Five Things to Know about Sunscreen

By Renee Rouleau, Skincare Expert and Esthetician

Renée Rouleau has been helping men, women and teens attain healthy, glowing, beautiful skin for more than twenty years.

Her philosophy is simple: With the proper tools, effective products and a disciplined approach, anyone can have great skin.

She provides regular skincare advice and tips on her blog, too!

Five Things to Know about Sunscreen

Did you know that you can get a 50 percent decrease in the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, when sunscreen is applied daily? (Source: Journal of Clinical Oncology) Since May is National is National Melanoma Month, it’s the perfect time to integrate a healthy sun protection approach into the daily skin care routine. Not only is it good for your health, sun protection is the #1 anti-aging product I recommend to my clients. It prevents premature wrinkles, reduces the chances of getting sun spots and hyperpigmentation and is a must for the sake of your health. Here’s five things you need to know about sunscreen to ensure you’re getting the best protection for your skin:

1. Sunscreen must be applied generously. In order for SPF to truly protect the skin and prevent the harmful UV rays from damaging the skin, the formula has to be applied generously or it will not provide adequate protection. If you have a sunscreen that feels too heavy on your skin (which so many can), you’ll probably only apply a small amount and you’re not doing your skin any good. The goal is to find a sunscreen that doesn’t use heavy emollients so as not to leave a greasy residue. That way, you can be heavy-handed when using it (as you should be) but you’re not left feeling oily. This is why Renée Rouleau broad-spectrum Daily Protection SPF 30 is one of our best-selling products. It actually dries to a matte finish and never, ever leaves a residue. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, this one is for you.

2. Don’t get overly confident with a high SPF number. With so many companies launching high SPF number sunscreens, it creates a lot of confusion as to which number is the best in protecting the skin. Did you know that an SPF 30 offers only 4% more protection than an SPF 30, and an SPF 45 offers just 2% more? High SPF number sunscreens like an SPF 50 or 100 can give people a false sense of protection and therefore may not be applied generously enough to do its job. While I do suggest using a minimum of SPF 30, it has far more to do with how generously you apply it than the number. (By the way, the FDA is proposing to limit the maximum SPF on labels to 50.)

3. Sunscreen built in your foundation makeup is just not enough. If you apply a regular non-SPF moisturizer to the face and then apply a foundation with an SPF over it, the sunscreen in the makeup has a difficult time penetrating through the moisturizer to effectively coat and protect the skin cells. Plus, most people only apply foundation makeup sparingly so you may not be getting the full protection anyway. I highly suggest using a sunscreen moisturizer directly on the skin first to adequately deliver the specified SPF (as long as you apply it generously) and then apply foundation makeup with sunscreen, then finished off with SPF-infused mineral powder.

4. Sunscreens degrade from sunlight and your skin’s natural oil. Many sunscreen formulas degrade with exposure to UV light. The daily oil produced on the skin (especially on the nose which is the oiliest area of the face) can also cause sunscreen to breakdown. This is why reapplying sunscreen every few hours is so necessary. However, reapplying often is not always practical. Are you supposed to wash your face, reapply sunscreen, reapply makeup and repeat this every two hours during the day? Not so easy. The fastest, easiest, and most effective way to ensure that your skin is protected all day is to dust the skin every few hours with a good mineral powder formulated with sunscreen. They are considered “dry” sunscreens and make reapplying very simple. My personal favorite (and the one I use faithfully) is ColoreScience, because it’s endorsed by The Skin Cancer Foundation and contains SPF 50. I don’t use it as my makeup, even though it has a light tint, but rather as a light powder over my regular makeup to give a good physical block of protection to my skin.

