Can You Layer SPF for Greater Sun Protection?

Ah, sunscreen.

By now you should know that sunscreen is one of the ultimate skin care tips and must-dos.

It’s vital in protecting your skin from the sun’s harsh rays and helping in not only sun cancer prevention but also signs of aging such as dark spots, wrinkles and dryness.

However, a common misconception about sunscreen and SPF is that you can layer SPF from different products to ensure even greater sun protection.

layer spf for greater sun protection
Image: Vichy Fr

What exactly am I talking about?

I’m talking about the sentiment that – for example – if you wear sunscreen with SPF 30, then moisturiser with SPF 15, then foundation with SPF 15… you’ll get a total sun protection factor of 60.

And an SPF of 60 is extremely good.

And while I do understand where this thought comes from (it kinda makes sense, no?), unfortunately, I wouldn’t do the happy dance just yet.

The truth is, the sun protection factor (SPF) on your face is as good as the highest ‘number’ you put on your face. So if the highest product on your skin has a SPF of 25, then your skin is only protected 25 times than usual, no matter what other products you might have on your face. Bummer, eh?

So if you have been thinking that you’ve been protecting your skin a lot by layering, it may not be as much as you think.

Bottom Line

Time to redo, and to get a proper sunscreen! (I would recommend to always rely on SPF from a sunscreen instead of makeup products, by the way).

The recommended SPF on skin is 30, but personally, SPF 40 is the ‘minimum’ I’m looking for and would recommend no less than SPF 40 either.

Some of my absolutely favourite sunscreens I would recommend (all SPF 40 and over) are by EMK, Alba Botanica and La Roche-Posay. (Any sun product by Vichy, above, and La Roche-Posay is incredible, by the way.)

Over to you: have you ever had this misconception about sunscreen?

I did a few years ago, but really, as long as you are 1) applying sunscreen daily, 2) moisturizing daily and 3) avoiding sunbathing and long periods in the sun, you are definitely doing great things to prevent premature aging for your skin.

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  1. It’s always been a struggle for me to wear SPF. I just want to be tan all the time! However, I’ve started using a Neutrogena moisturizer that has SPF in it. I almost forget I’m wearing anything! =)

  2. i am pretty sure that is the reason why here in Australia the maximum spf a product is allowed to say they have is spf 30 it may actually be spf 40 it could be spf 80 but because of the harshness of our sun the government only allows things to be labelled spf 30 thereby not giving people the sense that they need not reapply 🙂

  3. I used to HATE wearing sunscreen! It felt sticky and icky on my skin and I just didn’t like piling on more than the usual toner + moisturizer. I didn’t even like applying sunblock on my arms and legs when I do sports because it felt so “unnatural” when I sweat, like I’m sweating some creamy nonsense or something, haha! Then one day I was watching America’s Next Top Model and all these pretty models with (seemingly) perfect skin go for a skin checkup and ALL of them have really scary sun damage despite it not being completely visible yet! Freaked me out enough to start making sure I apply sunblock daily without fail! Even when I dont leave the house I slap some on just in case. And after reading your post on protecting out hands from aging, I’ve started to apply sunblock on my hands too! Some people recommend reapplying sunblock every 2 hours but I haven’t been so diligent about that part heh heh heh..

    I use Clinique’s Sun SPF50 Face Cream now and so far so good. Not oily and icky! And I like to use a minimum of SPF50, considering how harsh the sun feels here in Malaysia and in Singapore too, I know. I have seen the Clinique Derma White Brightening City Blocker (far left in your pic above) around tho.. Is it any good? And does it have a tint? I like the one I’m using now because it doesn’t have a tint. Otherwise I’d have to use a makeup remover to get it off everytime I use it!

