Does using a daily moisturizer with SPF 15 give you enough sun protection?

Cynthia Bailey, MD|August 26, 2011

Patients ask me this all the time. If you're not out in the sun at all during the day then it may give you adequate sun protection.  If, however, you plan to be outside for more than a quick run to your car, then that daily moisturizer with SPF 15 is probably giving you a false sense of your sun protection security and your skin's getting some new sun damage! The problem: Sun protection from sunscreen depends on putting enough product on your skin and reapplying every 2 hours.  You're not going to do this with your SPF 15 facial moisturizer yet this is a critical sun protection step for when the sun is shining on your skin for a sustained period of time..... and that includes reflected light bouncing off buildings, pavement and sand, and coming through windows! When you're using a product with chemical (also called 'organic') actives (which means anything other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), this 2 hour reapplication is really important.  That's because UV rays break down 'organic' actives when they hit them. Most daily moisturizers with SPF rely on 'organic' actives, and have only the tiny amount sufficient to create an SPF 15 to begin with.  This means your sun protection runs out during the day and you're unprotected! Add to that the fact that when people use a daily moisturizer that doubles as a sunscreen they don't usually do the first two important aspects of sun protection: put enough on and reapply every 2 hours. Of course, on the average day it's unlikely that you're going to reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours which means you have to be cleaver about that one morning application in the first place. Bottom line: that daily moisturizer with SPF 15 is most probably giving you a false sense of sun protection security.  I can help you figure out how to get better protection for your skin. The solution: What I tell my patients is that for their average work or school day, to use the moisturizer that their skin 'wants' and then on top of that apply a real sunscreen. Your moisturizer serves that step in your skin care regimen where you dial in that perfect amount of hydration that makes your skin look and feel moist and plump. What I mean by a 'real' sunscreen is one with an SPF between 30 and 50.  I also believe that the best protection comes from products that contain the mineral active micro zinc oxide at 5% or more concentration. It should also be made by a highly reputable lab because sun screen ingredients inactivate each other as they sit in the bottle and so you need a product that's stood up to years of successful use under the highest scrutiny. The zinc oxide (also called a physical or 'inorganic' sunscreen ingredient) is a physical block because it sits on the outer layers of your skin and bounces light off into the stratosphere, like tennis balls off a racket. The micro/nano zinc products will go on completely transparent if you keep rubbing the product into your skin until you can't see it anymore.  That's when you've created a fine invisible protective layer of particles covering your skin and the UV bouncing is ready to begin! Makeup goes on top of sunscreen and it ideally should be a mineral makeup which gives you even more physical sun protection by this same bouncing mechanism. Then, if you're really out in the sun, you need a great hat and to try to aim for staying in the shade as much as possible.  (Of course, for extreme and sustained outdoor sun exposure, like a day at the beach,  you just have to reapply sun screen every 2 hours.) It takes some effort and planning but your skin will reward you by looking younger than you expect, and for years! As you've probably already heard, most of the undesirable skin changes we see with age like wrinkles, age spots and skin thinning are actually due to sun damage.  Who needs it!   And remember, you need sun protection all year round because even those winter UVA rays cause skin aging and skin cancer. I have a lot of information on practical sun protection on my blog because it's the single most important step a person can do for anti aging skin care and skin health.  I invite you to scroll through the Sun Protection Advice listed on the right of this post or visit my sun protection product pages for products the highly scrutinized products that I use in my practice.  They are made by expert chemists, I personally use them every day and I've witnessed them protect thousands of my patients from our California sun. Photo:  Thanks and Gratitude to Andrew Plewes

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