SPF In Foundation – Real Protection or Deceptive Marketing?

Cosmetic Fact or Fiction

SPF in foundfation has always been one of my hot-button topics. When I discuss the products that should provide your UV protection, foundation is NOT one of them.
The addition of SPF to foundation is a bonus level of protection, not a replacement for dedicated UV protection products.

But instead of taking on an industry that makes $$$Billions off deceptive, misleading, and sometimes reckless marketing, I’ll present facts and let people make their own decision.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Products with SPF are used to protect skin from the damaging ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths of radiation produced by the sun (UVA/UVB).
There are two types of SPF, a physical SunBLOCK, and a chemical SunSCREEN. Let’s look at the properties of each and their (questionable) addition to color cosmetics for the complexion.
SUNBLOCK is a physically opaque topical application (does not absorb into the skin) which uses minerals to deflect damaging ultraviolet (UV) bandwidths UVA, UVB, and UVC off skin – like a mirror.
Physical sunBLOCK is created using zinc oxide, a highly reflective, chalky white mineral with the unique ability to shield skin from UV waves. Zinc oxide is often mixed with *titanium dioxide for additional opacity.

*titanium dioxide (a white mineral pigment used in all color cosmetics), does not provide UV protection on its own. It must be mixed with zinc oxide to create a physical sunBLOCK.

FACT ONE: Foundation containing a physical sunBLOCK can only be substituted for dedicated UV protection when applied in one continuous, opaque layer to all exposed areas of the face and neck.
Very few people apply foundation this way (in the REAL world, I’m not talking about YouTube and Instagram beauty influencers). This is the main reason I’ve questioned the validity (and safety) of SPF in foundations for all these years.

FACT TWO: The amount of (white) zinc oxide needed to create a credible physical sunblock (30 +++) prevents cosmetic manufacturers from producing well-balanced deep skin tone foundations.
Normally, foundation shades of this depth are created with little or no white pigment. The (white) zinc/titanium blend required for a high enough SPF factor makes these dark shades appear chalky and unrealistic. Dark skin tone foundations look more natural when sunSCREEN is used as an SPF factor (we’ll discuss sunSCREEN next).

FACT THREE: Physical sunBLOCK with a high SPF (30+++) protects against harmful UV radiation wavelengths by deflecting the waves off the skin (like a mirror). This creates a challenge for makeup artists because high SPF sunBLOCK also reflects bursts of intense light. This creates flash-back (strobing) in flash photography. This flash-phenomenon whites-out light skin tones and makes darker skin tones appear grayish or ashy.

SUNSCREEN is a chemical-based UV protectant, absorbed into the skin. SunSCREEN contains organic (carbon-based) compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, which protect from UV damage by creating a chemical reaction, changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin.
FACT ONE: Foundations with a chemical sunSCREEN do not need to be applied in an opaque layer, but they must be applied to ALL exposed areas of the skin and massaged in to ensure proper absorption.
They also require a minimum of 20 minutes to “activate”, before they become effective against UV exposure.

FACT TWO: Because sunSCREEN creates a chemical reaction, breaking up UV wavelengths, and dispersing them, it does NOT present the flash-photo challenge attributed to sunBLOCK.

FACT THREE: Products with sunSCREEN have a higher occurrence of allergenic reaction and skin irritation than the “topical” sunBLOCK, because they are absorbed and become active in subcutaneous tissue (under the skin).


SPF in foundation is a marketing gimmick…a potentially dangerous one.

I reveal this pertinent information every chance I get, which infuriates cosmetic marketing executives.
If you’re surprised that I’m upsetting people by presenting facts, we obviously haven’t met.

Use a dedicated UV protection product with a minimum SPF of 30+ in your skincare regime. Then, apply a non-SPF foundation where needed.

What are your thoughts about SPF in a foundation? Let me know in the comment section.


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