What Order To Apply Sunscreen

With Memorial Day right around the corner, I thought it would be a great idea to discuss sunscreen. May is also melanoma awareness month so we all need to be vigilant. There are tons of sunscreens on the market and some confusion over whether to use them before or after moisturizer so today, I’m sharing what order to apply sunscreen in your skincare regime.

woman holding parasol

I had melanoma on my leg around 20 years ago which has made me hypervigilant about wearing sunscreen.

La Roche Posay and Australian Gold sunscreens

For the sake of conversation, sunscreens can be broken into physical and chemical. People always wonder which is better…chemical or physical sunscreens? The one you will use…use enough of…and apply consistently, is the best sunscreen for you. It’s that simple.

Physical Sunscreens

The physical sunscreens are Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, which are both inorganic compounds that sit on the surface of your skin. They get applied after your serums and moisturizers to create a shield (block) from the sun. They can also go over your foundation but I prefer to put them on before, so the foundation can help knock down any potential white cast left by the sunscreen.

Australian Gold tinted review on A Well Styled Life

Since zinc and titanium dioxide work by blocking the sun’s rays, they often leave a white cast so people often don’t use enough of these products to adequately protect their skin.

Also see-How Much Sunscreen Do You Need?

Sheer zinc is popular now but I find they still leave a white cast so I rely on tinted formulas to prevent the white glow. Tinted physical sunscreens also contain iron oxides which give extra protection against the UVA rays and blue light we are exposed to with our screens and devices.

tinted physical sunscreen

These are my current favorite tinted sunscreens. The Australian Gold is lightweight and absorbs easily. It comes in a light or dark tint. The MDSolarSciences is really lovely but I want a higher sunscreen so always feel the need to add to it. The ColorScience Face Shield comes in many formulas and variations of tint…I find this “Classic” version is perfect for my fair complexion. There are many days I use just this and skip foundation.

collection of physical sunscreens

Here is a small sampling of the sunscreens I have and rotate in and out of my routine. My husband uses the CeraVe…the rest are mine. Yes, I am obsessed with protecting my skin from the sun.

Pros and cons of physical sunscreen

  • tend to leave a white cast
  • thicker and heavier
  • may rub off so needs to be reapplied
  • may not be as water-resistant as chemical sunscreens so you have to be diligent to reapply after swimming
  • is ideal for sensitive skin


Chemical Sunscreens

These need to be absorbed by your skin to work. These chemicals absorb UV rays, convert the rays into heat before your skin absorbs them, and releases them from your body. They must be applied at least 30 minutes before sun exposure and before your moisturizer.

chemcial sunscreen

The Food and Drug Administration has decided to classify sunscreens as drugs which has seriously limited the ones allowed to be sold in the US. This La Roche Posay Anthelios UVMUNE 400 was sent to me from France and it is nothing short of amazing. It contains a host of incredibly effective UVA sunscreens including Tinosorb S, Uvinul T 150, Mexoryl 400, Unvinul A Plus, Mexoryl XL, and Mexoryl SX Ecamsule. Many of these are not available in the US or Canada but have a proven track record of providing superior protection in Europe and other parts of the world.

The Elta MD UV Clear is a cult favorite with many women that’s a combination of physical and chemical sunscreen. It goes on invisibly and is seamless under your foundation.

Pros and cons of chemical sunscreen

  • must be applied 30 minutes before it works
  • can irritate sensitive skin
  • some chemicals can cause harm to coral reefs and wildlife
  • can be detected in the blood and skin weeks after use and some are known to be endocrine disruptors

This article explains the issue with our FDA and why Europe has better sunscreens than we do.

Additional thoughts on sunscreen

hand on steering wheel

Adding an SPF 30 on top of a moisturizer with an SPF 30 does not equal SPF 6o. The protection you get is only as strong as the highest SPF you apply. There is some concern with layering sunscreens that contain Avobenzone which is unstable and so they suggest you layer products with similar ingredients or the same product, which is what I prefer to do. I slather on, let dry completely, then slather on a second layer.

I wear hats, carry parasols, and wear clothes with zinc in the fabric that gives additional sun protection. But my biggest tool against melanoma is the consistent use of a broad spectrum, sunscreen with high SPF.

What is your favorite sunscreen?

Thanks for reading ladies and please wear sunscreen!


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  1. I alternate between Australian Gold, Paula’s Choice and Elta MD. All tinted to prevent that cast. I find that they need to set well before foundation or they will cause the foundation to pill.

