Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 05th Dec 2020

Are Moisturizers with SPF any good for the skin? 

Are Moisturizers with SPF any good

Your morning skincare routine may consist of many steps from moisturization to makeup, and you may have thought of making things easier by cutting down on time by opting for smart options products that have an all-in-one approach to good skincare. One of these intelligent moves is using a moisturizer with sunscreen benefits, i.e., moisturizer with SPF. But this is wise only if done correctly.

You are already aware of how important sun protection is to keep your skin healthy. And there is one of the two ways you might be doing it: either with a sunscreen or a moisturizer with SPF.

While sunscreen’s main aim is to sit on the skin and act as a defense between your face and the sun, moisturizer is meant to penetrate the skin and add to hydration.

So what is “optimal”? Does a product that blends the two work well on both the duty lines: protect from sun damage and moisturize? Does this really work? These questions are valid as there are aisles stacked with moisturizers with SPF.  

Is SPF moisturizer as effective as sunscreen?  

According to Dr. Dray,

moisturizers with SPF also have all the sunscreen properties, i.e., they protect from UV radiation and UVA and UVB rays.

They do the same thing as dedicated sunscreens. Both are effective if used in appropriate quantities and cover all the delicate areas like the eyes and nose area and the skin around the eyes. These areas are likely to develop skin cancers caused by sun exposure. Remove blackheads

The question boils down to this: are you covering the same amount of skin with your SPF infused moisturizer as you would with a sunscreen?

The sun protection factor of your moisturizer may work or may not work based on various things: 

  • The amount of time you are sun-exposed. 
  • The intensity of sun rays in the region. 
  • The likeliness of you getting sunburned or tanned. 
  • The harmfulness of the sun rays in the area.  
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What is SPF?  

Some moisturizers have updated themselves by adding SPF factor to protect you from the sun while also hydrating the skin. SPF estimates how much solar energy, i.e., UV radiation, gives you a sunburn in the presence of sunscreen relative to the amount of UV radiation that gives you a sunburn on unprotected skin. Increasing SPF value means increased immune to sunburn.

The amount of UV radiation a person is exposed to depends on the time of the day [intensity highest during mid-day than morning and evening], skin type, the amount of sunscreen you have applied, and the number of times you have reapplied it.   

Are you getting sun protection with your SPF moisturizer?

The study’s [that changed the perspective of people who viewed SPF moisturizer as a smart step] participants used the moisturizer and often missed the areas around their eyes(a common site for skin cancer) as opposed to when they were applying sunscreen. This surprising discovery threw light on the perspective that people did not apply moisturizer around their eyes and missed those areas.

High SPF moisturizers aren’t being applied as regularly as one ideally should. The research that brought forward the application argument studied 84 people (22 males and 62 females from ages 18-57) over two visits they made to the lab. All these subjects were exposed to UV [ultraviolet] radiation.

On the first visit, they applied sunscreen to their faces, and on the second visit, they used an SPF moisturizer. After UV exposure, their pictures were taken by UV-sensitive cameras.

The results threw light on the fact that moisturizer application was worse than sunscreen application, and 16.6% failed to adequately cover these areas/regions of their face with the SPF moisturizer compared to 11.1% with sunscreen.

The researchers could not identify precisely why participants missed the eyelid area and covered less facial area with moisturizer than with sunscreen.

There are many conjectures and theories as to why the application differed. One being that subconsciously people are not as thorough when they are applying a specifically designed product to protect the skin, and others being the nature and properties of the cream and the fact that many people opt for milder eye creams rather than facial creams.   

Traditional sunscreen, a safer deal?   

FDA regulated sunscreen as a drug, and regulations levied require a certain amount of SPF for it to be effective, leaving little room for any other active ingredients in the formula. Sunscreen becomes ineffective after a short period and needs to be reapplied every two hours if your skin is exposed to the sun.

Dermatologists may urge you to think before entirely dropping your sunscreen in favor of these products. Many moisturizers contain high SPF similar in strength to a sunscreen, some don’t, and their power of just SPF 15 is not recommendable.