5. If you’re prone to sensitivity or breakouts, choose a sunscreen formula with Zinc Oxide. Of all the categories of skin care products, sunscreens are the most likely to cause negative skin reactions on the skin. And mostly, it’s rashes or acne breakouts from the use of sunscreen. The good news is there have been a lot of advancements in sun protecting ingredients, so if you still shy away from sunscreens because of past bad experiences, you just haven’t found the right one yet—but they are out there. My skin is oily in the t-zone, and even at 42, my oil production hasn’t slowed down too much yet. I have my own built-in moisturizer (the oil) which is considered to be a good thing, but I also have to be very careful because I’m definitely very sensitive, prone to breakouts and clogged pores. So using a lightweight, gentle sunscreen is an absolute must for me and the best ingredient to offer that is Zinc Oxide. It’s chemical-free, won’t clog the pores, offers excellent UV protection and never leaves the skin feeling greasy. Also of the two chemical-free sunscreen ingredients, Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide, Zinc is better for skin of color as it won’t leave a white-ish cast on the skin that Titanium Dioxide can.

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Extremely helpful, thank you!
I did wonder if you had any opinions on Paula’s Choice sunscreens for people with oily skin…I just looked at the ingredients of the Extra Care Non-Greasy Suncreen SPF 45, Ingredients are:
Aqua, Homosalate 10%, Butylene Glycol (slip agent), Benzophenone-3 (Oxybenzone) 6%, PEG-8, 2-ethylhexyl salicylate (octisalate) 5%, Polyethylene (thickeners), Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (avobenzone) 3%, 2-ethylhezyl-2-cyano-3,3-diphenylacrylate (octocrylene) 2%, Dimethicone (silicone slip agent), Silica (dry finish slip agent), Picea Excelsa (Spruce) Wood Extract (anti-inflammatory agent), Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Retinyl Palmitate (vitamin-based antioxidants),Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Acetate (vitamin E/antioxidants), Titanium Dioxide (thickener/opacifying agent), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (water-binding agent), Bentonite (absorbent), Methyl Glucose Sesquistearate (emulsifier), Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Sodium Polyacrylate (film-forming/waterproofing agents), Lauryl Glucoside (wetting agent), Kaolin (thickener/absorbent), Ethylhexylglycerin (water-binding agent), Disodium EDTA (chelating agent), Sodium Hydroxide (pH adjuster), Chlorphenesin, Phenoxyethanol (preservatives).
Is any of this particularly bad or good? I’m particularly wondering about the Oxybenzone.

 @LJ777 Some studies suggest oxybenzone and compounds similar to it mimic estrogen which may lead to endometriosis. We don’t have enough data to say for sure. This paper just came out in May (Kunisue, T. Environmental Science and Technology, May 2012) so it is still  up for debate. I guess when in doubt, if you can find a good sunscreen without it, choose that one. (Just looking at my Neutrogena sunscreen….6% oxybenzone 3% avobenzone…hmm….may be time to rethink this one?). Thanks for bringing that up!! Good catch! 

There’s a bit of a typo in this information – ” Did you know that an SPF 30 offers only 4% more protection than an SPF 30″ – what was this actually meant to say?  I’m guessing that the first # should have been “SPF 20” but, as someone very interested in sun protection, I’d appreciate a clarification.  Thanks!

 @Mariella Mariella…I was confused by the typo too but my oncologistS for Melanoma says use SPF 30…not any lower but nothing higher really makes a significant difference rather the application method, amount and reapplying is what is important. Hope that helps.

How can something containing zinc oxide and lots of other cosmetic materials chemical free?? Does Ms Rouleau really have any idea what she is talking about? BTW I am not against chemicals. I am in fact a chemist and I find all this chemical-free nonsense appalling and misleading.

I’m pretty sure she knows that everything in this world is made of chemicals… She’s more addressing how these sunscreens operate. “Chemical” sunscreens operate on a more chemical level (by absorbing and transforming UV light through high and low electron states), while “physical” sunscreens operate on a more physics-based way (by reflecting UV light). Yeah is a misnomer, but it’s what most people are familiar with. It’s just like how many people, even dermatologists, call salicylic a beta hydroxy acid, when it technically isn’t one. These people give meaning and significant to the effects of these ingredients; they don’t dwell on nomenclatural semantics.  