    1. Clinique’s sunblocks tend to have a tint but honestly when you apply it, it doesn’t cover anything so I think it’s more like the formula has a color, and that’s about it. Clinique’s sunscreens are good, I used to use them, but are a little greasy. :/

  4. I try to always wear some sunscreen – usually SPF30, I read somewhere that going higher doesn’t help. The only problem is that my face becomes so oily from the sunscreen! Whatever I try, at the end of the day my face is like an oil slick – though a well-protected one 😛

  5. I used to have this misconception about sunscreen too. If you mix two sunscreens together, common sense would tell you it wouldn’t increase the SPF, but if you put one on and wait, and then layer a second one on, it seems like it would increase the SPF, but supposedly it doesn’t! In the summer I sometimes layer sunscreens because I use the Anthelios one with mexoryl in it, and then I put a sunscreen with zinc oxide over it. Again that seems like a good idea, but I could be messing up the way they work for all I know. I am constantly testing sunscreens in the summer to find one that causes the absolute least amount of color on my face on the rare occasion I actually go outside and go to the pool/beach.

  6. Haha, seems like I’m not the only one who had this misconception! I have been testing out a sunscreen recently and I think I found the perfect one. I’m serious – this is the first sunscreen that doesn’t make me look greasy and nasty, very impressive! Will review it next week, look out for it!

  7. Another misconception about SPF is that if you apply it in the morning, then you’re covered for the rest of the day. Wrong!! You have to reapply at least every hour an a half to two hours. Even more so if you’r ein direct sunlight. It took me awhile to catch on and wrap my head around that one.

    Wearing SPF on a regular basis is really the best way to prevent premature aging and fine lines. Great post!

    1. Thanks so much for your added tip, Kathleen! So true – sunscreen should be re-applied AND sunscreen is the best way to prevent wrinkles and premature aging. A great moisturizer at night helps as well! 🙂 xx

  8. Wow! I thought it was just me! LOL. I used to have this misconception, too. But after developing melasma, I started reading up more and more about sun protection tips and myths. I also found out that layering products with SPF just improves sun protection in terms of layers/amount of sunscreen applied because we usually (always) fail to apply the recommended amount of sunscreen on a daily basis. Come on, who wants to look like she used ice cream on her face, right?

  9. I’m having a hard time finding a mosturizer with SPF that doesn’t cause my skin to break out 🙁 But I don’t want sun damage!

    1. i’ve been using Olay sensitive moisturiser with spf 15 for around 2-3 months and it has yet to break me out 🙂 just make sure you use clean fingers or a clean foundation brush to apply it and put any spot treatments on first 🙂

  10. Very confused about sunscreen. So you have to keep reapplying? But what if you have makeup on? Ok on an average day at work when you only see the sun during lunchtime let’s say and you are wearing makeup say foundation or BB cream or primer that has SPF 30 do you still need to apply proper sunscreen first before that?

  11. Actually when it comes to sunscreen I must say, I’M GOOD hahah. I have been wearing daily since I can’t remember, my mother was really obsessed with sunscreen, sun protection in general. She would always buy me good sunscreens, so I’ve used many different ones. I think I never had this misconception, because all my sunscreens are 40 or 50 SPF so I never worried about putting more SPF in any other way. When I turned 15 I had the WORST skin problems ever, really severe cistic acne, and since then I’ve been even more careful about it, so I use it everyday, it doesn’t matter if it’s rainning or if I’m going to stay home all day…. I’ll apply it. When my skin is behaving good, people usually compliment my skin and ask me what I use, what face creams or whatever, and when I tell them I only use sunscreen religiously, they don’t believe it!!! I only use other products when I breakout. I think sunscreen/sunblock it’s the one product I couldn’t live without and don’t mind spending on. If only I could be like that when it comes to dieting, and u know, doing everyday hahaha.

  12. Hey! I was just wondering, I know I should probably put sunscreen on my hands… And I’m young so while I’m at school I use my hands a lot, so it would just all fade away. If I added sunscreen to some hand lotion and put it in a jar and used it, would that be alright? I don’t know if the sunscreen would lose any of its protection qualities because of the lotion but I just thought it may be a good idea. Thanks!! 🙂

  13. I use kiehl’s SPF 50 sunscreen and as the name says its ultra light! Non greasy and u wont feel a thing. I used to use body shop’s vit c range, it’s a moisturizer + sunscreen so I thought it was convenient. But it made me sweat like crazy and it’s soo sticky I hated using it.

