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Talk to any dermatologist about skin care and they’ll likely find some way to tell you just how important it is to protect your skin from the sun. Most of the time, that means wearing a broad spectrum SPF sunscreen. Everyone would concede that that makes sense for a sunny day at the beach but isn’t it a bit of an overkill for going to the office?
That’s where the best moisturizers with SPF come in. To answer that question, it’s partly overkill, partly not. Just because you won’t be spending much time in the sun doesn’t mean you should skip out on the SPF protection because UV rays are that bad. At the same time, if you know you won’t be exposed much, slathering the SPF 100 sunscreen on your face is indeed a waste.
To answer these kinds of questions, we reached out to Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and expert on all things skin.
Read on to learn why you definitely should be using a moisturizer with SPF or other sun protectors (like the best mineral sunscreens), whether or not a moisturizer with SPF is enough to protect your skin, the relevant sun-protecting ingredients and some best practices for best results. We also include some of the best moisturizers with SPF, and we’ve even included a tinted moisturizer with SPF, too.
Why Should I Use a Moisturizer With SPF?
There are two elements to answer here: why use a moisturizer and why use an SPF? The first one should be fairly straightforward: Moisturizers hydrate skin, keeping it supple, comfortable and healthy. “Moisturizer is an essential step in a skincare routine because it helps hydrate the skin and trap moisture to repair and maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier,” Green said. “Moisturizing [also] helps to heal the uncomfortable symptoms of dry skin like flakiness, cracking and itchiness … and helps soften fine lines and wrinkles by hydrating and plumping the skin.”
Whether you have dry or oily skin, moisturizing is key. But the SPF part is just as key because of the significant role the sun’s UV rays play in damaging skin, resulting in sunburn and, over the long term, signs of aging like discoloration, melasma, sun spots, age spots and wrinkles.
“When UV rays make contact with the skin, they damage the skin’s DNA, and the cells in the dermis produce melanin in the epidermis to prevent more damage,” Green said. “UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis and damage collagen and elastin fibers that act as a support for the skin’s structure to give a plump, youthful appearance. This leads to wrinkles and leathery skin and causes the skin to become thinner and drier.”
What Ingredients Should I Look For in Moisturizers With SPF? How Do They Work?
First, a quick explanation on SPF and broad-spectrum. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which is the term for how much UV radiation from the sun’s rays is needed to produce sunburn on protected skin relative to the radiation needed to burn unprotected skin, Green said. “The higher the SPF, the more UV radiation exposure your skin can handle before getting sunburned … Sunscreens should have SPF of at least 30 for adequate protection.”
Broad-spectrum just means the sunscreen protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, and you want to make sure you’re stopping both.
Green also mentioned that SPF has nothing to do with the amount of time spent in the sun and everything to do with the amount of radiation. That’s why common advice is to stay out of the sun during midday hours, when the rays (that is the radiation) are strongest. Put another way, spending four hours in the sun from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. isn’t as bad as spending four hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Thankfully, with the right ingredients, you can protect your skin whether you’re using a stronger sunscreen or a lighter moisturizer with SPF.
When it comes to ingredients that protect skin from the sun, there are basically two kinds: chemical sunscreens and mineral sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens, including ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate or octinoxate, absorb and give off UV rays as heat. Mineral sunscreens, also called physical sunscreens or sunblocks, use minerals like titanium oxide or zinc oxide to physically stop rays from getting into the skin.
Both kinds of ingredients are effective at protecting skin from the sun, assuming the formula has a high enough SPF. But for sensitive or acne-prone skin, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends mineral sunscreens because the chemicals can be irritating, Green noted. On the other hand, mineral sunscreen ingredients can leave the tell-tale white cast, but chemical sunscreens do not.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of moisturizers with SPF and how they protect skin, check out some of our favorites below. Adding one into your routine could be the single best thing you do to add years of youthful skin to your life by preventing sun damage.
1. Jaxon Lane Rain or Shine Daily Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 50
If you want to ensure you have plenty of moisturization and broad-spectrum SPF protection, the Jaxon Lane Rain or Shine Daily Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 50 has you covered. With this amount of SPF, it feels more like a proper sunscreen than a lightweight moisturizer. But it’s one of the higher SPF moisturizers out there, delivering key protection from UVA and UVB rays while improving and hydrating skin with vitamin E, hyaluronic acid and green tea.
2. GetMr. The Daily 3-in-1 Face Lotion
The GetMr. The Daily 3-in-1 Face Lotion is an aftershave, moisturizer and mineral SPF that will take care of all your face and skincare needs. Multipurpose products can sometimes miss — it’s hard for a product to be really good at multiple things — but we found it highly moisturizing and protective in our review. As a mineral-based SPF (with zinc oxide), it can go on a little white and thick, but you won’t notice once the lotion’s had a chance to absorb a bit.
Though it appears pricey out of the gate, you get a three-month daily supply, and this is one product you want to encourage yourself to use by buying upfront.
