Makeup with SPF: Effective or Not?

Is it worth getting a powder with SPF like the Chanel Double Perfection SPF 10?

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)

Shall we “churn” some sunscreens together?

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!


Be careful not to inhale too much when using loose powders with SPF like the Lauer Mercier Mineral Powder SPF 15.

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.

Lip Products

Well… HE may be able to apply 2.0 mg/cm^2 of lipstick!

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:

  1. If you use a liquid foundation and an inorganic sunscreen; mix, rather than layer the two. Remember to use significantly more sunscreen than foundation.
  2. 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.
  3. When applying powder products, try not to inhale too much.
  4. 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?

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  • Andrea

    I’m still confused, so if you use a PHYSICAL sunscreen with zinc oxide, you SHOULD NOT mix it with foundations, correct?? And if you are going to apply cream foundations/bronzers/etc, with fingers do light downward strokes or a stippling brush??? Is an spf 15 good enough is you apply that generous amount that you were mentioning and should it last all day if you only go outside for short bouts??? And again, if you are going to use a BB cream wtih spf, you should still definitely do a sunscreen under it so that you ensure enough coverage?? Are you assuming that no one would use a tinted BB cream in high enough quantities to make it effective enough?? I have one that I like, but I guess I can do a moisturizer with spf under it!

  • @Stacey

    No, SPF ratings are mostly reliable as long as you apply enough sunscren (2.0 mg/cm^2) and that it’s a nice even coat. All products with the same SPF rating are equally effective in terms of UVB protection, assuming that you apply them in equal amounts. In terms of the two BB creams that you mentioned however, I much MUCH prefer the Dr. Jart one rather than the Smashbox. In fact, I wouldn’t even recommend the latter. At least the Dr. Jart one provides good UVA and UVB protection. The Smashbox one however, provides barely any UVA Protection with only 1.1% TiO2. 🙁 So definitely stop using that as your sole source of UV protection. Of course, if you wear a good UVA and UVB sunscreen underneath or mixed with it, then you can keep using it.

    I’m super glad that you started doing more research! You’re on your way to much better skin care and skin! And I know it can be very complicated in the beginning. So start small; don’t try to absorb everything at once. Plus, I’m always here to help you! If you have any questions, feel free to ask me and I’ll direct you in the right direction. You can also of course, ask me on my blog too. Here’s my contact information:

    Does that make sense?

  • @Trae

    You’re absolutely right that the higher refractive index is what makes TiO2 much more white in person and in photographs.

    And like you, I try to stay out of the sun even when I’m outside too. 🙂 I’m a similar coloring too! I range from about NC15-NC20 depending on which part of the body.

  • Stacey

    So even BB creams are pretty dubious in regard to their stated SPF’s? I was under the impression they were created for a more effective combination. I ordered dr. Jart since it had a 40 SPF and some supposed anti aging benefits and I’m currently using smashbox at SPF 35 – I stopped applying my la Roche sunscreen because I thought these new BB creams with high SPF’s would cover me. Can you give an opinion on either of these products formulations?

    I LOVE this blog and I only found it tonight so I’m still in product infancy (I used to put too much faith in pseudo scientific marketing and I’m now dedicated to researching everything that goes on my skin!) but I adore makeup and after reading about all the potential interactions (with c-serum, acids, etc) I’m petrified! I’m now thinking I should avoid any anti aging makeup in case it negates my skin care, which I suppose is doable. But with all thus talk of powder dust reactions and organic vs inorganic ingredients negating each other I don’t know what to do! Gonna have to really study this blog! Thank you so much for the info!

    One more thing – of those 2 BB creams both claim anti aging properties. Are their ingredients something I should avoid because they might interfere with skin treatments? I’m so confused!

  • Trae


    Hey, thanks for the reply ! ^_^

    I’ll definitely do a test swatch on my arm of any inorganic sunscreen / fdxn mixes I come up with to ensure that they don’t give off too much of a white cast with flash photography. In general, my past experience has been that sunscreens that use a moderate amount of ZnO only, like the Elta MD ones, for example, don’t show up white on my skin in pictures in which a flash is used, whereas ones that also combine some amount TiO2 with the zince tend to give a mild white cast (perhaps from the higher refractivity index of TiO2 vs ZnO ?), though nothing super-noticeable.