    Anyway, I read that u have to reapply frequently because of several factors. Sometimes even when u put on, u might only get at most half of the SPF stated on the product. (was a little sad when I read that haha)

    1. Hey Farah, thanks for the tip! 🙂 Oh my goodness, I had never heard that one before! What do they mean by you can only get half of the SPF? Should we be applying more layers, etc?

      1. So excited u replied! 😀

        I read that the thinner u apply the lesser SPF coverage u get. I think u hav to reapply every few hours or so. Also a few things to factor in such as sweat, environmental factors etc.

      2. Hi Renee, I think what Farah is saying stems from the fact that there is a standard way (FDA regulations I believe) how the SPF nos. are ‘allocated’ to products, or how much SPF the product can claim to be providing, and that is that a certain amount of the product must be applied to a certain surface area of the skin for the SPF to be accurately measured/claimed.

        So for the face it’s something like 1 teaspoon of product (not 100% sure of the figure here but is some huge amount, something very few of us will reach to apply!), and for the body it’s something like 1 cup for each limb (haha, ok I made this up, cos can’t remember the exact amount anymore, but it’s some outrageous amount really!) So if we apply anything less than this, we are essentially not getting the full SPF stated for the product. And I’m sure most of us will find it hard to apply a full teaspoon of any type of lotion or cream to our face!!

        Also, it’s not just the SPF that’s important, it’s also the PA level. So of course products that are PA+++ will be the best, or I think the latest regulation is that they must say “broad spectrum” if they want to claim that they also protect against UVA rays.

        Then chemical and mineral sunscreens also differ in the way they act to protect us from the sun. I think the general notion is that chemical sunscreens should be absorbed into the skin for them to be effective, while mineral sunscreens should ‘sit’ as a layer on top of the skin since they function to deflect UV rays instead of absorbing them. So depending on what you use, it would also determine the way you should apply your sunscreen, and how often you need to top it up during the day.

        A lot of people have this issue of how to re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours if they have makeup on. I know some people try to ‘get around’ this problem by dusting some kind of powdered sunscreen (usually these are mineral powders) every now and then on top of their makeup during the day, but I’m not sure how effective this is either, cos you also have to put a ridiculously huge amount of powder to get the level of SPF that the powder claims to provide. But then again, it’s better than nothing??

        There’s just so much to understand regarding sun protection, yet it’s really one of the major ways, if not THE way, to slow down skin aging, sigh…

        1. Wow Polly, thank you so much for your comment! I appreciate you taking the time to explain it to me. 🙂

          Yeah, to be honest that is always my advice when people ask about how to reapply sunscreen when we have makeup on – to use powdered ones. I think the best is just to apply the right amount on our faces, and then remember to wear sunglasses/hat if you’re at the beach, and then reapply with powder. Like you said, I suppose it’s better than nothing?!

          Oh, oh, and I remember writing about the amount of sunscreen for the body – one vodka glass! 😀

  14. Hey Renee, I have a question– how to re-apply sunscreen? I do know that we need to apply it again after few hours of the first layer, but how to do that?
    I have some makeup, blusher, foundation etc etc on top of my usual sunscreen, so I’m wondering is that we need to remove the makeup? or just apply it on top of the first one (then it’ll be very thick right!?!) 😡

    1. Hey Tiffany, haha Polly and I were just talking about it (the comment above yours!). My advice is powered sunscreen for sure, though as Polly pointed out, it isn’t THAT effective, but better than nothing…

      However, if you’re at the beach/swimming (where the sun is literally, really in your face) I would suggest not wearing makeup so you can reapply your sunscreen.

  15. I actually have never thought of it that way. Recently I started wearing sunscreen everyday, I wish I had started younger, but better late than never:)

    Thanks for opening up my eyes to this misconception- I just thought that as long as I wear sunscreen then I’m good BUTTT I should really be upping the level of protection!

    Ok, enough blabbing. Great Blog 🙂

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