Sunscreen Before or After Moisturizer? It Matters More Than You Think!

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The order of your skin care routine and how you layer your products is so much more important than many realize. Get this wrong and the skincare products that you’re applying won’t be able to work in the way that they should, rendering them useless.

When it comes to your sunscreen, this is definitely not what you want. After all, a sunscreen that doesn’t work properly leaves you more susceptible to wrinkles, dark spots, and even skin cancer.

This brings us to the big question; should you apply sunscreen before or after you apply a moisturizer? Here’s what you need to know…

Does it Really Matter Whether You Apply Sunscreen Before or After Moisturizer?

Female model outdoors posing in her red dress

The short answer to this question is yes – understanding where your sunscreen fits into your daily skincare routine matters in a big way.

It’s something that dermatologists have spent a fair bit of time debating because it significantly impacts the amount of sun protection that your sunscreen actually provides.

Here’s the problem – when some sunscreens are applied over the top of a moisturizer, the moisturizer forms a barrier that prevents the sunscreen from being absorbed by the skin.

On the other hand, applying your sunscreen underneath your moisturizer could interfere with how your sunscreen interacts with UV rays, preventing it from providing adequate sun protection.

So, what’s the solution?

It all depends on the type of sunscreen you’re using.

Are You Using a Chemical Sunscreen or a Mineral Sunscreen?

Just about every type of sunscreen out there can be categorized as one of the following; a physical sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen. In order to know when to apply your sunscreen, you need to first identify which type you have.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens contain chemical-based active ingredients that are absorbed into the skin. These chemicals then absorb UV rays, triggering a chemical reaction that turns UV radiation into heat. That heat is then released out of the skin.

Those with sensitive skin often experience irritation when using a chemical sunscreen. The chemicals themselves are partly to blame [1], but so is the extra heat that they produce, which can potentially lead to inflammation.

If your sunscreen contains any of the following chemical blocker ingredients, then this means that it’s a chemical sunscreen:

  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate

Mineral Sunscreens

Woman with her sunscreen and sun protection

Also known as a physical sunscreen, a mineral sunscreen makes use of natural minerals that physically, rather than chemically, block the sun’s rays from harming your skin.

These minerals sit on the skin’s surface and form a barrier that deflects UV rays away from the skin.

Since a mineral sunscreen prevents UV rays from coming into contact with the skin in the first place, they’re often considered to be the safer option.

The main downside to physical sunscreens is that their mineral ingredients sometimes leave a whitish cast on the skin.

You’ll know if your sunscreen is a physical formula if it contains the following mineral blockers:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide

So, Which Goes First – Sunscreen or Moisturizer?

Here’s the answer you’ve been waiting for:

If you’re going with a chemical sunscreen, then the general rule of thumb is that this should be applied before your moisturizer. This allows your skin to absorb the UV-protecting chemicals, without the ingredients from your moisturizer blocking them.

Wait a couple of minutes for your sunscreen to settle into your skin before following up with your moisturizer. Then, wait another 15 minutes before sun exposure.

If you’re using a mineral sunscreen, then apply your moisturizer first, followed by your sunscreen. It should be the very last step in your skincare routine, as the minerals need to be able to sit on the outermost layer of your skin in order to deflect UV light.

What About Sunscreen and Makeup?

So, where does makeup fall into all of this, especially when it comes to mineral sunscreens that need to sit over the top of your skin?

Young pretty woman with makeup

It goes without saying that applying a dollop of sunscreen over your carefully crafted layer of foundation would only ruin your look. One option would be to opt for a chemical sunscreen whenever you wear makeup, since this can be applied before.

Alternatively, consider wearing makeup that contains SPF. You’ll find many foundation powder sunscreen products out there.

These make up products have been specifically formulated to work just like a regular foundation, but also contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide sun protection.

That said, they won’t usually provide enough protection on their own, but the additional SPF is useful if you’re applying sunscreen underneath your makeup.

What Happens if You Mix Sunscreen and Moisturizer?

In order to try to save themselves an extra step in their skincare routine, some try to mix moisturizer and sunscreen together before applying this as a single product.

Unfortunately, mixing sunscreen and moisturizer isn’t a good idea.

Just about every dermatologist out there recommends applying these separately. Some moisturizers contain properties that will deactivate the active ingredients in a sunscreen, therefore lowering its SPF.

Can You Skip the Moisturizer and Wear Sunscreen on its Own?

Girl surfer applying sunscreen on face

Technically, yes, you could skip the moisturizer, but you then run the risk of your face and body missing out on vital hydration. Generally speaking, sunscreens are designed to protect the skin from sun damage, they’re not designed to moisturize the skin.

You may be able to get away with skipping the moisturizer if you have oily, acne-prone skin, but you should still apply a couple of hydrating serums first.

What About Moisturizers Containing SPF?

Some moisturizer formulas will contain SPF, meaning that they can double up as a sunscreen too. If you’d like to go with one of these instead of using a separate sunscreen, make sure that the formula contains at least SPF 30.

It should also state that it’s a broad-spectrum formula – this means that it’ll offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays (SPF on its own only measures UVB protection). Don’t forget that you’ll still need to reapply your SPF moisturizer every few hours.


Woman applying sunscreen moisturizing cream on her shoulder

Should you put sunscreen before moisturizer?

Chemical sunscreens should be applied before a moisturizer in order to guarantee effectiveness, whereas physical sunscreens should be applied after.

How long should I wait to apply sunscreen after moisturizer?

Wait a few minutes after applying your moisturizer before applying a mineral sunscreen.

How do I put sunscreen on my skincare routine?

Sunscreen should be at the end of your skincare routine, either before your moisturizer (if yours is a chemical sunscreen), or after (for physical sunscreens).

Do you put sunscreen on before or after foundation?

Sunscreen is usually applied before foundation, but you can increase effectiveness and protection by using a foundation containing SPF over the top of this.


Wearing sunscreen is a no-brainer, but you need to make sure that you apply sunscreen at the correct stage of your skincare routine in order for it to properly work.

When it comes down to it, it’s simple – apply moisturizer first if you’re using a mineral sunscreen, but apply sunscreen first if you’re using a chemical formula. So long as you can remember that, your skin will be hydrated, protected, and happy.



Avatar for Megan Foley

Megan has been a freelance writer and editor since 2016. In that time, she’s penned a diverse collection of articles for online publication, with a focus on skincare and beauty. From in-depth product reviews to concise marketing content, Megan is passionate about developing content that informs, entertains, and inspires.