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SPF: Before or After Moisturizer?

Skin is our largely bodily organ responsible for the immune system and overall health like nothing else. The question is, do we care for it the way it cares for us? Let’s observe the benefits of skincare products for our skin.

SPF (Sun Protective Factor) and moisturizers are essential skincare products. SPF is required to protect our skin from aggressive sun rays, while a moisturizer is a must for keeping it nourished, functional, and healthy at all times.

The order of their application is massively important, and if you don’t know which should come first, you’ll risk diminishing their independent effectiveness and wasting their known synergetic effects.

The purpose of this guide is to present the best practices supported by dermatologists and skincare scientists about the correct order of SPF and moisturizer application. Upon reading it, you will be fully prepared to apply both products in the most optimal sequence, depending on multiple factors involved, including your skin type and conditioning.

Understanding Skincare Product Layering

It’s easier to grasp the essence of skincare layering by referring to how we dress and wear clothes. The lightest and thinnest clothes come first, followed by thicker and more heavily protected from the environmental elements. Reverting this order will result in a less effective and undoubtedly awkward outlook.

The same goes for skincare. Lighter formulation and consistency products, such as essences and most moisturizers, are easier absorbed by the skin. They act on the chemical level, with their smaller, carbon-based molecules penetrating deep inside the skin tissues and doing their skincare magic from the inside.

Heavier oils and some sunscreens form an invisible protective layer on the surface of your skin, locking in the benefits of the previously applied products. The one product amplifies the effects of the other, but only when used in the right sequence.

The chemical composition of the lighter healthcare products delivers peptides and antioxidants that interact with the skin at a molecular level. They need time to start acting properly, so estheticians recommend waiting at least 10-15 minutes before applying a protective layer on top.

That protective layer is known in cosmetics as a physical barrier, and it acts as a shield that bounces back all or most harmful elements from the environment, particularly UV radiation from the sun.

The Role of Moisturizers in Skincare

Moisturizers are essential to the health of one’s skin due to the following features:

  • Hydration – saturating the skin with moisture is their primary and immediate function and they aid in restoring lost skin moisture caused by internal (dehydration) and external factors (frequent cleansing, dry air, harsh weather conditions, etc.);
  • Barrier protection – moisturizer creates a protective barrier on the skin's upper layer, the hydrolipid mantle of the epidermis, that prevents moisture loss.

Work on Multiple Levels

Thanks to their powerful hydration effect, moisturizers work on all skin levels: the epidermis (upper), dermis, and especially the hypodermis, which is the most moisture-dependent one.

Deep within the skin layers, it takes time for the moisturizers’ hydration effects to kick off. On the other hand, their protective barrier function acts predominantly on the epidermis, where it becomes immediately effective upon application.

Different Types with Unique Ingredients

Modern moisturizers come in various forms and are packed with numerous ingredients, cherry-picked by skincare experts to suit individual skin types and conditions. The main types are as follows:

  • Lotions are known for their high watery composition, light texture, and normally fast action, they are suitable for all skin types and are perfect for oily and acne-prone ones;
  • Gels offer hydration without causing pore blockages or residual buildup, rendering them apt for skin prone to irritation or congestion, they often contain soothing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, which hydrate and calm the skin without weighing it down;
  • Creams are richer in oils and occlusive agents and are more suitable for mature and dry skin, so as soon as you apply the product, your skin becomes moisturized and has a perfect barrier to evaporating water.

The characteristics of lotions, gels, and creams often overlap, and choosing the type and brand of product that will moisturize most effectively depends on your preferences and immediate needs.

Akt Therapy Super Gloss with SPF 50

Akt Therapy Super Gloss with SPF 50

The Importance of SPF

The SPF in cosmetics stands for Sun Protection Factor. It represents a measure of the effectiveness of a particular skincare product against sun radiation. Their relative values may range from SPF 15 (i.e. 15 times more effective at shielding you from the sun’s radiation than unprotected skin alone) to SPF 50 and even SPF 50+.

Interestingly, most SPF products are only effective against short-wavelength UVB rays with lower penetrating potential. However, they are less potent against long-wavelength and more piercing (even in cloudy weather) UVA rays. Look for multipurpose SPF products that simultaneously protect against UVB and UVA sun rays.

By action, all SPF products can be categorized into two large groups:

  • Chemical SPF sunscreens – also known as organic SPF, as their molecular structure is based on carbon and its derivatives;
  • Physical SPF sunscreens – also known as mineral SPF due to their active mineral ingredients.

