Do cosmetics with SPF really offer protection, or are they giving users a false sense of safety?

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Forget to apply sunscreen this morning? Cosmetics companies are trying to make the task easier by adding UV protection to makeup and other skin-care products.

But do cosmetics with SPF really offer protection, or are they giving users a false sense of safety?

Dermatologists say these products can help, but not to forgo actual sunscreen.

“The more sun protection, the better,” says Dr. Suzanne Friedler, board-certified dermatologist of the American Academy of Dermatology at Advanced Dermatology PC in Manhattan, who advocates using the products with sunscreen.

If you’re going to pick a cosmetic with UV protection, Dr. Carolyn Jacob, board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology, prefers those with SPF 30, “although SPF 15 is better than nothing,” she says.

If your day consists of commuting to your office job and being inside all day, you could get by with wearing moisturizer and makeup with SPF protection, Jacob says.

For more time outside, Dr. Alix J. Charles, board-certified dermatologist at the DuPage Medical Group, recommends combining UV-protection cosmetics with an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

“A foundation that has an SPF factor alone is probably not going to give you the kind of SPF protection that you were hoping for. … To get an adequate amount of SPF protection from, say, a foundation or a makeup product, you have to have it cover completely, evenly over your entire face, and it would almost look like a makeup mask,” Charles says.

When using moisturizers with SPF protection, let them soak into the skin for about 10 minutes before starting your makeup routine, he says.

Moisturizers and makeup with UV protection come in both mineral-based and chemical-based formulas. Friedler and Jacob prefer the mineral-based formulas, which use titanium oxide and/or zinc oxide, although Charles says it’s a matter of preference for users. In the past, mineral-based sunscreens had a whitish appearance on the skin (think lifeguard nose), although Friedler and Jacob say the formulations have improved.


For a moisturizer, Jacob says she uses NeoCutis Journee Bio-restorative Day Cream Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF30 ($189 at, which also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid in addition to sunscreen. A drugstore version popular with dermatologists is Eucerin Moisturizing Face Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30 ($8 at


Many companies make foundations with SPF, such as Clinique’s Even Better Makeup ($29 at and the just-launched La Prairie Skin Caviar Essence-in-Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 25 Sunscreen ($195 at, which comes in compact form, making it portable.

Powder sunscreen

During long days, it can be a pain to reapply UV-based makeup every two hours, as recommended for proper sun protection.

To remedy that, the dermatologists suggest powder-based sunscreens that can be applied over makeup. Friedler and Jacob recommend Colorescience’s Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($65 at Another brand popular with dermatologists is Eminence Organic Skin Care’s Sun Defense Minerals ($58 at

Friedler says she also likes Replenix Sheer Physical Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($41.50 at, a spray-on moisturizing sunscreen.

Lip balm

And don’t forget your lips. Jacob says lipstick-wearers usually have some protection built in since many lipsticks have titanium oxide as their base, but for those who don’t, be sure to use some sort of SPF-containing lip balm. Options include Nivea Recovery Medicated Lip Care ($2.49 at and Sonya Dakar’s Lip Shield Natural Lip Balm ($12 at

“The No. 1 place to develop squamous cell skin cancers is the lower lip because it gets so much sun exposure,” she says.