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The Ultimate SPF Guide

May 03, 2019

At some point in your day, you likely find yourself outside, exposing your skin to the sun’s rays. It’s practically inevitable. Even if you are indoors for most of the time, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UV rays can pass through glass windows and reach your skin. And if it’s cloudy out, that doesn’t mean you can skimp on sunscreen either! Applying a broad-spectrum SPF daily, rain or shine, 365 days a year, is a crucial component in preserving your skin’s youthful integrity.

Trust us (even those of you who have darker skin tones), a bronzed glow will fade, but the damage the sun causes your skin won’t. Have we convinced you that it’s time to brush up on your SPF knowledge? Here, we’re sharing your ultimate guide to SPF, including which level you should use, our best face moisturizer with SPF, and how often to use SPF as part of your regular skin care routine.


Even when you don’t get a sunburn, the sun can cause irreversible damage below the skin’s surface. In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), a tan is a sign that your skin has been injured by the sun, and every time you tan your skin becomes damaged. When this damage builds up over time, it can lead to the development of premature signs of skin aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. What’s worse—it can also lead to certain types of skin cancer, including melanoma, which is the deadliest form. Using sunscreen correctly and frequently is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer, along with wearing protective clothing when you’re outdoors and seeking shade when you can. According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the sun is strongest at mid-day (compared to morning and evening hours). So, plan accordingly!


Take a stroll down the sunscreen aisle at any drugstore and it can be overwhelming—there are so many different levels of SPF available, ranging from two all the way up to 50+. So, what exactly do these numbers mean and how do you know which number is best for your skin?

The varying numbers represent how long the sun’s UV rays will take to redden your skin. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, if you use a product with SPF 30 exactly as directed, it should take you 30 minutes longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen at all. Both the AAD and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend that for extended sun exposure, you should use a broad spectrum sunscreen (meaning it will protect against both UVA and UVB rays) that has an SPF value of 30 or higher.

SPF numbers can also be thought of as revealing how much UVB light (the burning rays) a sunscreen can filter out, according to the AAD. SPF 15 is capable of filtering 93% of the sun’s UVB rays, while SPF 30 is capable of filtering out 97% of the sun’s UVB rays.

Besides paying attention to the SPF value of your sunscreen, the AAD also recommends that you look out for the term “water resistant,” which means that the sunscreen will stay on your skin when you swim or sweat—at least for a while, until you need to reapply. Usually “water resistant” means it will stay on skin for about 40 minutes, and “very water resistant” means it will last for up to 80 minutes, according to the AAD. Water resistant formulas can suit those who may tend to sweat throughout the day or those who plan to swim outdoors. Still, the Food & Drug Administration does recommend that you reapply sunscreen immediately after swimming or sweating—better safe than sorry.


In addition to the different SPF levels (and water resistance levels), there are also two different types of sunscreen, according to the AAD. Physical sunscreen works like a shield, sitting on top of your skin and working to deflect the sun’s rays off of it. These types of sunscreen contain the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium oxide and are best suited for those with sensitive skin. The second type of sunscreen is called chemical sunscreen, and these can contain a number of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. In contrast to physical sunscreen (which acts as a shield), chemical sunscreens work as a sponge to absorb the sun’s rays when they hit your skin. These formulas tend to leave less of a white residue behind, which may be a deciding factor for some.


Sunscreen is a great choice for a day at the beach or one spent outdoors, but there are also other skin care products with SPF that are great options for day to day. Here, we’re sharing our best face moisturizer and foundations formulated with SPF.


Moisturizing is a crucial part of any skin care routine—i.e. it’s essential to use face moisturizer every morning and evening, no matter what skin type or skin care concerns you have! So, why not protect your skin while you hydrate? Here are our best face moisturizers formulated with SPF, in order from lowest to highest SPF.

L'Oréal Paris Collagen Filler Collagen Moisture Filler Day Lotion: Formulated with collagen and SPF 15, this day moisturizer provides lasting hydration.

L'Oréal Paris Youth Code Skin Illuminator Tinted All-In-1 Moisturizer SPF 20: This tinted moisturizer provides lightweight, tone-matching coverage plus daily hydration and SPF 20, all in one.

L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Anti-Wrinkle Firming Day Cream SPF 25: In addition to having an SPF value of 25, this face moisturizer is formulated with fine line-fighting ingredients, including Pro-Retinol to help increase surface skin cell turnover.

L'Oréal Paris Revitalift Bright Reveal Brightening Day Moisturizer SPF 30: This face moisturizer’s formula, which includes glycolic acid, vitamin C, Pro-Retinol, and SPF 30, works to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and even out skin tone.


If we haven’t already convinced you, you can really never have enough protection against the sun! In addition to using a moisturizer with SPF, consider layering on a foundation that also protects against the sun’s damaging rays. Here are our best options, once again in order from the lowest SPF to the highest.

L'Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Glow Foundation: This hydrating, creamy foundation gives skin an instant glow, while also protecting skin thanks to its formula which includes SPF 15.

L'Oréal Paris Visible Lift Serum Absolute Advanced Age-Reversing Makeup: With SPF 17 and anti-aging ingredients that won’t settle into fine lines, this breakthrough foundation will reduce the appearance of lines, wrinkles, and age spots.

L'Oréal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Compact Makeup: This compact foundation provides the weightless feel and blendability of liquid makeup, plus it has SPF 17.

L'Oréal Paris Infallible Up to 24HR Fresh Wear Foundation, Lightweight: Formulated with SPF 25, this lightweight foundation also offers medium to full coverage with a breathable feel. The ultra-thin liquid goes on smoothly and resists sweat, water, and transfer all day.


How you apply your SPF matters. Follow these tips, courtesy of the AAD, to ensure you’re getting it right.


It takes about 15 minutes for sunscreen formulas to fully absorb—so give it plenty of time before heading outside. You’ll also want to keep skin dry and avoid sweating during this time. 


Your face is definitely important, but don’t neglect to also apply sunscreen onto all other areas of exposed skin—from head to toe. According to the AAD, most adults need about one ounce (or a shot glass full) to fully cover their body.


Reapply SPF every two hours and immediately after you swim or sweat. Here’s How to Reapply Sunscreen for a full tutorial.

Next: 7 Sunscreen Myths to Stop Believing Now

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