so finding an effective sunscreen is easy.

The Best Routine

The order in which you apply your sunscreen and other facial products, like moisturizer and makeup, depends on the type of sunscreen you use. For example, sunscreen comes in two different types. They include:

  • Chemical sunscreen: These work inside the skin. They absorb the sun's rays and dissipate them with a chemical reaction.
  • Physical sunscreen: These are also known as mineral sunscreens. They work like a shield on the skin's surface to deflect the sun.

Considering how the product works to protect your skin will inform the order of application.

For instance, since chemical sunscreens must absorb into the skin to work correctly, you want to apply these types of sunscreens before your other products.

Apply the sunscreen to a clean, dry face and allow it to sink into your skin for a few minutes before applying your moisturizer and makeup, if applicable. The order you should apply products is as follows:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Tone
  3. Apply SPF
  4. Apply serum or moisturizer

On the other hand, if you use a mineral sunscreen, which shields the skin by deflecting the sun's rays, you should apply sunscreen last.

Using makeup and other facial products with sunscreen will help ensure that your face is adequately covered and you don't miss a spot.

Best Moisturizers with SPF

While it's most effective to use a separate sunscreen and moisturizer, you may find that applying a moisturizer with SPF saves you money and time during your morning routine.

Cost and Skin Type

SPF moisturizers are available at every price point; you can find them at both drugstores and department stores.

However, SPF moisturizers, like all personal care products, aren't one-size-fits-all. A product that works for someone else might not necessarily work for you.

Finding the right SPF moisturizer might take some trial and error, but you can save yourself time and money by figuring out your skin type first. Then you'll know what ingredients to look for and which ones to avoid.

Formulation

The skin on your face differs from the skin on the rest of your body. Sunscreen intended for the body often leaves a greasy residue, which isn't ideal for the face.

Therefore, look for a moisturizer or sunscreen formulated for your face. These provide the sun protection you need without clogging your pores or making your skin feel greasy.

SPF moisturizers typically offer benefits in addition to sun protection. For example, the Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer in SPF 30 offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and may help improve skin tone and texture.

Recap

To save time and money, you might want to choose a combination of moisturizer and sunscreen. Whether you choose a combination or stand-alone sunscreen, be sure to purchase a sunscreen specially formulated for the face. These are less greasy and won't clog your pores as all-body sunscreens can.

Summary

Applying daily sunscreen to your face with an SPF of 30 or higher is an integral part of your morning skin routine. Sunscreen is essential even on cloudy days or days that you plan to be mostly indoors because UVA rays can pass through clouds and windows and lead to skin damage.

The order of application depends on which type of sunscreen you choose. If you use a chemical sunscreen, apply it first; if you use a mineral sunscreen, apply it last.

Combination facial moisturizers containing SPF might save time and money, but be sure to choose one that works for your skin type.

A Word From Verywell

While stand-alone sunscreen is more effective than combination sunscreen-moisturizers, you should choose whichever product will ensure you use it daily. Be sure to select a product that is specifically formulated for the face. These will be less likely to clog pores and lead to breakouts. Adding sunscreen to your daily routine can reduce your risk of premature wrinkles and skin cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long do you wait between applying moisturizer and sunscreen?

    You should wait until sunscreen is fully absorbed before applying moisturizer or other products.

  • How long does a sunburn last?

    Sunburn typically resolves in three to five days.

  • How do you treat a sunburn?

    There are several things you can do to treat a sunburn, including:

    • Taking a cool bath
    • Applying moisturizer and aloe vera
    • Drinking water
    • Taking pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
    • Avoiding sun exposure while your skin heals
    • Avoiding picking at peeling skin
7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin cancer.

  2. Lourenco EAJ, Shaw L, Pratt H, et al. Application of SPF moisturisers is inferior to sunscreens in coverage of facial and eyelid regions. PLoS One. 2019;14(4):e0212548. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0212548

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs.

  4. Skin Cancer Foundation. UV radiation and your skin.

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Is sunscreen safe?

  6. Skin Cancer Foundation. Making your sunscreen work with your makeup.

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Sunburn.

Originally written by Lisa Fayed