Fact: UV rays harm skin—just ask your mom or dermatologist—and not just during the warmer months. “Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds,” explains Yoon-Soo Cindy Bae, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU. Regular sun exposure—even for brief periods of time—puts your skin at risk, especially if you’re not using SPF daily. And most people aren’t. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined the results of a 2013 survey that asked participants how often they use sunscreen when outside in the sun for more than an hour. The shocking result? Only 14.3% of men and 29.9% of women reported regularly wearing sunscreen.
We’d never advocate skipping sunscreen, but we’ll level with you: A little sun looks good on everyone. Luckily, that's where makeup comes in. It lets you mimic a bronzed, lit-from-within glow without having to sacrifice your skin’s well-being.
So which SPF-packed products are up to the task? And when (and how) should you use them? We turned to the experts for skin-saving tips and recommendations.
Your best defense against the sun’s rays is incorporating SPF-packed products (namely moisturizer and foundation) into multiple steps of your routine. As soon as you’re done cleansing your face, follow up with an SPF-rich moisturizer. In addition to boosting your skin’s radiance, it’ll also allow your makeup go on more smoothly and add an extra layer of protection to your routine.
Remember, this step is in addition to applying full-on sunscreen (more on that later). “Many makeup and skincare products that have added protection have a low SPF that isn’t strong enough to protect on its own,” says dermatologist Tina Funt, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. So while incorporating these items into your routine won’t hurt, look at them as an added bonus, not your sole method of protection.
A 2017 study published in The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology looked at sunscreen use in more than 2000 Minnesota State Fair attendees. The researchers’ findings? Only 33% of people who used the provided sunscreen applied it to all of their exposed skin. Crazy, right? People have been conditioned to apply SPF to their face and arms when it’s hot outside—and that’s it. When it’s cloudy, it’s easy to assume that no sun equals no damage, but that’s just not true. “One thing to think about during the colder months is snow, which can reflect 80% of the sun’s rays,” Dr. Bae adds—a sobering statistic for any skincare devotee.
That in itself should urge you to be just as diligent about your sun care routine in the winter as you are in the summer. You don’t need to apply SPF from head to toe (unless you’re heading to the beach, of course), Dr. Bae says. But you should focus on all areas of exposed skin, including your ears, hands, arms, lips, and neck. Some people prefer to use different sunscreens for their face and body (facial versions tend to absorb more quickly and feel more lightweight than other formulas), but pick what works best for you. Just be sure to keep your sunscreen on your vanity with the rest of your daily essentials, and don’t forget to reapply throughout the day! We also suggest keeping travel-size options in your purse for easy touch-ups.
Cover Your Bases
If you couldn’t tell by now, we’re all about multitasking products—and a foundation that does double-duty is a must. Our favorites are infused with luminizing pigments, SPF, and good-for-skin ingredients (hello, vitamin C) that give your complexion an instant radiance boost and improve your complexion over time.
But remember: Your foundation shouldn’t be your only source of SPF. Most people don’t use enough product or apply it evenly enough to rely on foundation alone. So some parts of your complexion may be less protected than others. And, of course, reapplication is key, says Dr. Bae. “[If you’re in the] sun for more than two hours sweating—or after swimming—you must reapply. If you don’t want to remove your makeup, opt for an SPF-infused loose powder or mineral veil for touchups throughout the day.”
Protect Your Pout
SPF isn’t just for your face—it’s also important for your lips. The truth is that your lips are one of the first places to show signs of aging, and increased exposure to the sun will speed up the formation of lines and wrinkles. “If you have non-healing sores, flaking lips, or discolored spots, then the sun [can be] to blame,” says Dr. Bae. She suggests using a gentle exfoliator, rubbed in with an unused toothbrush, followed by lip balm. Choose one that contains broad spectrum SPF to prevent future damage.
The takeaway? Use sun protection every day, year-round. Here are some of our favorite SPF products.
American Academy of Dermatology Association. Prevent skin cancer.
Holman DM, Berkowitz Z, Guy GP Jr, Hawkins NA, Saraiya M, Watson M. Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015;73(1):83‐92.e1. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.1112
Wood M, Raisanen T, Polcari I. Observational study of free public sunscreen dispenser use at a major US outdoor event. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017;77(1):164-166. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2017.02.034
Dale Wilson B, Moon S, Armstrong F. Comprehensive review of ultraviolet radiation and the current status on sunscreens. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(9):18‐23.