Moisturizers that come with high SPFs beyond 15 or even a full-fledged 30, come with a problem. While lathering in SPF in the moisturizer will not provide a protective film against sun damage as it will get diluted by the moisturizer. So the SPF that you end up having on your skin is no more than 10-12. And although the moisturizers are meant to penetrate the skin, as I mentioned before, they only penetrate and get beyond the very top layer, which is pretty much the top of the skin, similar to sunscreen.

The argument that counters using an all-encompassing moisturizer is that sunscreen can fully live up to the amount of SPF labeled on it, while moisturizers cannot. Also, technically you are supposed to apply it every two hours. Using that moisturizer every two hours might not be something you want to do, considering your skin types and other variables.

Then again, it is not against any rule if you apply a moisturizer with SPF. It is 100 times better than no SPF at all. And it all boils down to you and your needs.  

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What do studies say?  

The study by the researchers from the University of Liverpool advised against using SPF moisturizer. They claim that moisturizer does not apply as thickly as sunscreen due to the difference in consistency. While sunscreen is specifically designed for a particular purpose, products like moisturizers with dual benefits or purposes (like hydration and sun-protective elements) are just add-ons to the products rather than protectors from sun damage.

The optimal amount of sunscreen applied to a moisturizer to reach an SPF 15 will leave your face looking like iced cake, making it less of an option in hot weather conditions.

The water-resistance factor of some sunscreens may not be applied to the moisturizers as they will probably strip down and get dissolved in water if you take a dip on the beach. 

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The right way to apply products that promise sun protection 

Apply a relatively thick coat of product rather than a thin layer.

You need not throw away your moisturizer. Modify how you use it.

A moisturizer is a good option for the office or while doing indoor activities. All you need to do is to apply it around the eyes and apply a liberal amount.

Put it around the delicate eye area at a similar thickness. You may opt for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as they are thicker, more tolerable than chemical sunscreens, and are comparatively less irritating on the eyes.

These are physical sunscreens that do not penetrate the skin as chemicals do. They are minerals that act like reflectors on the skin.

If you are to be excessively exposed to the sun like a picnic or a beach day, sunscreen with higher SPF is a more viable option, along with protective clothing, hat, and sunglasses.

Children should be covered in sunscreen or SPF products, and parents should make sure not to miss delicate or all exposed facial areas when applying it on kids.

Dr. Dray recommends using at least one-quarter teaspoon of SPF 30 sunscreen. It does become difficult to cover every bit of the vulnerable area with any of the products as we don’t want to get it in our eyes accidentally. Hence, sunglasses and hats are something that ensures complete protection. 

Did you know?

A red or yellow tattoo doesn’t make you immune to sunburn or sun damage. Furthermore, it makes your skin sun-sensitive or offers no protection whatsoever. Yellow and red inks are infused with a chemical called cadmium sulfide, it can cause rashes or scaly, flaky skin when you're soaking up some sun. 

Minimalist's word of advice 

The perfect product for you is the one that you commit to. The commitment should not be based only on religious application but also on the correct application. Work it out carefully around your eyes, the eyelids, the inside corners of the eyes where the eyes and nose meet.

Broad-spectrum products are the ones you should opt for as the label means that they protect from UVA and UVB rays, both with SPF beyond 30.

Sunscreen is not merely an ingredient in your skincare routine. It is to be treated as a critical layer for skin protection and should be applied as a barrier against sun damage. The protective film formed by a sunscreen is to shield it, not to restore moisture or penetrate the ingredients deeper in the skin. 

Wrapping it up 

When used correctly, SPF-containing facial moisturizers can be useful when you are not overexposed in the sun and are indoors. But for more robust protection on outdoor days, wear sunscreen, a hat, and also protective clothing. Sun protection is never a bad call!

The kind of sunscreen you will need depends on the weather conditions and your skin type. Trust us: you do not want to skimp on sun protection!