Type of SPF Product

Description of Action

Application Advice

Chemical SPF

Works with deeper skin layers, enhancing the skin’s natural protective mechanisms. It helps the skin to absorb UV radiation and release it in the form of heat.

It should be applied about 15-20 minutes before sun exposure (to take effect)

Physical SPF

Located on the surface (epidermis) of the skin and reflects and scatters UV radiation away.

Becomes effective immediately upon application.


The protective power of SPF sunscreens is multifaceted. By bouncing back and scattering UVB radiation, SPFs prevent skin burns. In the long run, the moisture retention and nourishing action of SPFs have an anti-aging effect, delaying wrinkles, age spots, and fine lines. With a proper and regular SPF routine, your skin looks (and feels!) healthy, retaining optimal complexion and tone.

Moreover, the protective action of a quality SPF product prevents various skin cancers, primarily melanoma and various types of cell carcinomas.

SPF and Moisturizer: The Debate

Does SPF go on before or after moisturizer? We often search for fast advice online, and most of us find the following – the Internet recommends applying SPF after a moisturizer. The rationale is that whatever protects our skin should sit on top. This is true, however, there are important nuances that only skincare experts can clarify.

Professional dermatologists recommend following the order of application based on the product type.

Chemical SPF should be applied before a moisturizer. The logic here is based on the action of chemical (organic) sunscreens – they act from within the skin by absorbing the sun’s UV rays. Therefore, they need clean and untreated skin to get the maximum effect.

Physical SPF should be applied after a moisturizer. The principle of physical or mineral sunscreen, i.e., protection from the harmful effects of the environment, involves its application over a moisturizer.

Some skincare professionals believe that applying a chemical SPF on top of a moisturizer is not a fatal mistake. Most moisturizers, they say, have light formulas and are readily absorbed by the skin. Therefore, they might only slightly dilute the effectiveness of the chemical SPF sunscreen that follows, but not cancel it out completely.

Best Practices for Applying SPF and Moisturizer

As with any undertaking, a skincare routine can bring excellent results and maximum efficacy, but only when done properly.

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Apply SPF and Moisturizer

Consider following a handful of essential steps that will ensure you get the maximum effect from combining a moisturizer and an SPF:

  1. Begin with cleaning your face. This pre-step is vital for proper SPF product distribution, absorption, and function.
  2. Apply moisturizer. Massage a small amount of moisturizer (less is more!) into your skin. Wait for it to be absorbed fully before undertaking further steps.
  3. Apply sunscreen. Dispense a smidgen of a quality SPF product into your fingertips (some dermatologists recommend a teaspoon for the face alone) and rub it gently into your skin. Use circular, upward motions until the sunscreen is fully absorbed.
  4. Wait at least 10 minutes. Let your skin fully absorb the sunscreen. Now you can apply other skincare products or go out under the sun.

If your skin suffers from acne and irritation, you should be especially picky with moisturizers. Free from comedogenic components, lightweight moisturizer formulas will be an ideal choice for you. Nowadays, anyone can buy them online or in brick-and-mortar skincare shops.

Akt Therapy Rad Face Oil

Akt Therapy Rad Face Oil

Considerations on Reapplying Sunscreen Throughout the Day

Physical filters work on the surface of your skin, reflecting sun rays as shields. The disadvantages of such filters include possible whitish stains and rapid rinsing/erasing during active physical activity and swimming.

Chemical filters, on the other hand, operate inside skin cells. They convert solar energy into heat, and in doing so, they deplete themselves.

Thus, it is important to refresh sunscreens regularly, since some types (especially mineral sunscreens) are easily washed off the skin and others (organic) are depleted by protecting you from the sun.

Myths and Facts about SPF and Moisturizers

The discussion about layering SPF filters and moisturizers is saturated with various myths and misconceptions. Let’s briefly review some of the most blatant and dangerous ones.

Myth #1. Any Product with SPF Will Do

The product must be selected strictly according to your skin’s prototype and characteristics. For example, a product with a low SPF (10) will suffice for dark-skinned people. A medium SPF (15-30) will suit brunettes. Whereas, a high SPF (30-50) is recommended for people with melanin deficiency, i.e., those with blond or red hair and skin sensitive to the sun.

Skincare experts advise shopping for several products, to be available in your cosmetic arsenal at all times. The lightweight product can be used on a cloudy summer day, while SPF 50 can be applied to the most sensitive exposed areas in the scorching sun.