    1. I think many do that. It’s always best to get them some time before layering on top.

  2. I am German background on both sides of my family, grew up on the beach in Southern California where we put baby oil on our skin. The result is a family with many small cancers that get removed (not melanoma, can’t remember what they’re called). I don’t wear sunscreen. No matter how I try, I always end up with enough on my fingers, that gets in my eyes and gives me horrific headaches. I tried to google a remedy for this and stick sunscreen was recommended, but I think that still needs to be rubbed in, and there I am again — migraines. I read over all these comments and one mentioned not getting burning eyes, so I will try that.

    1. Try sunscreens made for children. They’re made not to burn the eyes.

    2. I have a similar problem with sun screen getting into my eyes. I have stopped applying sunscreen on my forehead or anywhere near my eyes and that has helped enormously

  3. Georgia Hammett says:

    I have used, Bull Frog lotion. It works amazingly! I only applied it once in the 4 hours I was outside in the sun and on the water, in a boat. Did not get burned whatsoever :-).

    1. Great recommendation, thanks!

  4. I love Goop Unseen Sunscreen on my face. It is by far my favorite for a natural not greasy looking face. And it gets a great rating from Environmental Working Group (EWG)for being a safe product.

  5. Mary Frances says:

    I googled the La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMUNE 400 50+ Fluid Invisible and it appeared at Walmart.com. $28.99 with free shipping. Can this be the same thing you got from France?
    I was glad to read you saying the best sunscreen is the one you will use. I have been lax about it everywhere except my face because I understood mineral was best but could not stand coating myself with whiteness (I use tinted EltaMD on my face). After switching to chemical, I find myself applying repeatedly.

    1. If the one you found is imported from Europe, it could be the same. You’d need to compare the ingredient list. They make versions for the US with similar labeling.

  6. With a mother who died from melanoma and a past history of several skin cancers myself, I’m very aware of the need to use SPF protection 365 days a year. I love EltaMD products and am currently using the EltaMD UVClear SPF 46 untinted on my face. I have really sensitive skin and this brand is the only one I’ve found that doesn’t make my skin react badly. (Doesn’t burn if it gets in the eyes, either.)

    On the rest of my body I’m happy with Hawaiian Tropic, which is a lot cheaper, protects my super fair skin and doesn’t cause a skin reaction. Many other brands cause a rash, but I’ve never been able to figure out what ingredient is the culprit. Thanks for bringing attention to this important health and beauty issue!

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your mom!

  7. Thanks for all the timely information. Oh, for a one-and-done product!

  8. This is such a helpful post! I use La Roche Posay, ISDIN (I wish more of their products were available in the US), and Supergoop. I also have a stick version in my car to apply to the back of my hands and often use the Supergoop mineral powder on my part to help prevent burning my scalp. While I prefer physical sunscreens, I have previously successfully used some of the products with Mexoryl and was wondering why I can’t find them anymore. Now I know. Does anyone have a combination moisturizer/physical sunscreen they like?

  9. Mary Ruth Harden says:

    I’ve fallen in live with Super Goop. Goes on clear acts like a primer, diffusing light and blurring skin imperfections. I’m a Floridian and used this on my face when spending a week at the beach. No sunburn.

    1. Strangely enough, I have never tried Super Goop. I need to.

  10. I love the coola line of sunscreen.. I love their entire line from face, to skin to protection of lips. Plus it smells wonderful

    1. I love some of their products too

  11. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Sunscreen SPF 45 is oxybenzone free, water and sweat resistant, and highly recommended by dermatologists. It is also non-greasy and inexpensive. My husband who is an avid tennis player wears Coolibar clothing and we both wear their sun hats. Their clothing is expensive but it’s worth the money of avoiding skin cancer.

  12. I wear sunscreen year round on anything is not covered with clothing.
    The sun is beautiful, but with caution.
    Glad you blogged about this problem.

  13. Phyllis Hughes says:

    I discovered DRMTLGY Universal Tinted Moisturizer SPF46 last summer. It is the first sunscreen that I can say I love it so much that I use it everyday, rain or shine. I hated sunscreens for years because they made me feel hot and sweaty. This one does not leave me feeling that way at all. My skin just seems to glow when I wear it. The light tint in it provides just enough coverage that I seldom wear makeup with it. This one is a chemical sunscreen and DRMTLGY also makes a physical sunscreen. I have not tried their physical sunscreen.