    If I do get a whitish cast with the inorganic sunscreen / fdxn mixes, though, I have a couple of my favorite organic sunscreens I can fall back on, as you suggested.

    My skintone is fair-to-medium, with a neutral-to-cool undertone. In MAC shades I’m around an NW20, and in their Face & Body Foundation (my favorite fdxn from them) I wear N2 ^_^

    Thanks again for the help…let’s hope the outdoor part of the wedding doesn’t last too long: even though I’ll be wearing sunscreen in some form, I just generally don’t like sitting in the sun LOL ._.

  • @Trae

    You’re welcome! And playing around with finding the perfect combination for mixing foundations and sunscreens is fun! At least for me and you apparently haha.

    As for the wedding, I’m not sure wearing inorganic sunscreen with photos “in the picture” is wise, since you’re going to appear very white. On that day, perhaps you’ll want to use a completely organic sunscreen mixed with a foundation (that doesn’t contain UV filters). To try out which sunscreens and foundations are flash photography compatible, just swatch (and properly blend) the options on your arm and take a flash photograph to see if it they look very white. That might help you!

    Of course, I don’t know your skin tone. If you’re naturally pale, like less than NC15, then you’re fine with whatever combo!

  • Trae

    Hey John

    Thanks for another great article: I’d seen you mention makeup and SPF interplay in another article and am glad that you expounded upon it here. I don’t regularly use full-face foundation ’cause I don’t usually need all-over coverage, but I’d always worried about how my liquid or cream concealers might affect sunscreen I’d applied underneath, so during the day, I just tend to spot-apply powder foundations with inorganic filters (Colorescience Pro Loose Powder Foundation and Jane Iredale Amazing Base Loose) as one would a concealer, even though they’re not quite as ‘nice’ on drier skintypes like mine, and just save my liquid- and cream-textured concealers for nightime use. I will be attending a friend’s outdoor wedding next spring, and mixing a foundation with a sunscreen that uses inorganic filters sounds like it’d be a great way to get just a bit more coverage (for photos and whatnot) and also some sun protection along with it. Thanks for explaining this technique in the article…now all that’s left is to choose which sunscreen and foundation to use for the job (lots of choices, but hey, should be a fun process -_^).

  • @Jelena

    You’re very welcome! Well, the approximate “calculation” for your sunscreen mixture depends on how much foundation you use in relation to how much sunscreen is used. I don’t think you need to find a different sunscreen just because even then, the difference between an SPF rating of 45 and 50 is very, VERY small.

    As for your foundation not contaning sunscreen, as I demonstrated in the post, the difference between using a foundation with SPF and one without SPF still doesn’t make THAT big a difference (a few %s)in both UVA and UVB protection. I’m just someone that will always take more protection even if it’s just a little bit, so long as it fits my overall routine and preferences.

    So if you love your sunscreen and foundation, there’s no need to change them. The most important thing is to apply ENOUGH of your sunscreen (at least 2.0 mg/cm^2) to guarantee adequate protection. As I noted in the post, I personally always try to use more than that amount; hopefully 3.0 mg/cm^2. What that means in the vernacular, is to use about a nickle-sized dollop that’s 1/4-1/3 of an inch thick for just my face area. 😉

    Does that make sense? Thanks for reading!

  • Jelena

    Hi John,

    Thank you for all the amazing information. I’ve learned so much about skincare from you.
    After reading your article on organic versus inorganic sunscreens, I searched everywhere to find a good physical sunscreen (in Canada). I settled on physical spf 45 by cliniderm. I started mixing it with NARS sheer glow foundation with no sunscreen in it. Looking at your calculations, my protection after mixing would be less than 10. So, I guess once I run out of my sunscreen I should be looking at buying one with spf 50 or higher given I want to stick with my NARS. Am I getting this right? 🙂 Thanks again, Jelena

  • @Cherise St. Claire

    Oops, I completely missed your comment. Can you elaborate on what you mean by, “It’s all part of marketing?”

  • @lizzie

    Thank you for your support, as always!

