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Derms break down the truth about makeup with SPF — and what they say might surprise you

“Think of makeup with SPF like the cherry on top of the sundae. But without the ice cream, it’s not a sundae at all."
Vivian Le / TODAY

Wearing sunscreen is a no-brainer and while we know we should be reapplying throughout the day, that tends to get tricky once you put makeup on. No one wants to rub in a layer of sunscreen on top of their soft glam beat. That’s where makeup with SPF comes in.

Instead of forcing yourself to potentially ruin your makeup in the name of sun protection (a no-no) or avoiding reapplication all together when you have makeup on (an even bigger no-no), you can use makeup with SPF to simultaneously touch up your look and stay protected. But is makeup with SPF enough on its own? We asked two dermatologists and a makeup artist to demystify this new summer beauty staple.

Is makeup with SPF enough sun protection? | Application tips | Shop TODAY editor faves | More options to try | FAQs | Meet the experts

Does makeup with SPF provide adequate sun protection?

There are two answers to this, according to New York City-based dermatologists Dr. Nkem Ugonabo and Dr. Joshua Zeichner. The short answer is no — makeup with SPF doesn’t provide adequate sun protection on its own based on the amount of makeup people typically apply. The longer answer is yes — it technically could provide adequate protection, but the amount needed to reach that point would leave you looking cakey and feeling uncomfortable.

Both dermatologists — alongside New York-based makeup artist Caroline Baribeau — recommend starting with a base layer of traditional sunscreen and using makeup with SPF to touch up your look while reapplying sunscreen throughout the day.

“Think of makeup with SPF like the cherry on top of the sundae. But without the ice cream, it’s not a sundae at all,” Zeichner muses.

What if you layer several products that each claim to have SPF in it? Would a concealer with SPF 15 + foundation with SPF 15 + setting powder with SPF 15 provide a total of SPF 45? Unfortunately, it's not exactly that simple.

Ugonabo says it’s not impossible to reach a level of adequate sun protection by layering several makeup products that each contain SPF, but the math is “almost too complicated” and can result in under calculations, so it’s best to stick with using a traditional sunscreen as your base.

“When it comes to layering sunscreen, applying one product with a SPF 15 on top of another one in the end will likely still only give you SPF 15 protection. Since you’re not applying as much as you should be to begin with, you’re not actually getting any added effect,” Zeichner explains.

How to apply makeup with SPF

Baribeau says there’s no special way to apply makeup with SPF — just apply each of your products as you normally would!

She, like Ugonabo, expresses the importance of using makeup with SPF as a touch-up product that provides complementary protection to the base sunscreen that should be applied before the rest of your makeup.

Best makeup with SPF, according to Shop TODAY editors

Alleyoop Sunsational SPF 50 Skin Tint

Partnerships success associate Klay Drageset likes this skin tint because it offers more coverage than the average skin tint, making it feel like a "proper foundation" while still being light enough to wear throughout the summer. Its key ingredients include niacinamide and jojoba esters to assist with hydration and minimizing redness, according to the brand.

Saie Slip Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sunscreen Tinted Moisturizer

Production associate Jill Ortiz loves this tinted moisturizer, describing it as the "perfect amount of light coverage and perfect for summer." Its key ingredients include hyaluronic acid for hydration, licorice root for brightening and pansy flower for antioxidants.

Tula Skin Care Radiant Skin Brightening Serum Skin Tint

Associate editor Shannon Garlin likes this Tula tint because of the coverage it provides and dewy look it leaves behind. Plus, she says it "blends nicely" with her concealer. It's offered in a wide range of 30 shades and boasts benefits like brightening skin and moisturizing the skin barrier.

Yensa Skin on Skin BC Foundation

Assistant partnerships editor Lauren Witonsky says this has been her "going out foundation" for a while and emphasizes the fact that a little goes a long way. "It's not oily at all and has more SPF coverage than some of my regular face sunscreens!" she raves. "It's full coverage but I find that applying with a damp beauty blender gives you the ability to thin it out a bit depending on the look you're going for."

Erborian CC Creme SPF 25

Intern Ava Schwartz only uses two makeup products during the summer and this one makes the cut. According to the brand, it blurs the appearance of pores and evens out your skin tone.

Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40

This serum foundation is a favorite of Drageset, associate editor Emma Stessman and editor Rebecca Brown. "It's light coverage, so it's perfect for daily wear and it's SPF 40 which I feel like is higher than many makeup products," Stessman raves. Brown even praises it as being "better than foundation."

IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream

Baribeau likes this CC cream with SPF 50. "Depending on how you like to wear your makeup and the coverage that you want, I think that you can get good versatility [from] it," she says.

