Does SPF Makeup Actually Work? – The Ugly Truth!

Personal/Inspirational, Skin Care
Makeup related naval gazing by berthacrowley

Today’s question, submitted via the Facebook page:
I have tried the Peter Thomas Roth instant mineral powder in SPF 45, but I wonder if it’s actually doing anything. What’s your take on this?


Dear Lisa,

You are absolutely right for being a bit skeptical. Any powder product requires about 14 times the amount of normal powder application to receive the SPF listed on the package. This is because scientists test facial powders to determine SPF in a manner mandated by the FDA, assuming that 2mg of product will be used per cm2 of skin. The average face is about 600cm2 (although that varies from person to person, of course), meaning that a person needs to apply about 1.2g of facial powder to get the SPF stated on the product’s label. However, most women only apply about 0.085g of powder at a time – fourteen times less than you need to get the SPF listed on the package!

The problem is not as significant with foundations, but still alarming. Most women are getting about 60-80% the sun protection listed on the bottle. This is determined by the fact that most dermatologists recommend applying 1/4-1/3 a teaspoon of sunscreen (1.23-1.62 mL) to the face, but most foundation applications are approximately 1 mL. (for instance, in my favorite foundation, Chanel Vitalumiere, there are an estimated 30 uses in the 30 mL bottle.) Dividing 1 mL by 1.23 or 1.62 gives us a nice estimation that we are getting about 60-80% of the sun protection listed on the bottle.

Still, unless you want to pull a Miss Piggy and apply 2-3 times the foundation (and 14 times the powder!), it is vital to use a daily moisturizer with sunscreen under your makeup. I recommend LaRoche Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen SPF 60 ($21.88, and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen SPF 100 ($21.12, I also think it is worth mentioning with the winter months approaching that if you do not get much (if any) sunscreen-free UV exposure, it is important to take a vitamin D3 supplement like GNC Vitamin D3 ($9.99, daily to maintain strong bones and a healthy immune system.

Bottom Line

Never, ever depend on your makeup for adequate SPF protection.

Hope this helps,

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Image source:  Makeup related naval gazing, a photo by berthacrowley on Flickr.

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  • Great post-thank you!
    I was wondering what is the effectiveness of a mineral based SPF with a tint. I have been using such product from Bare Escentuals instead of foundation. Would i be the same case here?

  • Thanks for the post! I’ve actually read about it before… but I was wondering, does this also apply to moisturizers with SPF? I’ve always felt uncomfortable that people recommend SPF moisturizers because I feel the protection is insufficient as compared to an actual sunscreen.

  • Priscilla

    OOPS, total error. I meant to say ZINC OXIDE instead of AVOBENZONE. SORRY. Late night :)!

    Also, a physical sunscreen I saw to be advertised as sheer was skincetucals

  • Priscilla

    Great review, I was wondering the same thing, so Im glad you wrote this! Ive been really doing a lot of research to find the right sunscreen, I hope you can help. I appreciate all of your wonderful recommendations, do you have any good recs for physical sunscreens? Hopefully ones that aren’t a) too whitening and b) have a good amount of avobenzone?

    Also, when researching sunscreens I found many claim to be transparent/sheer, are these safe? I heard from this article that zinc oxide when micronized can act as a chemical sunscreen, and that nano-particles of zinc oxide are bad. Do these “sheer” physical sunscreens have this?

    The two you mentioned in the above are chemical. In your last post from a few months ago where you reviewed the best sunscreens, you recommended NIA 24 and DDF Organic. NIA 24 washed me out completely, I have yellow/olive undertones and I found I just looked ill wearing it, I couldn’t go out without make up over it. Secondly, I was hoping to find something with more avobenzone for more UVA protection. Then I wanted to try DDF Organic which had great reviews, more zinc oxide, and less complaints about a “whitening effect”, but I saw it is now discontinued.

  • I just came across your blog about SPF makeup and it was of particular interest to me. I especially liked your comments about how much more makeup you’d have to put on to actually get the recommended SPF coverage. We offer a wide array of dermatology services and would like to invite you and your readers to checkout our website: We are located in Long Beach, CA and strive to deliver the most personalized service.

  • Lisa

    Thanks for the in depth response! I always enjoy the scientific evidence behind your answers. So would you say just applying sunscreen in the morning under makeup would suffice, with no reapplication throughout the day?

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