If My Makeup Has Sunscreen, Is That Enough Protection from the Sun?

Patient Expert

Each week, Health and Beauty Expert Sue Chung will discuss skin health topics suggested by members of the HealthCentral community. To ask Sue a question, send an email to feedback@skincancerconnection.com or leave a comment below.

Reader's Question: I wear makeup with sunscreen every day. Is this enough? I hate having to put thick sunscreen on all the time.

Sue's Response: Sunscreen gets a bad rap. The kind we slather on before we hit a day at the beach is usually goopy and smells strongly of coconuts or chemicals. As a result, most of us try to cheat our way around daily sunscreen application by purchasing cosmetics with SPF.

And while it's not necessary to rub in a chalky, sport-strength sunscreen every morning, the SPF in your makeup won't get the job done alone.

A 2001 study at Wake Forest University showed that, within two hours, liquid and cream foundations often slide around and gather in pores and wrinkles. After just a few hours in normal temperature and humidity conditions, the SPF you get from makeup can be rendered ineffective by the way foundation wears off.

Instead of relying on a single layer of foundation, use a simple but multi-pronged protection strategy.

After cleansing the face, first use a moisturizer with an SPF of 15. The most effective chemical sunscreens include avobenzone (which can be listed as Parsol 1789) and Mexoryl. These are also usually labeled as "broad-spectrum" sun protection. Over the past few years, the cosmetics industry has ramped up the sophistication of their sunscreen-infused moisturizers. Nowadays, these products are often silky, light, and completely un-chalky. Neutrogena and Olay make excellent lines of moisturizers with sunscreen that absorb quickly and go on smoothly.

Once the moisturizer gets absorbed, apply your foundation. Try to choose one that also includes an SPF of at least 15. Finally, apply powder. While the powder does not need to feature SPF, most cosmetic powders contain zinc oxide, a mineral that acts as a physical barrier against sun damage.

The one caveat about chemical sunscreens is that some people find themselves sensitive or even allergic to these ingredients. If this is the case, stick with physical sunblocks. In addition to zinc oxide, another physical sunscreen is titanium dioxide. These minerals do not get absorbed by the skin. Instead, they sit on the surface of the skin and reflect sun damage away due to their opacity.

Some common mineral foundations include Bare Minerals (http://www.bareminerals.com/) and Colorescience (http://www.colorescience.com/). In addition, drugstore brands such as L'Oreal have also introduced mineral makeup products. Three years ago, after trying the Bare Minerals foundation once, I was hooked. In addition to providing sun protection, this powder doesn't tend to settle into pores and fine lines. The company also boasts that the product is waterproof, but I don't think that the makeup really withstands a day of sweating in the hot sun.

Colorescience offers a unique way to complement mineral foundation. Its Sunforgettable powder has an SPF of 30 and comes in a ready-to-use powder brush. Unlike makeup, the powder goes on completely clear and leaves behind a dry layer of sun protection. If the idea of layering on makeup throughout the day seems like overkill, opt for this weightless powder sunscreen. It can be used over makeup or alone and does not require absorption time. You can apply and walk out the door.

Remember that we all accumulate sun damage even from driving to work and walking the dog. In order to maximize sun protection, make sure you use a sunscreen option, whether it's a moisturizer, makeup, powder, or all three.