From preventing skin concerns like premature aging to reducing your risk of skin cancer, you're probably well aware of how important it is to protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. What you may not know, however, is that not all forms of UV protection are created equal.

For instance, many moisturizers now include SPF alongside other skin care ingredients, offering multiple benefits in one. But is moisturizer with SPF enough to replace your dedicated sunscreen altogether?

Read on to discover more about the differences between sunscreen vs. moisturizer with SPF and how you can make sure you're giving your skin the protection it deserves.

Sunscreen vs. Moisturizer with SPF

When deciding between sunscreen vs. moisturizer with SPF, it's important to understand the key differences between the two. Sunscreen is designed to sit on top of the skin (not penetrate it) to provide a layer of defense against UV rays. It's also regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means it's required to include a certain amount of SPF protection.

Moisturizers with SPF, on the other hand, contain other ingredients that are designed to penetrate deeper into the skin. While they do still offer some protection from UV rays, the additional ingredients in a moisturizer can dilute the overall strength of SPF protection. For example, if your moisturizer is labeled SPF 30, you may only receive an SPF of around 15 or less depending on how much you apply.

Sunscreen: The Gold Standard of UV Protection

Another thing to consider when comparing sunscreen vs. moisturizer with SPF is how often you need to reapply. Dedicated facial sunscreens are designed to be reapplied several times throughout the day. For example, EltaMD UV Clear Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 has a lightweight, silky consistency that works below and over makeup, making it easy to top off protection. Meanwhile, SPF moisturizers tend to be thicker. Reapplying these formulas throughout the day to ensure adequate SPF coverage may leave your skin feeling greasy and even lead to congestion.

The way people apply sunscreen and moisturizer with SPF also seems to be different. According to a study in PLOS One, those who applied SPF moisturizer missed a significantly larger portion of their faces than those who applied sunscreen. While 20.9 percent of people failed to cover their delicate eye area with SPF moisturizer, only 14 percent missed this crucial part of the face when using sunscreen.

Tailoring Your Products to Your Unique Needs

In addition to ensuring optimal SPF protection and coverage, another benefit to keeping your moisturizer and sunscreen separate is that you can customize each product to different aspects of your lifestyle and skin care goals.

For instance, sunscreen is specially formulated to be resistant to elements like sweat and water. While this is perfect for an active day outdoors, you might crave a super-hydrating moisturizer like EltaMD PM Therapy Moisturizer to even skin tone and restore your skin barrier overnight. Keeping your products separate leaves them both to do what they do best.

Walk Confidently under the Sun

If your favorite moisturizer contains SPF, there's no need to stop using it. SPF moisturizer still has value—it just shouldn't be used in place of a dedicated sunscreen.

To ensure your whole face has the UV protection it needs to prevent sun damage, apply a teaspoon-sized amount of broad-spectrum sunscreen after your moisturizer as the final step in your morning skin care routine, and remember to reapply every few hours. (If you wear makeup, you can do this by gently blotting on sunscreen with a small sponge or brush.) You can now face the day knowing your skin has everything it needs to stay feeling healthy and glowing as bright as the sun.


  • Catherine Hufton

    Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.

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