So it sounds like sunscreen don’t do shit! You have to apply bucket fulls just to get a 50% decrease in cancer, girl bye! I rather wear a hat and stay in the shade! Or wear a moisturiser with antioxidants, they are natural SPFers!

Y…respectfully…you are wrong and your attitude could lead to consequences I doubt you understand or you would not make the comments you did.  Please consider re-reading the information provided in the article and by Dr. Melissa. I have melanoma. Do with this what you choose just trying to help.  If you don’t care…please don’t blast me, my intention is kind.

This is fantastic advice! I would love to hear some drug store recommendations, as the products mentioned in the article are all a bit on the expensive side.

Melissa…I have gone reply nuts in this section…I have a great drugstore option approved by the doctors treating me for Melanoma.  It is Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunblock.  I get any SPF 30 and higher that is on sale. Currently have SPF 55 because it was cheaper but the application method, amount and frequency is what is important as long as you have SPF 30 per my oncology team.  I personally use it on body & face unless I am using Josie Maran’s face version which is more expensive but has argan oil so I like the double benefits and wait for her to have a really good sale and stock up.  If you get on her email list they have really good sales like 25%, 22% was earth day, etc.  Just a thought. Hope I helped 🙂

Melissa,I just started using a new drugstore sunscreen called L’Oreal Sublime Sun Advanced Sunscreen SPF 50 Liquid Silk Sunshield for face and I LOVE it.I have oily skin and it leaves your face soft and matte,and not one bit greasy.Products layer well over it,too.

Can I add- many sunscreen degradation products contain free radicals. Another words, once the sunscreen absorbs UV light (does what it is supposed to do to protect your skin) in “falls apart” into molecules that can break down collagen- which is not good if you’re worried about aging skin! So, it’s best to include an antioxidant with your skincare routine. (Self tanners also produce free radicals and some brands now include antioxidants in the formula- Clarins and TooFaced have self tanners w/antioxidants and I believe Clarins has one with sunscreen as well.) Second- just from a scientist-picky point of few- nothing is “chemical-free” except in a vacuum (scientific meaning- space with no molecules). Air is a chemical. People are made of chemicals. Everything is made of chemicals. 
Last, don’t let the “I need Vit D” argument keep you from applying sunscreen. After 5-10 min of being in the sun, it actually starts to break down the Vit D and Vit D process, so baking in the sun in not worth the risk to get your Vit D. Best to get Vit D from your food. As someone who works in cancer research, melanoma is not an easy one to catch, treat, fight, etc.
Thanks for the sunscreen post!!

 @Dr Melissa Thank you for the info.  I have Melanoma and it is not easy to fight!!! I’m  still healing from original surgery (not enough leg left so dehisced aka burst open and got infected along with lymph removal surgical site…ended up hospitalized for 33 days…but came home with most of my leg!) I see oncologist every 4 months and Melanoma strong background dermatologist every 3 months. I’m currently healing from 2 new biopsies, but they came back benign..yeah!!!!   I take Vitamin D3 2000 IU in gel capsule as I have complications that result in not eating solid food for past 11 months but doctors all agree Vitamin D is very important as you pointed out.  It breaks my heart to hear the “I need Vitamin D” sun excuse! 

 @Kelly B Wow you have been thru hell! Praying for your safe recovery! Skin cells by nature know how to move quickly (they had to form an embryo to fetus, etc) so it makes this cancer really bad. Most people don’t realize how big of an area of tissue that needs to be removed even when the lesion is the size of a pencil eraser. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope people listen. You’ve probably saved lives by sharing what you have been thru with us. The jury is still out on the supplements, but in your case you have to take them if you can’t eat solid foods. Doctors aren’t always passing along that after 5-10 of sun (in one small area of the body) your Vit D is being damaged. So, it’s not worth going in the sun if you can absorb it thru food or supplements (tho unfortunately some Crohn’s patients have trouble.) Hang in there Kelly! Praying for you- and keep us posted on your recovery!

