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Have We Been Applying Sunscreen Wrong This Whole Time?

By Wendy Rodewald-Sulz / March 31, 2015

Photo: Eva Herzigova by Mario Testino for Vogue Paris, April 1998

I’m not sure where I first heard that sunscreen should be the final step in my skincare routine, but I’ve been doing it this way forever: serum, moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup. Turns out I might have it completely backwards.
According to Rachel Nazarian, MD of New York’s Schweiger Dermatology Group, chemical sunscreens — A.K.A. ones with active ingredients such as octinoxate and avobenzone — should actually be the first product I layer on my face.
“These sunscreens work by being absorbed into skin and should be applied to clean skin for best protection,” Dr. Nazarian says. “Steer clear of applying chemical SPF over products containing anti-aging or chemical resurfacing ingredients to avoid degrading the active ingredients in your sunscreen.”
But not so fast. When it comes to using mineral-based sunscreens, the order is reversed. “Active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide work by reflecting radiation. This means these SPFs can be layered on top of other lotions,” Dr. Nazarian explains. “Just keep in mind that mixing sunscreen with lotions will dilute the SPF number.”
Confused? Horrified? I’m a feeling a little bit of both. The best solution may be just to make sure there’s SPF in everything you use, from your serum to your CC cream. Thankfully, new lightweight formulas are making it easier than ever to double (and triple) up.