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How Much SPF Do You Really Need?

By Amalah

After reading your column for ages, I dutifully bought myself moisturizer with sunscreen (Olay Complete All Day Moisture Lotion) and used it all winter. Now that it’s spring and the UV is cranking up, I started using a 70 SPF for my face (Neutrogena Dry Touch sunblock). I also have a tinted moisturizer that I use instead of foundation to smooth out my blotchy skin (Clinique Moisture Sheer Tint, which also has SPF 15 in it).
That seems like a lot of layers for my face every morning. Do I need all of it? Just the sunscreen and tinted stuff? In what order should I put it on? It seems strange to put sunscreen on top of makeup, but equally strange to put moisturizer on top of sunscreen.
Thanks for any advice you can give!!

If I were you, I’d probably drop the Olay stuff for the summer sunny months (triple-teaming on the SPF seems excessive, even to a sunblock diehard like me). Tinted moisturizers tend to be a little weak on the actual moisturizing sometimes, but should be fine in the summer when you won’t be prone to dry winter skin.
As for the order, have you tried mixing them together in your hand before applying? I have no idea how the consistency of these two particular products would combine, but I’ve definitely mixed straight sunscreen into moisturizers to speed up my morning. They end up all slathered in a help on your face anyway, so if you’re driving yourself crazy trying to figure out which should go on first, it’s worth a try to combine them in the first place.
If you find that doesn’t work for whatever reason, I’d just experiment to see what order I liked best. I do a moisturizer/sunblock/makeup routine, but could see how the putting the Neutrogena Dry-Touch on first could maybe impede the effectiveness of the moisture in your makeup. I don’t know, seems science-y. So I’d try the tinted moisturizer first, then sunscreen. Since sunscreen is designed to be reapplied as needed, I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t go over a very light makeup product with no problem.
If you start having a problem with dryness, add a moisturizer back in. Between the SPF in the Olay and the tint, I’m guessing you’ve got at least SPF 30 going on, so you could possibly skip the SPF 70 on days that you know you aren’t going to be spending significant chunks of time out in direct sunlight. (There’s actually a debate whether anything over SPF 30 actually provides that much more protection anyway, though I doubt those of us super-prone to burns would be willing to be the guinea pigs for this theory.)
The biggest reason to use a product like the Neutrogena on your face, however, is because it provides full-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB. To quote from The New York Times article linked above: SPF ratings apply only to UVB rays, and some sunscreens provide no protection at all against UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply. For broad protection, look for sunscreens with avobenzone, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, all of which block UVA.
Your Olay moisturizer provides protection against both; the Clinique product does not make this claim, and (as usual with Clinique) I cannot find an ingredient list online anywhere to verify if it contains a broad-spectrum ingredient.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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I have lupus so I have to be really careful with the sun. My dermatologist recommended 70 SPF and I asked about the over 30 doesn’t count thing and she said that is absolutely not true, for whatever that is worth.


So, if the Olay stuff has 15 SPF and the tinted moisturizer also has 15 SPF, then the two together equal 30 SPF? I always assumed it was still 15 SPF. I have no idea how sunscreen math works. I always put my moisturizer (Hope in a Jar) on right after I get out of the shower or wash my face in the morning. I then go about getting dressed and doing my hair, and then get to applying makeup. I figure it gives my skin 10-15 minutes or so to absorb all the goodness from the moisturizer before I… Read more »


Seriously, what is up with Clinique. I use many of there products and during pregnancy was trying very very hard to find out what was in them. No luck. So I just stopped using what I couldn’t get the info on. Seems like it would be easy to make that kind of thing available. Shouldn’t there be a law? Or something?


Regarding “sunscreen math”: I’ve always been told by my dermo that it’s the product with the highest SPF that is your level SPF protection, NOT a total of the SPF ratings (ie: a SPF 15 moisturizer and an SPF 30 foudation would be 30 SPF protection, not 45). This is the documentation my dermo hands out:


I’m with jodifur and her dermatologist. Those of us who burn wearing SPF 30, but don’t burn wearing SPF 70 are here to tell you that more SPF is better.


Sunscreen SPF is based on a logarithmic curve, so basically from 0-30 SPF you see a huge improvement (from 0% to 97%) but over 30 SPF you do see an increase but it is teeny tiny, and infinitely smaller as you go up in SPF.
For some people with sensitive skin or a history of skin cancer, that .08% is important, but for most people 30SPF is just fine.


Take it from one who wears it year-round: bump up the moisturizer to Olay Complete DEFENSE – SPF 30. I think I have even seen it sold in a tinted version. I am extremely sensitive to the sun (rashes, the works) and use La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL SPF 40+ on every inch of exposed skin from March to October, but the Olay Complete Defense somehow does the job for my face. I only need to add a dab of the strong stuff on my nose if I know I’ll be out. (And, no, I am not fancy with my… Read more »

class factotum

If sun exposure on your face is a big issue, then make sure you wear a hat, too. Extra protection plus you look glamorous.


I use whatever face cream I feel like at the moment & budget (When Hope Is Not Enough or Olay daily moisturizer) and top it off with the Neutrogena SPF 70 every day. I put the moisturizer on, and then the SPF and then I work on my hair while it “soaks” in. The “soaking” time keeps the sunscreen from getting flaky or thick & by the time I put my makeup on I don’t feel like I have 8 layers on. I also disregard any make-up SPF claims and just stick to my sunscreen. Then I don’t burn if… Read more »


I was a huge fan of super high SPF until I came across this amazing database put out by the EWG and found out that that Neutrogena SPF 70 maybe isn’t so great for my body after all: You have to weigh the risks of burns/melanoma against the risk of other toxins being absorbed into your dermis, I guess…but if there’s another product out there with the same level of protection that has a lower hazard score – that’s the one I go for. Darn fragrance is usually the culprit (hence why stuff made for sensitive skin usually scores… Read more »


I work for clinique and their SPF is both UVA and UVB. We meet the new 2010 guidelines for FDA and have for a long time. SPF 15 and an SPF 70 make an SPF of 70. The sunscreen is only as good as the highest number not added up. One important thing to note, in order to get the SPF 70, you need to use an entire tablespoon of it on your face, which is crazy. That’s why layering is important to get enough SPF on your face without the geisha look. If you are in an office environment… Read more »