Is Moisturizer With SPF Enough? Derms Break Down The Hot Debate
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Peppered among skin care threads, hotly debated by derms and experts alike, the people just want to know: Is moisturizer with SPF enough? Not only would it combine steps in a morning skin care routine (efficiency!), but an emollient-heavy formula would make sunscreen application a breeze—helping to smooth out that dreaded ghostly cast. But is it effective?
There's a reason the topic is so testy: As with many beauty queries, there isn't a straight-up answer. So we turned to three dermatologists to help break it down.
So, is moisturizer with SPF enough?
Here's the thing: Yes, you can effectively use a moisturizer-slash-sunscreen, assuming you use enough of it. As board-certified dermatologist Angelo Landriscina, M.D., notes over TikTok, "The SPF of any product is based on using 2 milligrams per centimeter-squared on your skin, which is about half a teaspoon for the entire face." (Or about a nickel-size dollop, in case you need a visual.) Also, make sure you're reapplying every two hours for optimal protection—that's whether you use a moisturizer with SPF or proper sunscreen.
Many have raised concerns that a moisturizer may dilute the SPF component, rendering it not as effective. As board-certified dermatologist Jeanine Downie, M.D., says, "I definitely feel that moisturizer combined with sunscreen decreases the effectiveness of sunscreen." Although, perhaps it's less about the formula itself and more about user behavior: Namely, moisturizers with SPF typically aren't as water-resistant, so they might not work as well if you're swimming or sweating. Maybe that's where the moisturizer-sunscreen gets its diluted reputation—it might lose effectiveness once there's water involved.
But the product itself, says board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D., isn't so much of an issue. After all, plenty of market sunscreens include emollients to lend a creamier application (especially for those sometimes chalky mineral sunscreens) and antioxidants to calm inflammation—aka, ingredients you may find in your everyday moisturizer. "There's a spectrum of how moisturizing the formulations are, as well as what other active ingredients there are, like antioxidants," King adds. "As long as there are humectants, emollients, and occlusives, the formulation will be moisturizing." These ingredients don't typically dilute the standard sunscreens (albeit, at lower concentrations), so why would they yield a less-than-stellar moisturizer-sunscreen?
Also, any product on the market that boasts SPF must be adequately tested before that number gets stamped on the label. Says King, "It's not like they took a sunscreen of a certain SPF and then diluted it with moisturizer—the finished product must be tested to determine its SPF."
Where it becomes dicey is with makeup: Half of a teaspoon of tinted moisturizer or foundation with SPF is quite a lot of product, and you might not necessarily want that much base coverage. That's all fine, but you should use a proper sunscreen underneath in that case.
Ultimately, the choice is yours whether you use a slick moisturizer with SPF or sunscreen product. Regardless, application rules still apply: You should slather on every two hours, with a nickel-size amount for your face each time. If you're at all worried about your moisturizer sliding off your face, though, perhaps it's best to stick to a standard sunscreen. Or, you can layer the two (just make sure both formulas are noncomedogenic!): "If, for example, you apply your daily moisturizer SPF, and then after an hour decide to go jogging—then the regular sunscreen with water resistance may be more effective," King notes.
People may remain in their two equally fervent camps, but assuming you're following correct application instructions, you can do what's best for your skin—that's the golden rule.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.