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Do Powder Sunscreens Really Work? We Found Out

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Photo by Ridofranz/Getty Images

Whether you’re a certified sun worshiper or prefer to spend most of your time cooling off indoors, it's a given that sun protection should be the most important (and non-negotiable) part of your skincare routine—ask any dermatologist. But what is it that trips most of us up when it comes to applying and reapplying SPF? It’s finding the best sunscreens that sit well under or over makeup, don’t make us feel greasy, and blend well into different skin tones and skin types

From sunscreen lotions to spray sunscreens to SPF-infused skincare products, SPF-infused makeup, and more, SPF formulations are forever changing, and the options for applying sunscreen seem endless. So naturally, when powder sunscreens popped into the picture, we were instantly intrigued. Can an SPF powder protect your skin from sun damagejust as well as the rest? Or should you use powder sunscreen as an extra layer of protection on top of your go-to SPF? We talked to board-certified dermatologist Courtney Rubin, MD, FAAD, for the facts on when, if, and how to use sunscreen in powder form.


About the Expert:
Courtney Rubin, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena and co-founder of Fig.1.

What Are Powder Sunscreens?

When it comes to texture, think of a powder sunscreen almost like a setting powder or loose powder made with built-in sun protection. A powder sunscreen is typically very similar in texture to a setting powder or translucent powder in that it gives your skin a matte finish when applied, and it is usually applied with a powder brush or puff (like the viral COLORESCIENCE Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50). Most powder sunscreens are mineral powder sunscreens as opposed to chemical sunscreens, and are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which block UVA and UVB rays. They’re also gentler on sensitive skin and will often have added benefits like blue light protection, antioxidants, and hydration, and can be better for acne-prone or oily skin.

However, while this all sounds amazing, there are differences in how effective a powder sunscreen is at protecting you from the sun’s rays when compared to a regular SPF lotion. “The main difference is the form factor. For any sunscreen product, 2 mg of product needs to be applied per square centimeter of skin in order to get the advertised amount of sun protection from that product. Applying the right amount of product is more difficult with powders and sprays, as people can incorrectly presume that they are supposed to use sunscreen powder the same way they use foundation powder and makeup setting powder (a light dusting), which would not give them the adequate amount of protection,” Dr. Rubin tells us.

Do Powder Sunscreens Really Work?

Sure, but only when used in addition to your SPF lotions or sunscreen sprays. “While I love the idea of powder sunscreens, especially for ease of use and ease of reapplication, I do not believe that (under regular use circumstances) they are as effective as lotions or creams,” adds Dr. Rubin. Why? Because of their formulation, powder sunscreens can’t always provide the same level of SPF protection as physical sunscreens because there are limits to the amount of powder SPF that you can apply and they aren’t always water-resistant or made with a high SPF (most tap out at SPF 30 or SPF 50). So while powder sunscreens are great to be used as a touch-up or over makeup, they may not be the best option for your primary source of sun protection.

When to Use Powder Sunscreens 

Besides using it to touch up your SPF without ruining your makeup (our favorite tip), powder sunscreens can come in handy in many ways.

For sensitive skin: If you’re prone to redness, rosacea, or dry skin, a powder sunscreen with hydrating, skin-protecting ingredients can be beneficial. For example, AVÈNE High Protection Tinted Compact SPF 50 is made for sensitive skin. It’s non-irritating, non-comedogenic, provides broad-spectrum protection, and is recommended by The Skin Cancer Foundation.

To minimize oil: If you’re prone to an oily T-zone or just have oily skin in general, a good broad-spectrum powder sunscreen doubles as a great matte powder. Just blot your shiny spots when you reapply for sun safe skin that’s free of shine. We keep PÜR 4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 15 handy so we can be selfie-ready in a pinch.

When you’re on the go: When it comes to reapplying SPF, we know that we should follow the two-hour rule, but sticking to it like clockwork can be tricky when you’re stuck in traffic or in a hurry. “I think powders are great for reapplication throughout the day on top of a primary layer of lotion or cream sunscreen,” Dr. Rubin adds. Applying powder sunscreen over a layer of broad-spectrum sunscreen (a shot-glass amount) is the best way to boost your SPF protection throughout the day without having to reapply a spray or lotion. With a powder SPF as your secondary form of protection, you can easily swipe on the go, and as often as needed.

In addition to other sun protection: “Powder SPF should be the last layer on top of your skincare, primary sunscreen, and makeup. This allows the powder to sit on top of the skin in an undisturbed layer, which can be reapplied throughout the day,” Dr. Rubin says. Use your powder SPF instead of your translucent powder, or apply a veil on top of it to keep your skin sun safe. Looking for one with a hint of color? We love the glow we got from BRUSH ON BLOCK SPF 30 Touch of Tan Mineral Powder Sunscreen.

Want more summer skincare tips? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own IPSY beauty subscription. Already an IPSY member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

About the author
Runa Rhattacharya
Runa Bhattacharya
Runa is an NYC-based writer and Registered Nurse with over 8 years of experience covering beauty and wellness. She’s worked for publications like SELF, Cosmopolitan, and more. She’s passionate about beauty, science, and two careers that she loves!
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Article Last Updated July 10, 2024 12:00 AM