By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Apr 12, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Do cosmetics containing sunscreen provide adequate sun protection?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 12 Apr. 2024, Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, April 12). Do cosmetics containing sunscreen provide adequate sun protection?. Go Ask Alice!,

Dear Alice,

I was thinking of buying a face powder that says it has an spf of 30. It seems convenient to have a powder sunblock since lotions make my oily face greasy. However, I was wondering if this powder will even be effective as a sunblock since I heard that some moisturizers and other products that advertise an added SPF sometimes don't have a high enough concentration of sunblocking ingredients to make it effective. I would like to know what do you think before I make my purchase. 


Dear Reader, 

More and more cosmetics nowadays like face powders, foundations, lipsticks, and specially formulated face moisturizers contain sunscreens with a range of sun protection factors (SPFs). Some of these moisturizers are oil-free and use non-greasy sunscreen ingredients that help you avoid that oil slick effect you mention. However, many products that have SPF are below the recommended SPF 30 value. Although you mentioned that your face powder does in fact contain SPF 30, it can still be difficult to ensure you're wearing a thick enough layer to benefit from the full protection offered by the product. Not to mention, face powders don't often absorb very well into the skin, which might make it a weaker barrier since it can more easily wear off throughout the day. 

Sunscreens prevent UVB rays from reaching your skin. The American Academy of Dermatologists recommends that people use a sunscreen of SPF 30. However, sunscreens are often dressed up in a variety of different labels that can make it hard to decipher what exactly the product is doing for you, what it's protecting you from, and how to use it. Here are a few common factors related to sunscreen and what they mean for how effective the product is: 

  • SPF: This number represents the amount of UV radiation from the sun that it takes to make your skin red when using sunscreen as directed, as compared to not using any sunscreen at all. For example, an SPF 30 provides more sun protection than an SPF 15. Sun exposure isn’t always correlated with time since absorption of UV rays varies from person to person often due to the melanin content in your skin. 
  • Broad spectrum: This means that the product can defend your skin from both UVB and UVA rays. While UVB can burn your skin, UVA increases aging. 
  • Sweat or Water resistance: Although the label may say the product can withstand water and sweat it’s typically only for a certain amount of time. It’s recommended that sunscreen be re-applied every 40 to 80 minutes especially if you're sweating a lot or swimming. 
  • UV Filters: Sunscreen can have inorganic UV filters which reflect light away from your body, or organic agents that absorb light to prevent your skin from absorbing it. 
  • Sunscreen vs Sunblock: Use of the term ‘sunblock’ has recently been restricted as no products can actually block out the sun. Sunscreen, however, filters and reflects light rays. 
  • Quantity to apply and where: To provide enough coverage, it’s a good idea to apply about one ounce—enough to fill up a shot glass—across your entire body or at least those areas that will be directly exposed to the sun and not covered by clothing. As for your face, about a nickel-sized amount should be applied before going out into the sun on any given day regardless of the cloud cover. 
  • Shelf life or expiry dates: According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sunscreens have a shelf life of up to three years but storage conditions and temperature can affect this as well

Powdered sunscreens, like the one you were looking at, usually have the texture of a setting powder—or that of sifted flour—and are applied with a brush. They can result in a matte effect, helping you to avoid that greasy feeling, and are convenient to apply or even re-apply over makeup. However, because the powder is loose and dry, it can be rubbed or blown off the skin, leaving you unprotected against the sun's rays. To better protect your skin, you might consider applying a layer of non-powder sunscreen first—think traditional gels, creams, and lotions—and allow it to absorb into the skin before applying any cosmetics or additional powdered sunscreens on top. As you go through your day, you might also choose to use the powder sunscreen as a touch-up as needed. 

When it comes to finding a sunscreen that works best for you, consider testing out different sunscreen products to see if they still give that greasy effect after applying the powder on top. Try doing an internet search for "non-oily sunscreens" or see if your favorite brands have sunscreen that they advertise as being oil free, fast setting, or non-greasy. Before generously applying the product to your face, it’s recommended you perform a patch test to make sure your skin doesn’t react to the product. 

Take care out there, 

Additional Relevant Topics:

General Health
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