According to the brand, this cream goes "beyond color-correcting" and is a full-coverage foundation, anti-aging serum and mineral sunscreen all in one.

It's also a favorite of editor Julie Ricevuto who says, "it makes my skin look perfect — I'm not joking. It can be a little think, but once I set it with powder, it's good to go all day!"

Chantecaille Just Skin Anti-Smog Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15

While this pick is more of a splurge, Schwartz says it lasts a long time and is light enough to feel like a moisturizer. It comes in seven different shades and is designed for both men and women.

More makeup with SPF to try

Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free Mineral Airbrushing Pressed Powder

For fuller coverage without sacrificing sun protection, this Physicians Formula pressed powder is an obvious choice. According to the brand, it provides 16 hours of wear (though you should definitely be reapplying more often than that for proper protection) and it "visibly reduces the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, pores and sun damage."

MAC Studio Finish SPF 35 Concealer

Offering opaque coverage, this concealer also boasts SPF 35 protection. According to the brand, it's long-wearing with 12 hours of coverage, water-resistant, non-comedogenic and controls oil. It's available in almost two dozen different shades.

Tower 28 SunnyDays SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen Foundation

This fragrance-free mineral sunscreen and foundation offers SPF 30 and light-to-medium coverage. The brand also says its natural finish makes it safe for sensitive or problematic skin. Key ingredients include prickly pear extract to help protect from blue light pollution and white sage extract to reduce the appearance of irritation.

bareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation

Even with the lowest SPF level in this bunch, some protection is better than no protection. This powder has SPF 15 and is formulated to provide medium coverage and a natural finish. It's offered in a variety of shades from fair to deepest deep.

Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30

For lightweight coverage that's perfect for summer, this tinted moisturizer from Nars claims to provide sheer, buildable coverage and is made with vitamin C for brightening properties. Plus it's offered in over a dozen different shades.

Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen

The brush-on applicator makes reapplying sunscreen a breeze. This broad-spectrum option boasts water resistance for up to 80 minutes and its new formula contains hyaluronic acid.

Colorescience Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy

This tinted eye serum from Colorescience does it all. With SPF 35 for sun protection, tinted options to provide color and slight coverage and anti-aging benefits, it's the total package. Its anti-aging benefits include brightening and correcting dark circles, reducing puffiness and smoothing fine lines and wrinkles.

Milani Make It Last Sunscreen Setting Spray

Whether you prefer a dewy look or just want to keep your makeup in place, you can't go wrong with a setting spray that has SPF 30. It boasts the ability to set makeup for up to 16 hours (again: apply more often for sun protection reasons) and a sheer, non-sticky feel for all skin types.

Frequently asked questions

Which makeup products can have SPF?

Baribeau says several types of makeup products are made with SPF baked into the formula nowadays like CC creams, tinted moisturizers, foundations, concealers and even powders.

Ugonabo says she often recommends powders or compacts that can be easily used while out and about.

"Tinted powders might be preferable for Brown or Black skin because the color will match their skin tone and makeup better," she tells us.

She admits that it’s probably unrealistic to ask someone to put sunscreen on top of their makeup when it's time to reapply, so makeup with SPF in it is perfect for adding on to base sun protection while keeping your look intact.

What SPF level should you use?

Both Ugonabo and Zeichner recommend using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides UVA and UVB protection with at least SPF 30.

“Since most people are not applying as much sunscreen as they should, the SPF value gets diluted out. That’s why I recommend starting with a higher SPF to begin with,” Zeichner tells us in an email.

However, if you’re dealing with hyperpigmentation, melasma or any other pigment-related issue, Ugonabo recommends using sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher.

“We know that those conditions are very sensitive to the I think that extra protection works great for my patients,” she says.

How much sunscreen should people be using?

Once you’ve chosen your SPF 30 (or higher) broad-spectrum sunscreen, it’s time to apply! For the face, Ugonabo recommends applying two finger-lengths worth of product.

“That’s why it’s really important to find one that you like and one that blends into your skin so that you are okay using that amount,” she notes.

Across your entire body, she says you should be using roughly one ounce worth of sunscreen. While one ounce doesn’t sound like a lot, Ugonabo says it roughly measures out to one full shot glass (which seems like a lot more when you picture it that way).

She also stresses the importance of educating people about sunscreen in her profession because of studies that show most people use less than the proper amount of sunscreen needed for adequate protection on a daily basis. People typically apply half as much sunscreen as they should be on their faces, Zeichner adds.

Meet the experts

  • Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, MD, MPH, is a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City. She has advanced fellowship training in cosmetic dermatology and lasers.
  • Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist. He is director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology and an associate professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
  • Caroline Baribeau is a New York City-based makeup artist with experience in editorial, TV, film, advertising and commercial.