3. Harry’s Daily Face Lotion for Men
The Harry’s Daily Face Lotion for Men won’t protect you on a sunny day at the beach, but it’s perfect for less intense daily adventures. With SPF 15, it gives your skin that little bit of extra protection it needs when you’re walking outside. Plus, I’ve tested this moisturizer with SPF out and it’s wonderfully lightweight, fast-absorbing and hydrating, not to mention fairly priced.
4. Geologie Vital Morning Face Cream Daily Moisturizer SPF 10
Like the Harry’s daily moisturizer with SPF, the Geologie Vital Morning Face Cream Daily Moisturizer SPF 10 is a great option for daily hydration and UV protection. The SPF 10 isn’t enough for major sun protection, but it gets the job done for daily activities and the niacinamide and hyaluronic acid offer all the hydration your skin needs.
5. CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
The CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 is one of the most popular facial lotions and it’s been around forever because it checks all the boxes you want in the best moisturizer with SPF. It’s lightweight, fast-absorbing, inexpensive, offers broad-spectrum protection with both chemical and mineral sunscreens and features CeraVe’s signature blend of ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. This moisturizer with SPF worked for millions and it can work for your skin, too.
6. Jack Black Double-Duty Face Moisturizer SPF
MADE FOR MEN
The Jack Black Double-Duty Face Moisturizer SPF is one the most popular moisturizers with SPF for men because it smells good and it works. Chemical sunscreens offer SPF 20 protection and organic ingredients and vitamins A and E improve skin.
7. Oars + Alps Everyday Anti Aging Face Moisturizer SPF 37
BEST FOR ANTI-AGING
The Oars + Alps Everyday Anti Aging Face Moisturizer SPF 37 hits the sweet spot in terms of serious sun protection and moisturizing, both key for anti-aging.
Hyaluronic acid, alpine caribou moss, vitamins E and B5 all work to hydrate and rejuvenate skin while chemical sunscreens stop the harm before it happens.
8. Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion
BEST TINTED MOISTURIZER WITH SPF
If you use makeup, you may already have a tinted moisturizer with SPF. For the unfamiliar, tinted moisturizers feature makeup-like ingredients that tint the moisturizer, helping them blend better into different skin tones.
“Typical moisturizers do not contain the pigments that provide coverage for blemishes, dark spots, etc. …,” Green said. “Tinted moisturizers can be hydrating enough on their own, and the preference for using a tinted moisturizer versus a typical moisturizer followed by foundation is up to the individual and the environment, [like] a hot, humid environment.”
Tinted moisturizers with SPF just add in sunscreen ingredients. Like regular moisturizers with SPF, they’re not the best for long-term heavy sun exposure, but they’re better than not using any SPF, Green said.
If a tinted moisturizer with SPF would better fit into your routine, check out the Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion. Powered by natural ingredients as well as titanium oxide and zinc oxide for UV protection, this lotion hydrates skin while acting as a primer or color corrector. Use it alone or underneath makeup and pick it up in a light-medium variety or medium-dark variety.
9. MGSKINLABS Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 50
Dr. Green knows how critical sunscreen is for long-term skin health, so she developed her own moisturizing version. The MGSKINLABS Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 50 features hyaluronic acid to address fine lines and wrinkles and caffeine, which has antioxidant effects to protect skin from free radicals, Green said.
Is Moisturizer With SPF Enough To Protect My Skin?
The million-dollar question and the million-dollar answer: Moisturizers with SPF are likely not enough to protect your skin for sun-heavy situations but are infinitely better than nothing, Green said.
Green identified two reasons why moisturizers with SPF aren’t the best replacements for a proper sunscreen: Sunscreen needs regular reapplication and their formulas may not add up to the posted SPF due to their other hydrating ingredients.
“First, sunscreen should be reapplied every 90 minutes when you’re in the sun because it becomes ineffective after exposure to air and light. Many people will not want to reapply a moisturizer with SPF because it can feel heavy, over-hydrating, and greasy,” Green said. “Second, sunscreens are regulated by the [Food and Drug Administration] and require a specific amount of SPF to be considered effective, leaving little room for other ingredients. Therefore, a moisturizer with SPF of 30 may not actually have SPF 30 because it is diluted by the hydrating ingredients, meaning you need more of the product to effectively protect the skin from sun damage.”
That’s why, for best results, Green recommends applying a moisturizer and then a sunscreen. But remember: A moisturizer with SPF is still better than nothing, she said. It may also suffice to protect your skin as long as you’re not using it as a replacement for stronger, higher-SPF sunscreen.
How Can I Use a Moisturizer With SPF for Best Results?
You basically want to use a moisturizer with SPF like you would a moisturizer and a sunscreen. That means cleansing and drying your skin first and then applying the moisturizer (before any makeup, too). Ideally, you would apply the moisturizer with SPF 15 minutes before entering the sun and every 90 minutes thereafter, especially after swimming, sweating or towel drying, Green said.
We’ve been focused on facial moisturizers for the most part, but Green also added not to forget to protect the rest of your skin, including arms, legs, neck and ears, too.