Unlike most skincare products, which are considered cosmetics, sunscreen is classified as a drug by the FDA. This means that before a sunscreen ever hits your shelf, it undergoes rigorous testing to ensure the final product does exactly what the label claims—protects your skin from harmful UV rays.
Of course, testing something in a lab and using it out in the real world are two different things. While we can’t recreate the circumstances under which our sunscreen was tested, we can make sure we’re doing as little as possible to interfere with our sun protection. Sunscreen is your number one defense when it comes to protecting the skin against premature aging and skin cancer, and proper application is everything.
Keep reading to learn if you might accidentally be making your sunscreen less effective with one of these five common application mistakes.
1. Mixing Your Sunscreen With Other Products
Of the five mistakes I mention in this post, this is probably the worst one you can make. When sunscreen comes out of the tube, you’re getting the exact formula that’s been tested to determine SPF (remember that SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measurement of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin against harmful UV rays). The moment you mix that sunscreen with another product, you’re altering a carefully crafted formula and can no longer guarantee full protection.
Instead of mixing your sunscreen with other skincare products, like serum or moisturizer, layer one product on at a time (learn more about why I’m not a fan of mixing or “cocktailing” skincare products in general). And remember, a generous layer of sunscreen should always be your final application in the morning!
Btw, here’s how much sunscreen you should be applying.
2. Applying a Facial Oil in the Morning
The popularity of facial oils has skyrocketed over the past few years thanks to their ability to impart a luminous glow to the skin almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, facial oil and sunscreen may not be a match made in heaven.
While there aren’t any conclusive studies showing that oils interfere with sunscreen, the concern is that they may break it down and make it less effective. This makes sense if you think about the fact that your skin’s natural oils eat away at your skincare products throughout the day, or that oil cleansers are specifically designed to break down products like sunscreen.
I know facial oils can have a beautiful effect, but trust me when I say this short-term glow isn’t worth potential long-term sun damage to your skin. If it’s a dewy finish you’re after, look for a sunscreen that supports this instead. Plenty of sunscreens are now formulated in hydrating bases, some of which even include oils! This way you can rest easy knowing your sunscreen has been proven stable and effective, even with the addition of glow-enhancing ingredients.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to forego oils in your routine altogether (I personally love a good facial oil). Just save them for nighttime and make sure you’re applying your oil correctly.
3. Layering Too Many Products on Underneath Your Sunscreen
Another common mistake I see is that people layer on product after product before finally getting to their sunscreen. Here’s the deal: at the end of the day, your skin can only absorb so much. At a certain point, you’re just wasting money by applying tons of serums or dousing your skin with moisturizer. What’s worse is that you risk creating a barrier between your skin and your sunscreen, in which case your sunscreen may not be able to properly coat the skin cells.
To avoid this, I recommend skipping the 10-step morning routine and keeping things as simple as possible: cleanser, alcohol-free toner, antioxidant serum, sunscreen. (Learn more about how to build the perfect morning skincare routine). If you’re concerned about getting enough moisture in your morning routine, there are a few ways to maximize hydration from these four products:
- Make sure your cleanser is gentle and sulfate-free so it doesn’t strip your skin.
- Use an essence-like toner that’s infused with hydrating ingredients to plump the skin.
- Look for a vitamin C serum that has the texture of a light lotion.
Finally, I suggest using a lotion- or cream-based sunscreen that can double as a moisturizer for your skin type. This will eliminate the need for an A.M. moisturizer and remove one more layer between your skin and the most important part of your morning routine. For those with oily or acne-prone skin, this Weightless Protection sunscreen is a great option.
4. Using a Face Mist After You’ve Applied Sunscreen
When face mists first started to come out, I wasn’t a huge fan since most of them were basically just water and didn’t include any ingredients that would truly help hydrate the skin. Fast forward, and now there are a lot of well-formulated mists that include humectants to help bind moisture to the skin.
The problem I’ve noticed is that people like to mist their skin either at the end of their routine before they head out the door, or throughout the day. Not only do you risk diluting and messing with your sun protection by doing this, this practice also won’t do much for your skin in terms of hydration. Humectant ingredients found in face mists are great for hydrating the skin, but they need to be sealed in with a moisturizer in order to be most effective.
If you have a face mist you love using, I suggest spritzing it after you cleanse as the “toner” step in your routine. This way when you follow with your serum and moisturizing SPF, you’ll be sealing in all that skin goodness.
5. Not Letting Your Sunscreen Dry Before Applying Makeup
The good news about modern sunscreen formulas is that once they’ve dried down, most of them are really stable. However, when you add something like makeup on top before your sunscreen is dry, you risk diluting and interfering with the formula. Since makeup application usually involves a lot of dabbing, rubbing, and brushing, you can also end up wiping away some of that sunscreen you so painstakingly applied!
The solution is simple: wait until your sunscreen is fully dry before going in with foundation makeup. Did you know I actually believe wearing makeup every day is good for your skin? While it should never be used as a replacement for sunscreen, the iron oxides found in most foundations and concealers add an extra layer of sun protection. Think of it as an insurance policy!
Did any of these five mistakes sound familiar to you? If so, I hope this post taught you something new about how to get the best possible protection out of your sunscreen! On a final note, the most effective sunscreen is the one you’ll actually enjoy wearing every single day. If you’re still trying to find the right fit for you, it might help to learn about the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”