Myth #2. Sunscreens Are Not Needed in Winter and on Cloudy Days

This is a common myth! Even if you sit in a shade, your skin still needs protection from UVA rays. In cloudy weather or in winter, UVA radiation is also present.
You may want to experiment with the density of the SPF products and their level of protection, but you can safely abandon SPF completely only when the UV index is low. Fair enough, SPF products do not need to be applied year-round and every day, 24 hours a day.

Myth #3. Cosmetics with SPF Replace a Dedicated SPF Filter

This is also a myth and a cunning move by marketers. A moisturizer or a primer with SPF may help slightly against photoaging, but it will not effectively resist aggressive sun rays and overheating.

Skincare professionals recommend using a dedicated SPF sunscreen with an adequate ultraviolet protection factor. Yes, this is an additional layer to your daily makeup, but the SPF factor is crucial for the beauty of your skin and overall health.

Additional Considerations and Tips

Each of us has a unique skin type that defines how long we can safely stay unprotected under the sun's rays. In particular, for Northern US citizens, this means no more than 10-20 minutes daily.

Renewing Routine and Waiting Time

No SPF filter can protect you all day like armor. Even the most effective filter must be renewed throughout the day, approximately once every two hours, depending on your skin type.

You need to apply the product before leaving the house, but not when you are on the street or the beach. Furthermore, the product must be absorbed, so wait 15-20 minutes before going outside and at least 10 minutes before putting on clothes.

SPF and Healthy Skin

An SPF sunscreen can be quite heavy on our skin, especially in the summer. However, many people mistakenly assume that sunscreen makes things worse, for example, causing acne. While in reality, acne and post-acne (pigmentation) develop under the influence of sunlight.

You need to choose a light form of sun filter with a good composition so that your skin’s pores do not clog and do not provoke new inflammation. When you return home, be sure to wash off the sun filter.

Pro Tips for an Effective SPF Routine

Here are some pro tips for integrating SPF into your skincare routine effectively:

remember that decorative cosmetics should be applied at the final stage of your makeup, e.g., lotions, oils, shimmers, and bronzers should be applied after a chemical SPF;

  • it is important not to mix layers, e.g., after applying a moisturizer, let the skin absorb the product for 10-15 minutes, and only then apply decorative cosmetics or SPF;
  • even if you have applied a protective SPF product according to all the rules, sitting under direct sunlight for hours can still cause burns, because SPF products can’t provide 100% protection;
  • use other protective measures, and don't rely on sunscreen alone. In addition to a good SPF, you should wear protective clothing, for example, a hat and sunglasses with UV protection lenses;
  • even with an SPF 50+ filter, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun during peak UV radiation periods (usually from 10 am to 4 pm).

The above list of tips and precaution measures is neither exhaustive nor final. Everyone, including yourself, with time may work out a unique SPF integration routine for your particular skin type and climate.


In the hot topic of the order of SPF and moisturizer application, there are both: quick answers and comprehensive approaches.

The fastest and most universal advice possible is to apply moisturizer first, followed by an SPF filter. The rationale is straightforward – as a rule, moisturizers have a light texture and are easily absorbed by normal skin. The effectiveness of an SPF sunscreen applied on top won’t be hampered, be it a chemical or physical SPF product.

However, should you prefer a more knowledgeable approach for the maximum result, explore the main takeaways from this guide:

  • chemical SPF sunscreens are most effective when applied on a clean face without prior exposure to moisturizers or other skin care products;
  • upon application of a moisturizer or an SPF filter (both chemical and physical), wait for at least 10-15 minutes before applying the next product or going out to the sun;
  • look for quality dual-purpose SPF protection, effective against UVA and UVB rays alike;
  • for those with dehydrated and sensitive skin, a quality moisturizer is a must-have product;
  • a moisturizer with an SPF effect will never substitute a dedicated, quality SPF sunscreen.

Akt Therapy D-Luxe Daily Bronzer with SPF 30

Akt Therapy D-Luxe Daily Bronzer with SPF 30

For the perfect results for your skin, never stop on your current achievements. Always look for novel, expertly curated practices, innovative products, and approaches. Remember that your skin never stays the same. It matures along with you and reacts to your diet, habits, and even mood fluctuations.

Care for your skin the way it cares for you, and it will pay you back multifold with a radiant complexion and youthful appearance on every occasion and through every stage of your life.

AKT Therapy