Does the SPF in your moisturiser actually protect your skin from the sun? Advertisement

Does the SPF in your moisturiser actually protect your skin from the sun?

A new study suggests otherwise

By Becki Murray  July 9th, 2018

Moisturisers containing SPF may not be an effective way to protect your skin from the sun, reveals a new study unveiled at the British Association of Dermatologists’ annual conference.

Using a specially modified camera that only sees UV light, researchers at the University of Liverpool found photographic evidence that moisturisers with SPF were less efficient at blocking UV rays compared to conventional sunscreens. They suggested that it was because individuals do not tend to apply their moisturisers as efficiently.

For the study, participants were photographed on two occasions; the first after they had applied a sunscreen and the second time after using an SPF moisturiser. When an area of skin was successfully protected from UV rays, the UV light was absorbed, meaning that area appeared black in the photographs.

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“This research is very visual and fairly easy for people to understand: the darker the image, the more sun protection people are getting,” explains Austin McCormick, a consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon and one of the researchers.

The study found that the images were noticeably lighter when the individuals were wearing the moisturiser compared to sunscreen, suggesting that individuals were less protected from UV rays.

It was theorised that this was because the participants were not applying their moisturiser as thickly as they would their conventional sun protection, comprising the perceived level of SPF protection they were receiving.

“Unfortunately, moisturiser with SPF just doesn’t perform particularly well in real world situations”, says Matthew Gass from the British Association of Dermatologists. “Although it may say ‘factor 30’ on the box, this study is just further evidence that the lab testing conditions for these products don’t reflect how they are used. As a result, although skin moisturiser with SPF does provide sun protection, our research suggests that it’s not to the same degree as sunscreen”.

In further bad news, the study also revealed that individuals have a greater tendency to miss areas of their face when using SPF moisturisers, leaving them more vulnerable to skin cancer and premature ageing. While participants on average failed to cover 11 per cent of their face when applying sunscreen, this rose to 16 per cent when using SPF moisturiser.


Most concerning was the tendency for both groups to leave the eyelid – a common site for skin cancer – unprotected. While the researchers expected SPF moisturisers to provide better protection in this area, because of the perception that such products sting less than sunscreen, the opposite was true. Participants failed to protect their eyelids 21 per cent of the time, in comparison to 14 per cent of the time with sunscreen.

These results are likely to be shocking to the 85 per cent of participants who reported that they were confident their moisturiser was sufficiently protecting them. That said, individuals reported feeling more confident (90 per cent) when using sunscreen, revealing some pre-existing doubt about whether SPF moisturisers are as effective as traditional sun protection.

In light of the findings, doctors are warning individuals not to rely solely on moisturisers containing SPF, especially if they are spending a lot of time in the sun:

“Moisturisers and make-up that contain UV protection are better than nothing at all, but for prolonged periods we recommend the application of sunscreen with high SPF”, McCormick concludes.

The lesson to take away then: be on the safe side and take the time to apply a dedicated sunscreen as part of your skincare routine. Focus on covering your eye area thoroughly and making sure you reapply regularly. Your skin will thank you for it.

ELLE Edit: 10 Of The Best Sun Creams To Prevent Sunburn:

Vichy Solar Protective Water



If heavy, paint-like white creams aren't your bag (are they anyone's??) then this super lightweight spray is for you. Formulated with hero ingredient hyaluronic acid, this keeps parched skin hydrated and protected.

Avène Mineral Fluid SPF50+


Rs. 1,202.49

Using broad spectrum mineral filters to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, this chic sun cream has a matte finish so you can wave greasy looking skin goodbye.

Institut Esthederm Adaptasun Body Lotion


Rs. 4,536.23

Based around the concept of using melanin to train your skin to protect itself against the sun, this SPF-free lotion lets you tan the safe way.

Soleil Toujours Organic Sheer Sunscreen Mist SPF50


Rs. 2,926.72

One for the organic lovers out there, this sun cream is fortified with green tea leaf extract to prevent burning and stop those wrinkles. Anti-aging sun cream = a yes from us.

Nivea Sun Caring Roll-On SPF50


Rs. 4,099

A roll-on sun cream?! Yup, Nivea's game-changing roll-on delivers SPF50 for under a fiver.

Sisley Super Soin Solaire Milky Body Mist SPF30


Rs. 8,412.54

Possibly the most indulgent sun cream ever, this lightweight mist protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays helping to protect against the effects of photo-aging.

Piz Buin Protect And Cool Refreshing Sun Mousse SPF30


Rs. 2,020.81

A sun cream that cools your skin whilst it protects? Our sun-parched holiday selves are all about this refreshing mousse.

Riemann P20 Sun Filter SPF20


Rs. 2,267

One application of this genius sun cream is enough for ten hours worth of protection which means no messy lotions while you're trekking through the jungle. Or, you know, sitting by the pool...

Natura Bissé C+C Dry Oil Antioxidant Sun Protection SPF30


Rs. 5,114.37

Enriched with powerful antioxidants to shield against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation, you can use this multi-tasking sun cream on your skin and hair.

Clarins Sunscreen Care Milk-Lotion Spray SPF50


Rs. 1,737

After 30 minutes this high protection SPF is water and sweat resistant (not a sexy fact, but very important none the less), plus the handy spray makes for easy application and leaves skin with a sexy shine.