In last week’s post about my top liquid foundations and tinted moisturizers, I made a big deal, perhaps even an exaggerated one, about whether or not foundations provided decent UV protection alone. So I figured this week, I would discuss whether or not SPF even matters in makeup products.
***Keep in mind that all makeup and skin care products with an SPF rating are tested and regulated the same way by the FDA, meaning that they are equally effective GIVEN that they are applied in the same amount. So for example, if you were to apply 2.0 milligrams of lipstick with SPF 15 per centimeter^2 of lip space, you’d be getting the same amount of UVB protection as if you were to apply 2.0 milligrams of foundation with SPF 15 per centimeter^2 of facial skin. But because you’ll NEVER apply that much lipstick, this post will examine each of the commonly used makeup products and see whether or not the inclusion of UV filters in those products is worthwhile.
Whether or not you mix your foundation with your sunscreen, or you apply a layer of sunscreen before putting on foundation, the foundation will influence the total amount of UV protection.
If you’re mixing the two, the amount of protection from the sunscreen alone will be proportionally weakened depending on the amount of foundation used and the level of protection provided by the foundation itself. So for example, take my favorite daytime foundation (Smashbox Studio Skin SPF 15, which contains 4.7% titanium dioxide (TiO2)); and my favorite sunscreen (EltaMD UV Pure SPF 47, which contains 10% zinc oxide (ZnO) and 5.5% TiO2). I mix roughly three parts of sunscreen to 1 part of foundation. This calculation would yield an average UV filter content of:
Mixture = ((10% + 10% + 10% +0%) ZnO)/(3 + 1) + ((5.5% + 5.5% + 5.5%+ 4.7%) TiO2)/(3 + 1)
Mixture = (7.5% ZnO) + (5.3% TiO2)
Using the sunscreen simulator provided by BASF at an application amount of the standard 2.0 mg/cm^2, the resulting Mixture would yield an SPF rating of about 15 and a UVA-PF rating of about 7.0. (I usually apply more than the recommended 2.0 mg/cm^2).
Now, if we were to mix in a foundation without any UV filters, the resulting mixture (7.5% ZnO and 4.125% TiO2) would have an SPF rating of about 10 and a UVA-PF rating of about 6.0.
While the numbers, especially the SPF ratings, appear to be quite different; in reality, is it THAT different? Not really. An SPF of 15 blocks about 93.5% of UVB rays, while an SPF of 10 blocks about 90% of UVB rays (difference of 3.5%). Similarly, a UVA-PF rating of 7 blocks about 86% of UVA rays, while an UVA-PF rating of 6 blocks about 83% of UVA rays (difference of 3%). As you can see, the difference between using a foundation with or without SPF does not make a significant difference in the overall level of UV protection. Is it better than nothing? Yes, which is why I choose to mix a foundation that provides “decent” UV protection into my sunscreen.
***Keep in mind that this model was simply an abstract way to illustrate a point. In reality, calculating the levels of UV protection is not that simple. There are many factors that can influence a sunscreen’s capacity to protect, as demonstrated in the sunscreen series. However, this is the most accurate way for the average consumer to get an idea of how much relative UV protection a sunscreen provides. For more details into why and how to mix “sunscreens,” check out this post.
Now, if you choose to apply sunscreen before you apply foundation, the sunscreen will still be negatively affected by the foundation. Here’s why: application. No matter if you use your fingers, a sponge, or a brush, any manual type of application will affect the layer of sunscreen. Because no matter how careful you are, the application method will either blend some of the sunscreen and foundation together, remove some of the sunscreen (via swiping, patting, or buffing motions), or both. And because no one has such muscle control as to apply an even amount of pressure throughout the entire application process, some areas will have more protection, while others will have less.
Therefore, it is my recommendation to simply mix your sunscreen with foundation, rather than layering the two. You may be getting slightly less protection by mixing, but at least you’re getting EVEN protection, rather than a little here and a lot there.