I usually hate using sunscreen because my skin is really sensitive. I was going to rely on bb creams this summer as my sun protection since they seem to do it all. After seeing this post, I’m not too sure if bb creams count as sunscreen built in foundation or as moisturizer? I normally put bb cream on after my moisturizer, which has no spf in it. Will it be as effective?

Hi Becky…sorry but from what I know it will not be enough.  I have rosacea, freakishly sensitive skin and also have to use many products that are fragrance free.  If you are interested, I replied to Melissa below with face & body sunscreen that MY skin tolerates in both grocery store and higher price points.  Just FYI in case it helps you…sensitive skin is so challenging!

This was a great article! Whenever I read articles about sunscreen, they seem so preachy, because they bark orders at you but give no advice. I like that you gave facts, but also suggestions! Like reapplying a powder sunscreen. I’ve always found it impractical to reapply sunscreen on the face, because I have heard in the past that powder sunscreens don’t work. Thanks for the tip!

I was going to comment on this anyway, but I’ll do it here, since it’s pertinent to your comment Gina. If you notice, Renee mentions in this very article that makeup is insufficient for SPF protection, so I thought it was odd when she suggested using SPF powder to touch up. While I’m sure it’s better than not touching up at all, powder makeup is in no way a substitute for reapplying conventional sunscreen. 
According to Dr. Leslie Baumann (author of the most widely used cosmetic dermatology textbook, Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice) you’d have to wear about 1.2 grams of powder on your face to get the SPF stated on the product’s label. That’s about 1/6th of an ENTIRE TUBE of the Colorescience powder- in one application! That’s also about 14 times the amount of powder the average woman uses. Like I said, it may be better than not applying anything, but as convenient as it sounds, if you’re spending a full day in the sun, it’s best to bring the bottle with you! 🙂 

 @OutInAPout  So glad you pointed this out…my Melanoma doctors have never agreed using powder makeup is sufficient reapplication.  While I totally agree it is a pain in the butt the reapply and CAN mess up your makeup…if you are out in the sun all day hiking, boating or swimming or whatever…are you REALLY wearing a full face of makeup that absolutely cannot tolerate sunscreen on top when it is time to reapply?  I think people get all upset about reapplying and don’t think of the things they will be doing if they are outside long enough to need to keep reapplying.  Don’t anyone blast me…I wear sunscreen inside, yes, inside even if I don’t leave home because you DO get rays in thru your windows.  I’m just much more vigilant about reapplication when outside. 

 @Kelly B
 Haha that’s why I’m completely paranoid about having all the blinds shut. It’s virtually sunless inside my room during the daytime.  
And as for the reapplication thing, that’s why i always encourage people to switch over to physical sunscreens. You won’t have to reapply unless you’re sweating profusely. Not to mention that physical sunscreens bypass almost all of the shortcomings that chemical sunscreens have such as stability, longevity, reapplication, and epidermal absorption.