    As I indicated to both Belle and NeenaJ above, “I just assumed that because my entire sunscreen series emphasized how and why inorganic UV filters are “better” than organic ones, that the “ideal” sunscreen for everyone would be an inorganic one. But, I shouldn’t have just made an overarching generalization and assumption, so I went back and made a notation to clarify your concern.”

    As for the wait time between applications: yes, you are right that by waiting a long time (and also being very careful with application), the level of protection won’t be too drastically reduced. However, you also have to remember that, “If you’re using liquid products that contain water, the water content of the foundation would partially rehydrate a bit of the initial product, the sunscreen,” allowing for some “dilution” to occur.

    Ultimately however, the most important thing is to apply enough sunscreen so that these subsequent steps do not significantly affect the overall level of protection.

    Does that make sense?

    Oh, and I’m thrilled to see that you’re applying some of the knowledge from this post:

    Nice work!

  • @NeenaJ

    Thanks for reading!

    Yes, if you’re using an organic sunscreen with avobenzone, you won’t want to mix it with your foundation, since the pigments used in foundations (which are usually iron or at least metal oxides), will degrade the avobenzone, reducing you overall level of UVA protection.

    As I said to Belle, “I just assumed that because my entire sunscreen series emphasized how and why inorganic UV filters are “better” than organic ones, that the “ideal” sunscreen for everyone would be an inorganic one.”

    But, I shouldn’t have just made an overarching generalization and assumption, so I went back and made a notation to clarify your concern. 🙂

  • @Belle

    Yep, though of course the degree of change depends on your method of application. And keep in mind that if you’re using liquid products that contain water, the water content of the foundation would partially rehydrate a bit of the initial product, the sunscreen.

    However, what I should have indicated in the post was that the “mixing” recommendation was only applicable given that your sunscreen was primarily inorganic-based, rather than organic. I just assumed that because my entire sunscreen series emphasized how and why inorganic UV filters are “better” than organic ones, that the “ideal” sunscreen for everyone would be an inorganic one. So I’ll be going back into the article to make another notation to clear up this confusion.

    But yeah, the most important thing is to apply enough sunscreen. And since you’re using an organic-based sunscreen, feel free to layer away!

  • lizzie

    John I love your articles in general but I’m not sure I agree with this one. I think it’s important to take into account the interval between applications (when layering foundation over ss), as well as whether the ss is chemical or physical. I think a long interval time between foundation and ss would hugely decrease the chances of the sunscreen being ‘diluted’, per se. Also, what irritates me about spf in makeup products (and what makes mixing and layering them with ss quite dangerous) is that they could degrade the spf production from your sunscreen. An avobenzone based sunscreen could be rendered ineffective if mixed with an spf foundatn with octinoxate in it.

  • NeenaJ

    I enjoyed reading this article. While my foundations don’t contain sunscreen, I use an SPF 50 PA+++ sunscreen underneath (and I work 8-5 indoors without an office window). I’m curious about the ingredients in foundation and how they might degrade the sunscreen. Especially when one has a chemical filter and the other has a physical one.

  • Really? So that’s just part of marketing? 🙁

  • Belle

    So say, I put on a chemical sunscreen, let it set and dry, would it still be affected by manual application?

  • @Anna

    You’re welcome. I’m glad you learned something!

  • Anna

    Thanks for the info, I thought this was very useful.

  • @Tiffany Martin

    Haha, good to know that I’m not the only occasional above-water underwater diver out there. 🙂

    Your routine looks fine. There’s no need to change anything since the “foundation” or tinted moisturizer (which is essentially what a BB cream is) that you’re layering above your sunscreen, provides MORE protection than you’re sunscreen.

    In context of the post, I assumed that most traditional “foundations” provided significantly less protection than the sunscreen used, which is true in most cases. But I’ll go back and add another little asterisk to explain this exception so that there’s less confusion.

    Thanks for the tip!

  • John, I do the EXACT SAME THING whenever using loose powder. I read about the pulmonary interactions last year, and it’s a very simple thing to do that (hopefully) mitigates a bit of that.

    Thanks for your mathematical model, but as for me I use a high SPF BB cream (30-45 SPF, PA+-PA++) over an SPF 30 and NO foundation. I’m I right to assume that there’s probably no need to change what I’m doing as my BB is usually MORE protective than my suncreen product?

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