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Face moisturizers with sun protection factor (SPF) help hydrate the skin, plus offer sunscreen coverage from the sun’s harsh rays. SPF face creams are appealing for those who are looking for 2-in-1 products to help pare down their morning skin care routine and they can be found at Shopping reader favorite retailers like Walmart, Target, Sephora and Amazon. They’re also made by popular brands like CeraVe, Paula’s Choice and Neutrogena.
But how does a face moisturizer with SPF compare to layering sunscreen over a face cream? And is it necessary to apply a sunblock over a face moisturizer with SPF? To answer these questions and more, we reached out to three board-certified dermatologists for their expert guidance and SPF moisturizer recommendations.
Are face moisturizers made with sunscreen effective?
Face moisturizers with sun protection go through the same testing process as traditional sunscreens and “the SPF in facial moisturizers is just as valid as the SPF in sunscreens,” noted board-certified dermatologist Ashley Jenkins, MD.
While these 2-in-1 products are convenient, they have a few limitations. For starters, face moisturizers with SPF are typically not water-resistant, said Jenkins, who is also an adjunct professor of dermatology at Missouri Health Care. If you’re swimming or plan on exercising outdoors, she recommended applying a water-resistant sunscreen over a face moisturizer with SPF.
The order you apply your skin care products is also important, according to Jenkins.
- Skin care products like face serums and face moisturizers go first
- Then you apply sunscreen
- After letting your SPF “rest” for approximately eight minutes, you can apply makeup
Doing so allows the sunblock to “settle into your skin and form a nice, smooth film on the top of your skin which is how it protects you from UV radiation,” she said.
Best 2-in-1 face moisturizers with sunscreen
We rounded up a few dermatologist-recommended products, as well as a Shopping reader favorite item created by Rihanna. These top rated SPF face moisturizers combine broad spectrum protection with good-for-you skin care ingredients, including niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and peptides.
Board-certified dermatologist Peterson Pierre, MD, of the Pierre Skin Care Institute said that “without a doubt” the ISDIN Eryfotona Ageless is his “favorite combination product” and that “there is no better product on the market.” Notably, it boasts enzymes that help repair sun damage, peptides that offer anti-aging benefits and antioxidants that fight against free radical damage and environmental pollution, noted Pierre. The SPF 50 product also boasts a “light” tint that blends into darker skin tones, according to Pierre. It earned a 4.5-star average rating from nearly 600 reviews on Amazon.
This Clean at Sephora-approved skin care brand makes a sunblock that offers SPF 30 coverage. Board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, noted it contains a “very high concentration of zinc oxide” — 20 percent — which provides “very good protection” from the sun. She also highlighted that the fragrance-free sunscreen is gentle enough for those with sensitive skin to use and it is made with a blend of hydrating glycerin and anti-inflammatory aloe vera. This sunscreen earned a 4.3-star average rating from nearly 920 reviews on Amazon.
As one of the best tinted sunscreens, the Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue previously earned a recommendation from board-certified dermatologist Erum Ilyas, MD, who noted it offers “shades for all skin tones'' and utilizes titanium dioxide as the active sunscreen ingredient. Jaliman also recommended this SPF because it is also made with hydrating skin care ingredients like squalene and glycerin.
This mineral sunscreen employs zinc oxide for sun protection and it contains peptides, which is a “good” anti-aging ingredient, noted Jaliman. She called Olay’s 2-in-1 product a “great” option for those with sensitive skin because it is free of fragrance, dye, mineral oil and parabens. There is also niacinamide (vitamin B3), a calming ingredient that helps minimize redness and hyperpigmentation. It received a 4.4-star average from more than 1,460 reviews on Amazon.
When Fenty Skin by Rihanna debuted in July 2020, the Bajan singer launched her line with three 2-in-1 products, including this face moisturizer with SPF 30. It is infused with a trio of moisturizing ingredients — hyaluronic acid, aloe and baobab — and antioxidant-rich kalahari melon, while niacinamide helps to fade dark spots. The pink-toned sunscreen “works on all skin tones” and adds a “healthy glow” to the skin, Rihanna previously said in a statement.
Face moisturizer with SPF vs face sunscreen: Which is better?
Anyone looking for ways to minimize their skin care routine will likely benefit from using a face moisturizer with SPF. As for which option is better, it depends on your lifestyle, according to the dermatologists we interviewed.
- For daily wear, you can apply a hybrid face moisturizer and sunscreen.
- When you’re active, you will likely benefit from layering a “more substantial sunscreen” that is water-resistant over your morning face cream, according to Jaliman.
Sunscreens also typically offer some level of hydration due to their viscosity, and “many people” do not need a dedicated face moisturizer before applying sunscreen, added Jenkins.
If you feel compelled to wear a sunblock over your face moisturizer with SPF, “there's no harm in layering products,” noted Pierre. However, it is not necessary to slather on multiple SPF products. In fact, as long as your face moisturizer is equipped with a broad-spectrum protection and offers SPF 30 or more, you don’t need an extra layer of traditional sunscreen, according to the dermatologists we consulted. Additionally, layering a sunscreen over a SPF moisturizer might inadvertently cause an allergic reaction or irritation and simplifying your approach to SPF can help prevent potential flare ups, noted Jaliman, who is also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Overall, what matters the most is that you’re protecting your skin from the sun’s harsh rays. As a bonus, sunscreen can help prevent signs of aging, added Jenkins — whether a 2-in-1 item or a traditional sunscreen layered over a facial moisturizer. Just be sure to apply (and reapply) the recommended amount of sunscreen (typically a quarter teaspoon of sunblock across your entire face, noted all three MDs).