 @John 3D  @Kelly B I was actually curious about this, about whether physical sunscreens degrade and who might be right on this, so I did some digging:
From Wikipedia, I get: Sunblock typically refers to opaque sunscreen that is effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays and uses a heavy carrier oil to resist being washed off. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two of the important ingredients in sunblock. Unlike the organic sun-blocking agents used in many sunscreens, these metal oxides do not degrade with exposure to sunlight.
From a website called smartskincare, I learned: 
UV radiation may be blocked either by absorption or reflection/scattering of UV light. Based on their mechanism of protective action, sun-blocking agents are broadly divided into physical and chemical.
Physical blockers are usually finely powdered and dispersed minerals, the most common being zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They block UV radiation mainly by reflecting/scattering the rays. They are insoluble under typical conditions and only minimally absorbed into the skin. As a result, they are easy to rub off and may need to be reapplied especially frequently. Also, when applied to the skin, both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide create white-tinted matte look. To reduce this unsightly effect, some manufacturers employ microfine zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide with particles smaller than 200 nm (a.k.a. nanoparticles). Such formulations are more transparent but raise concerns about possible penetration of nanoparticles into the skin and accumulation in vital body tissues.
Chemical sunblocks work mainly by absorbing UV light. Most are synthetic chemicals that are soluble in oil and/or water. Many are absorbed into the skin and, possibly, into systemic circulation (and, therefore, need a thorough safety testing). Some degrade when exposed to UV radiation and/or interact with other sun-blocking agents or other cosmetic ingredients.
There are a few agents that act as both physical and chemical sunblocks. One such hybrid sunblock is bisoctrizole (Tinosorb M). Even though titanium dioxide is typically considered a physical sunblock, some experts consider it a hybrid because considerable part of its activity is through UV absorption.
Overall, physical sunblocks tend to have broader spectrum of UV protection and appear somewhat safer due to the lack of systemic absorption. On the other hand, they are more unsightly (especially the safer, not-microfine versions) and require more frequent application. this link also explains the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens. 
Kelly, I’m sorry you feel attacked, and I am truly sorry for what you’re going through. My mother has cancer and it’s awful. But the fact here is John 3D is right about physical sunscreens as compared to chemical ones. Chemical sunscreens, such as avobenzone and oxybenzone degrade when exposed to sunlight. Physical sunscreens, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, do not. This isn’t to say that physical sunscreens shouldn’t be reapplied–for example if you’ve been swimming, or were on a water ride, or something. And most sunscreens are a combination of physical and chemical ingredients, so it’s possible that the chemical sunscreens degrade during exposure to sun and the whole sunscreen needs to be reapplied. But physical sunscreens don’t degrade in sunlight.

All that stuff feels icky on my face, and the only SPF product I’ve ever used without a negative reaction is Jack Black lip balm. The last time I got a bad sunburn on my face it peeled so nicely that I was completely acne-free. I’m not condoning sunburns as an acne treatment, but it is just as logical as any other kind of peel you would pay big $ for at a spa.

 @AnGeLwInGz That is absolutely not logical whatsoever. A chemical peel is GOOD for your skin, sunburn is not. Sun exposure can temporarily dry up acne marks but they are doing you much more harm than good. And even if you don’t burn, any tan you may get from the sun is just as bad.

I like Neutrogena UltraSheer with helioplex, Ceravie, Lancome (or the L’oreal version)  for my hands (it only takes 10 min of sun to create an age spot….and 6 mo of treating with skin lighteners and sunscreen to lighten it. it will continue to have to be treated because it is damage down to the 7th layer- even if you don’t see it anymore, if you stop treating the area it will come back) and for my face and neck i like Lancome and Prevage. Prevage serum is my favourite antioxidant (and it passed clinical trials- ie it had to show efficacy) so it works. The active ingredient in Prevage can cause an allergic reaction in some people so do a spot test first. Some dept counters will have samples. (Any antioxidant you choose should be packaged so that it is air tight or the oxygen in the air will render it useless). You just want to have UV A and UV B protection, an antioxidant, reapply every couple hours- yes, even if you’re indoors, especially if you have a desk by a window. The aging rays still get thru.
The FDA labeling on sunscreens is changing and due out in June. If you’re bored:

I am planning on using the Neutrogena Ultrasheer for my body and a Shiseido sunscreen for my face at the beach this summer! I also had intended to wear my Dr. Jart BB Cream (SPF 45 with pa+++) when I was off the beach but in the sun for periods of time. Dr. Melissa if BB creams are applied directly to the face with nothing underneath will they provide enough protection?

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