In the intricate dance of skincare, where each step plays a vital role in preserving the canvas of our skin, a common conundrum often perplexes many: Should sunscreen or moisturizer be the first line of defense after cleansing? This seemingly simple question has sparked debates among skincare enthusiasts and experts alike. As an experienced beauty expert and blogger, I’m here to guide you through this maze with insights grounded in science and professional expertise. Our goal? To settle once and for all the order of operations in your morning skincare routine for optimal skin health and protection.

Understanding Sunscreen and Moisturizer

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen, a critical shield against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, comes in two primary forms: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens, containing organic (carbon-based) compounds, absorb UV radiation, converting it into heat, and then dissipating it from the skin. Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, use mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block and scatter UV rays away from the skin.

What is Moisturizer?

Moisturizers are the hydrating heroes of skincare, essential for maintaining the skin’s natural barrier and hydration levels. They come in various textures and formulations, each designed to cater to different skin types. From light, water-based lotions for oily skin to richer, cream-based moisturizers for dry skin, these products work to lock in moisture, keeping the skin supple and protected from environmental stressors.

Why the Order Matters

The sequence in which we apply these products is more than a matter of routine; it’s a strategic decision impacting their effectiveness. The order of application influences how the skin absorbs and benefits from each product, potentially affecting their overall protective and hydrating capabilities.

The Case for Sunscreen First

Advocates for applying sunscreen before moisturizer argue from a standpoint of maximized protection. The logic is straightforward: sunscreen needs to form an uninterrupted barrier on the skin to effectively shield it from UV rays. Applying it directly onto clean skin ensures that this barrier is as close and as uniform as possible. When sunscreen is applied over moisturizer, there’s a risk that it won’t adhere as effectively, potentially leaving the skin inadequately protected.

Dermatologists often point to studies showing that the absorption of sunscreen decreases when applied over other skincare products. This reduction in efficacy could lead to increased exposure to UV radiation, risking sun damage, premature aging, and even skin cancer.

The Case for Moisturizer First

On the flip side, there’s a school of thought that advocates for moisturizer as the first step post-cleansing. The argument here centers around the skin’s hydration. Moisturizers are formulated to penetrate the skin, providing hydration and repairing the skin barrier. When applied first, they create a smooth, hydrated base, potentially allowing sunscreen to be applied more evenly over it.

Critics of the sunscreen-first approach argue that a well-absorbed moisturizer does not significantly hinder the effectiveness of sunscreen. Rather, it can aid in the even application of sunscreen, ensuring no area is left uncovered. Moreover, for those with dry or sensitive skin, applying moisturizer first can prevent the potential drying effects of some sunscreens.

The Definitive Guide: What Goes First – Sunscreen or Moisturizer?

The Consensus Among Experts

Navigating through the contrasting viewpoints, the consensus among skincare experts tilts towards a nuanced approach. The majority lean towards applying moisturizer first, followed by sunscreen. This sequence is based on the principle that a fully absorbed moisturizer will not significantly impede the effectiveness of sunscreen. It’s essential to allow a brief waiting period after applying moisturizer, giving it time to penetrate the skin before layering on the sunscreen.

Research supports this method, showing that when moisturizer is fully absorbed, it doesn’t dilute the sunscreen or reduce its photoprotective qualities. Dermatologists emphasize that the key is in the final layer – sunscreen should always be the last product applied before makeup to ensure it forms an effective barrier against UV rays.

Best Practices for Applying Sunscreen and Moisturizer

When it comes to application, precision and patience are key. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Cleanse: Begin with a clean face. Use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t strip your skin of its natural oils.
  2. Moisturize: Apply a moisturizer suited to your skin type. Give it a few minutes to absorb fully into the skin. This waiting period is crucial for ensuring that your moisturizer doesn’t interfere with the efficacy of your sunscreen.
  3. Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Remember to cover all exposed areas, including the neck and ears. Don’t skimp – most people don’t use enough sunscreen.
  4. Reapply: Sunscreen isn’t a one-and-done deal. Reapply every two hours, especially if you’re outdoors, sweating, or swimming.

Tips for Different Skin Types:

  • Oily Skin: Opt for gel-based or non-comedogenic moisturizers and sunscreens to prevent clogged pores.
  • Dry Skin: Cream-based, hydrating moisturizers and sunscreens will help lock in moisture.
  • Combination Skin: You might need to use different products on different areas of your face – lighter formulas for oily zones and richer products for dry patches.
The Definitive Guide: What Goes First – Sunscreen or Moisturizer?

Common Myths and Misconceptions

Dispelling myths is crucial in skincare. A widespread myth is that the order of application doesn’t matter. However, as we’ve seen, it can significantly impact the effectiveness of your skincare products. Another common misconception is that sunscreen isn’t necessary on cloudy days or indoors. UVA rays, which contribute to skin aging and cancer, can penetrate glass and are present even on overcast days.

Additional Considerations

Beyond the basic steps, consider the following:

  • SPF in Makeup: While some makeup products contain SPF, they are usually not enough for adequate protection. It’s best to use a separate sunscreen.
  • Environmental Factors: Pollution and weather can impact your skin. In high pollution areas, antioxidants can be a beneficial addition to your skincare routine.
  • Sensitive or Acne-Prone Skin: Look for fragrance-free, non-comedogenic sunscreens and moisturizers. Mineral sunscreens are often well-tolerated by sensitive skin.


The debate on whether to apply sunscreen or moisturizer first might continue, but the evidence leans towards moisturizer first, followed by sunscreen. This method ensures both hydration and protection, catering to the fundamental needs of the skin. Remember, skincare is personal. What works for one might not work for another. Experiment and listen to your skin’s needs. And most importantly, never skip on sunscreen – it’s your skin’s daily armor against the unseen elements.

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