Moisturizers with SPF aren’t as effective as sunscreen: study

Click to play video: 'Here’s the difference between sunscreen and moisturizers with SPF'
Here’s the difference between sunscreen and moisturizers with SPF
WATCH: Here’s the difference between sunscreen and moisturizers with SPF – Jul 5, 2018

You may think you’re ahead of the game by using a moisturizer with sun protection factor (SPF) built right in, but a recent study has shown that it’s not as effective as slathering on a layer of sunscreen.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool conducted a study comparing moisturizers with SPF and sunscreens with equivalent protection and found the former to be much less effective because people simply don’t apply enough.

READ MORE: SPF 101: What it is, how it works and why we need it

They found that when study participants applied moisturizer, they missed 16 per cent of their face, while that number dropped to 11 per cent when they applied sunscreen. Even more alarming is that they missed 21 per cent of their eyelids, compared to 14 per cent with sunscreen. The eyelid is a common area for skin cancer.

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“We thought that people would miss more of their face with the sunscreen, as we’ve all had that stinging sensation when you accidentally rub some in your eye and we expected that this would lead people to be conservative and avoid the eyes,” Austin McCormick, study researcher and a consultant ophthalmic and oculoplastic surgeon, said in a statement.

The photos that accompany the study show a series of side-by-side shots of participants wearing moisturizer with SPF and sunscreen. The photographs were taken using a modified camera that captures UV light. When the skin is adequately protected with SPF, the picture appears darker because the product absorbs the UV light.

The study notes that on average, men are significantly better at applying the products than women.

“We know from studies that what people put on in their day-to-day life is usually half to one-quarter of what’s tested in the lab, regardless of whether it’s moisturizer with SPF or sunscreen,” Dr. Julia Carroll, medical director of Compass Dermatology in Toronto, says to Global News.

READ MORE: Hawaii bans certain sunscreens to protect coral reefs — here’s what to use instead

However, she notes that people are likely more diligent with sunscreen because they typically apply it before purposefully going out in the sun, and they’re prepared for the tactile effects (i.e. feeling sticky or oily) of the product. Whereas few want to experience that feeling on their skin all day while at work.

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When applying moisturizer, Carroll says to opt for one with a higher SPF. Most contain an SPF of 15, but she advises her patients to look for one with a minimum of SPF 30.

“In reality, [with a moisturizer that has SPF 30] most people only apply enough to get a protection of 15. But that’s better than using a product with SPF 15 that’s only going to be equivalent to a four.”

Make sure to apply the moisturizer all the way up to your hairline and to the front of the ears, as these are spots where skin cancer often appears later on. If you sweat throughout the day, reapply, but if you’re in an office all day, you’re probably fine with the amount you put on in the morning. However, Carroll says, if you’re hitting a patio for lunch or after work, you’ll need a touchup.

READ MORE: Sunscreen pills won’t protect you from a sunburn: FDA

“With sunscreen, I tell people the best thing to do is to apply it when you’re naked out of the shower. That way, if you’re wearing a sleeveless dress, you can apply over your shoulders or if you’re wearing a low neckline, you can put it all the way down your chest without having to sneak around your clothes or worry about dirtying them.”

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Like the researchers from the University of Liverpool, she says at the end of the day, wearing something is better than wearing nothing — even if you’re not diligent with your moisturizer application. But it’s best to be aware of the risks and take the necessary steps to prevent unprotected exposure to the sun.

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