    I use Agency Skin Care. Their recommendation is to put the sunscreen on after their moisturizer and before the Dark Spot Formula. Until I started their skin care line I had always used sunscreen as the last step of my skin care regime.

  14. This is great info and has got me researching and made me call my doctor for a dermatologist referral — something that I have been putting off for months. My skin has aged from time in the sun over decades, and yet, I am still not in the habit of sunscreen every day, but I am making progress. Two things: the environmental effects are important as you mention in passing; who knew there could be endocrine effects? Both are very important: the first is impt to all of us; the second to me personally.
    (Jennifer, I can’t figure out how to email just you, so … As I started to read the comments, the first one was from someone with a “business” URL, which I thought was peculiar, and like an idiot, I decided to check it out — definitely spam. Maybe your IT folks can check this out?)

  15. Ann Symes says:

    I had melanoma on my face a few years ago
    I use a L’Oreal mist type sunscreen. I like that it sprays a mist, but I also spray the product into my palm & apply by hand
    I also use Rodan @ Fields on my face
    My makeup contains some protection but not enough. I may try some of your options as you have certainly done a lot of fact gathering
    My question to you and others is how one manages the eye sting when even a little perspiration get in? It’s awful. I wear hats, but it’s not always practical nor are sweatbands. Ideas?

  16. I use and get my Elta MD UV clear from Lovely Skin during their great sales. It is Dr. sleshinger’s (sp? favorite that he uses. He says to always apply your sunscreen last.

    1. As an addition to my previous post, the ELTA MD is the only sunscreen that I have gotten my husband to wear daily, even though he has had multiple skin cancers.

      1. I just started my husband on the Elta MD so fingers crossed he will stay with it

  17. Thanks for all this great info! My husband and I golf and I’m like you, super vigilant and now I finally have him taking it seriously too.

  18. Paulette Levy says:

    Thank you for addressing this Jennifer. I use Isdin ( shown here ) every day year round as I walk outside tear round. I do have a small skin cancer on cheek near eye which will be surgically removed on June 7. Hopefully as superficial as they first believed. I replenish yearly so they don’t expire.

    1. Ann Symes says:

      My face melanoma was pre-stage 1. It turned out to bigger than originally thought, but my good news to you is the process (surgery, healing) can be resolve and don’t worry about the scar it might take time,’but I don’t have any signs of it anymore. It soundscape like you caught it early enough. I wish you the best

  19. I’ve been using EltaMd for two years. It’s great protection, absorbs easily and lasts all day. not tinted. Have a tinted product that looks like a mask on my face. Trying to avoid the made up look.

  20. I’ve been using the tinted Australian Gold sunscreen for several years now. It goes on so smoothly and is quickly absorbed. I deeply regret that this wasn’t included in my daily ritual many years ago. When working in my yard, I pull on a baseball style cap. My local building center has a display of Australian Gold products! How handy is that! Lol
    Thank you so much for reviewing a variety of products for us.

    1. I agree!! Hindsight is so clear. That is handy. I love AG products.

  21. Jennifer I too had melanoma 2 years ago. My leg looks like I had a shark bite after the surgery required to remove it! I really am liking the clothes that offer UPF etc protection. Lands End offers some nice affordable pieces too. I am going to get my first spray tan ever. Wish me luck! Thank you for all the valuable content you bring. I am going to try that sunscreen stick.

    1. I’m so sorry you had melanoma! So glad they found it. The clothing is a great option!

  22. Where do you find your parasols and sun hats?

    1. Any and everywhere. Coolibar make great ones and the parasols are getting increasingly popular. I just googled quickly and found these folding ones at a great price.

  23. I have found the colorescience to be so easy to wear. Prior I rarely used sunscreen on a daily basis. It layers great under foundation or I just wear it alone. This was a very knowledgeable post!

    1. I am confused about the different Colorscience products, especially Classic vs. Flex. Is it just that Classic has no/little color and Flex is matched to skin tone? Which are you using? Have you tried the brush-on type?

      1. Yes, classic has less tint and go on almost invisibly. The powder is wonderful for touchups during the day.

    2. It’s fabulous! I love they’re powder for touching up during the day too.

  24. We have the La Roche Posay products in Canada and their sunscreens and skin care products are excellent.
    I use their sunscreen lotion for face and another lotion for the body and then I keep a spray on sunscreen (Nuetrogena or Ombrelle) in my golf bag to re-apply when I’m on the course.

    1. I have heard great things about their skin care line. My daughter loves it too!

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