***The only exceptions to this rule are if you were to use an airbrush foundation system, or if the “foundation” or tinted moisturizer/BB cream that you’re layering with provides roughly equal or more protection than the sunscreen itself; slightly less works fine as well. If these apply to you, then layer away!
***Also, this mixing method is recommended over the layering method only if your sunscreen is inorganic-based, meaning that TiO2 and/or ZnO are the primary UV protectors. As demonstrated in the above-linked sunscreen series, which detailed why and how inorganic sunscreens are preferred over organic ones, the “ideal” sunscreen IS an inorganic one. However, if you are using an organic sunscreen, layering would be preferred over mixing due to the fact that, as indicated multiple times before, “organic UV filters are more tempermental and more easily manipulated by the base ingredients and UV filters.”
Ultimately however, the most important thing to do is to apply enough sunscreen so that the subsequent steps like foundation and powder do not significantly affect the overall level of protection. I always try to aim for 3.0 mg/cm^2!
When it comes to powder foundations, setting powders, blushes, bronzers, and the like, it’s debatable whether or not the inclusion of UV filters is beneficial.
On one hand, yes you’ll be getting more (but not much) additional UV protection. On the other hand, most UV filters (not to mention most powder-bases like mica or bismuth oxychloride) have demonstrated the capacity to harm pulmonary tissue, which can lead to systemic interactions. See Part III of the sunscreen debate for more information. Therefore, it’s really up to each individual to decide whether or not it’s worth using powder products that contain UV filters.
Personally, I do use separate daytime and nighttime powders, just to enhance UV protection. However, to inhibit pulmonary intake, I actually hold my breath whenever I’m applying powder. I probably look ridiculous doing this, but whatever. Oh, and when I’m done, I exhale strongly out of my nose rather than mouth (again I’m insane) to push out any particles that may have gotten trapped in my nose hairs (they’re there for a reason)! But that’s just me.
The amount that’s inhaled most likely does not have a significant impact, so I wouldn’t really recommend anyone to emulate this particular practice.
The biggest problem with lip products with SPF is that it’s completely impractical to apply the necessary 2.0 mg/cm^2 to achieve the labeled SPF rating. However, does that mean they’re ineffective? Nope!
Remember, even if you only achieve an eventual SPF rating of 4 with something labeled with an SPF of 15, you’ll still be blocking about 75% of UVB rays. While that’s about 18.5% less protection than if you were to apply 2.0 mg/cm^2, you’ll still be getting significantly more protection than if you were to apply a lip product without SPF! So when it comes to lip products, the inclusion of UV filters is definitely a big plus.
As for toxicity issues (i.e. swallowing some lip product with food or from licking your lips), both the amount swallowed and the pathways of absorption (along the digestive tract) are most likely not relevant, even less so than those of inhalation.
Makeup with SPF: Conclusion
Makeup products with UV filters can be useful. It just depends on what type of makeup item contains them. My recommendations for the ideal routine are as follows:
- If you use a liquid foundation and an inorganic sunscreen; mix, rather than layer the two. Remember to use significantly more sunscreen than foundation.
- If you use a liquid foundation and an organic sunscreen with avobnzone, layer the two instead. Again, remember to use significantly more sunscreen than foundation.
- When applying powder products, try not to inhale too much.
- Definitely pick up a good lip product with SPF for the daytime.
I hope that was informational, and feel free to share your thoughts down below! What are YOUR favorite makeup products with SPF?
John Su describes himself as eccentric—you might find him having a conversation with himself. He’s a stickler for accuracy, so you might find him correcting one thing or another! His goal is to answer questions and provide unbiased, meaningful, and insightful information when it comes to skin care. His underlying motivations stem from a need to inform people who have doubts, questions, or even prayers for solutions to their problems. He has his own skin care blog, The Triple Helixian.View all John Su posts.
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