In a multistep skin-care routine, order is of the utmost importance. Toner after moisturizer? Anarchy! Other aspects of your skin-care sequence, however, are less obvious. For example, whether you should apply your SPF before or after your moisturizer. It turns out, the answer is not so simple.

“Generally speaking, the ingredients in a chemical blocker need to be absorbed into the skin so that they can do their job,” Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Allure. In other words, SPF first. “You do not want to apply anything that will interfere with their penetration” — like a thick moisturizer that will create a barrier between your skin and the SPF meant to protect it, Zeichner says.

But not all dermatologists agree. There’s also an argument that you should apply your SPF after your morning moisturizer, Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure. “When moisturizer is applied after sunscreen, it can actually change the properties of your sunscreen. It can also alter the way that UV rays meet your skin,” she explains. “Anything you apply on top can dilute the sunscreen and alter its efficacy.”

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen

To make things more complicated, the kind of sunscreen you use is an important factor in the debate. While chemical sunscreens (like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70 work by soaking into your skin, mineral sunscreens (like La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen) — the kind that can leave you looking chalky unless you really rub them in — protect by creating a physical barrier between your skin and the sun. “Mineral-blocker sunscreen ingredients sit on the surface of the skin to reflect away UV light,” explains Zeichner. “So it is not as important for them to be applied as a first layer. In fact, they can be applied as your last layer as a protective coating against the sun.”

Multitasking SPF

Still with us? There’s one more factor to consider: Multitasking moisturizers. “Many morning facial moisturizers are actually formulated with sunscreen in them,” says Zeichner. “Whether you use a general moisturizer with separate sunscreen, or a combination product is ultimately a personal preference.” Just make sure you use a moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30. He recommends Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 .

In fact, if you want to shortcut this entire debate, you technically don’t even need to use a moisturizer and a sunscreen — “the sunscreen should be hydrating for most people [on its own],” Alan Parks, a board-certified dermatologist in Ohio tells Allure.

The Verdict

OK, but seriously, should you put on your SPF before or after moisturizer? Both Zeichner and Shah agree on a little trick to get the best of both worlds: Apply a light moisturizer first. Then let it soak in completely and finally finish with your SPF. “My best recommendation is to double-dip and layer a moisturizer with sunscreen first” — let it fully absorb — “and then layer another straight sunscreen, be it a mineral or chemical blocker, on top,” says Zeichner.


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