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Ask a Beauty Editor: Do You Still Need Sunscreen if You Wear Foundation With SPF?

Hana Hong
·3-min read
is-foundation-with-spf-enough: woman applying foundation
is-foundation-with-spf-enough: woman applying foundation

Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. In our new weekly series Ask a Beauty Editor, beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, haircare, and makeup questions, all submitted by Real Simple readers. Tune in every Tuesday and submit your own burning beauty questions here for a chance to be featured.

Question: "Do you still need to use sunscreen before foundation if your foundation has some in it?" – @ajpickens10

Ah, foundations with SPF. I think we can all agree that sunscreen is a nonnegotiable—here's your daily reminder to go apply—but with the genius addition of SPF-infused makeup, there are a lot of questions about how protected you actually are if you rely on SPF in foundation alone.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm a very lazy person, so any multitasking beauty product is a major plus in my book. However, when it comes to SPF in foundation, it's better in theory than in practice.

Here's why: "When it comes to sun protection, you need a full ounce shot glass of at least SPF 30 to adequately protect yourself from head-to-toe, which translates to a quarter-sized dollop for your face," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. The same goes for your sunscreen-makeup hybrids. That means you would need to apply at least a quarter-sized amount of foundation (or 1 to 1.5 teaspoons) to your face—and that's assuming that your foundation is buffed with a minimum of SPF 30 (which most makeup formulas are not).

That's...a lot of foundation.

You should also keep in mind that the SPF level in foundation isn't quite as strong as it claims. SPF 30 mixed into foundation isn't going to be as effective as a pure SPF 30 sunscreen, so you'd really need to slather it on thick in order to get the UV protection promised by the SPF rating on the bottle.

"Makeup or sunscreen, the truth is that people don't apply nearly enough SPF as they need," says Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City. "Add to that the fact that you probably aren't rubbing foundation on your hairline, jawline, and neck, all exposed areas that require sun protection as well."

Of course, having more protection is never a bad thing. SPF will inevitably break down throughout the day (which is why reapplying every two to three hours is important), so having SPF-infused foundation is like icing on the proverbial skincare cake. Just note: Sunscreen is not additive, meaning that if you layer an SPF 25 foundation over an SPF 30 sunscreen, you won't get 55-level coverage.

I'm not one to discriminate against beauty preferences, but pasty zinc oxide isn't the best look. Unless you plan on piling cakey makeup to meet the minimum of required SPF, it's probably easier to implement that additional layer of sunscreen underneath. If you do need to touch up throughout the day, try a mineral sunscreen powder, which has a mattifying effect and won't make you look like Ronald McDonald.

TL;DR: Does sunscreen in foundation hurt? No. But is it enough? Again, no. Although it's great that your foundation has sun-protecting elements in it, be sure to layer up with a good dose of the real deal, and reapply if you're out in the sun for hours at a time.