image of silk fabric and dry skin

Zoe Diana Draelos, MD
Department of Dermatology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC, USA

Cosmetic products containing ultraviolet light filtering agents are rapidly being developed and entering the marketplace. These advanced multifunctional formulations are intended to deliver both cosmetic and protective benefits. Herein, a brief discussion is presented of newer preparations and their features, as well as how their formulary attributes may contribute to improving photoprotection by encouraging adherence.

Key Words: cosmetics, photoprotection, SPF, sun protection factor, sunscreen, UV, ultraviolet light

Sunscreens are perceived as gooey, sticky, uncomfortable products that are difficult to apply and distasteful to wear. This accounts for dismal compliance when dermatologists ask patients to use daily sunscreen. Since the time delay between accumulated sun exposure and skin cancer can be more than 20 years, patients do not receive a short-term benefit from photoprotection. Any marketing genius will tell you that compliance requires both self-perceived short- and long-term benefits in order to reinforce positive behavior. This insight into the human psyche led skin care companies to develop the concept of the “multifunctional cosmetic,” which by definition delivers several benefits in one bottle. Currently, popular multifunctional cosmetics include sunscreen-containing moisturizers and facial foundations.

Sunscreen-containing Moisturizers

Sunscreen-containing moisturizers have dramatically improved photoprotection compliance. These products can provide moisturization by decreasing transepidermal water loss through creation of an environment that is optimal for barrier repair. Through the use of occlusive agents such as dimethicone, petrolatum, and mineral oil, as well as the use of humectants such as glycerin, propylene glycol, and hyaluronic acid, a therapeutic moisturizer can aid in the restoration of the corneocyte and intercellular lipid organization. In addition, a sunscreencontaining moisturizer can deliver effective ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) photoprotection, thereby contributing to the prevention of sunburn, photoaging, and skin cancer simultaneously. Through the inclusion of active ingredients such as retinol, niacinamide, and/or green tea, additional antiaging benefits may be achieved. In short, one bottle of sunscreencontaining moisturizer can be designed to moisturize the skin, repair the barrier, stop sunburn, prevent skin cancer, minimize photoaging, and potentially reverse oxidative insults.

Most sunscreen-containing moisturizers are formulated at a sun protection factor (SPF) between 15 to 30. SPF 15 products can be designed with little UVA photoprotection and they may or may not be labeled as broad spectrum. SPF 30 products must contain both UVB and UVA photoprotective ingredients and are therefore preferred. This logic encouraged the American Academy of Dermatology to restate its sun protective recommendations and raise the minimum recommended SPF to 30. For most formulations, SPF 30 is a nice compromise between photoprotection and aesthetics. Once the SPF raises much above 30, the product becomes sticky. Many highly effective sunscreen filters, such as octocrylene, are thick oils and increasing their concentration in the final formulation leads to poor aesthetics.1 Yet, for casual limited sun exposure, SPF 30 provides excellent daily photoprotection.2

Sunscreen-containing Facial Foundations

If a sunscreen-containing moisturizer is tinted to match the skin, it can then be classified as a facial foundation. Facial foundations are another category of multifunctional cosmetics that can be helpful in encouraging sun protection compliance. There are four basic facial foundation formulations: oil-based, water-based, oilfree, and water-free forms. The most popular facial foundations are liquid oil-in-water emulsions containing a small amount of oil in which the pigment is emulsified with a relatively large quantity of water. The primary emulsifier is usually a soap, such as triethanolamine or a nonionic surfactant. The secondary emulsifier, present in smaller quantity, is usually glyceryl stearate or propylene glycol stearate.

Facial foundations are designed to color, blend, and camouflage the underlying skin and create an illusion of perfect complexion beauty. The ability of a foundation to conceal or cover the underlying skin is known as “coverage.” Higher coverage products deliver better photoprotection while lower coverage products deliver less photoprotection. In this case, the photoprotection is due to inorganic filters in the formulation, which commonly include titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, talc, kaolin and precipitated chalk. Even coloring agents, such as iron oxide, can function as inorganic filters.

Sheer coverage foundations with minimal titanium dioxide are almost transparent and have an SPF around 2 while moderate coverage foundations are translucent and have an approximate SPF of 4 to 5. Thick, waterproof cream facial foundations that are used for camouflage purposes or post-surgically completely obscure the underlying skin and have an unlimited SPF because they function as a total physical block. For persons with severe photosensitive facial skin disease, such as lupus, these waterproof cream facial foundations offer superior photoprotection.

In addition to the normal photoprotective constituents of a facial foundation, other inorganic and organic filters can also be added. The most commonly added organic filter is octyl methoxycinnamate. It is an excellent UVB filter with no aesthetic issues and limited allergenicity.1 It may be combined with other filters, such as oxybenzone, to increase coverage in the UVA range.3,4 Some of the newer facial foundations even add avobenzone that has been photostabilized with octocrylene and oxybenzone. Selecting the proper mixture of sunscreen ingredients is key to providing superior photoprotection and aesthetics while offering a high broad spectrum SPF.

New sunscreen-containing facial foundation formulations are available in a variety of forms: liquid, mousse, water-containing cream, soufflé, anhydrous cream, stick, cake, and shake lotion. Liquid formulations are most popular because they are the easiest to apply, provide sheer to moderate coverage, and create a natural appearance. As previously mentioned, they contain mainly water, oils, and titanium dioxide. To this basic formulation, sunscreen filters can be added. For most patients, this type of sun protection through a facial cosmetic is the best way to increase compliance.

Other formulations of facial foundations can also be created. If the liquid is aerosolized, a foam foundation known as a mousse is produced. A cream foundation has the additional ingredient of wax, which makes a thicker, occlusive, more moisturizing formula. These thicker cream facial foundations also deposit more pigment on the skin surface and obscure more of the underlying skin. Cream formulations typically offer better photoprotection than liquids. Whipping the cream produces a soufflé foundation. Finally, an anhydrous cream with no water in its formulation provides enhanced occlusion and exceptional long-lasting coverage. These products resist water removal better and can be used with greater success in persons who need superior photoprotection when perspiring heavily.

There are three final forms of facial foundation that have been adapted for sun protection. These include stick, cake, and powder facial foundations. Adding more wax to the cream facial foundation results in a stick that can be stroked across the face. These facial foundation sticks are also water-free and provide water resistant photoprotection. This is in contrast to the cake and powder facial foundations that are dusted over the face. A cake foundation is a compressed powder consisting of talc, kaolin, precipitated chalk, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide compressed into a cake that is applied to the skin with a sponge. If the ingredients are not compressed into a cake, they can be left loose in a jar with a brush attached to one end. This loose powder facial foundation is sometimes called a mineral makeup.

Mineral makeup are some of the newest sun protective cosmetics. They are dusted onto the face and can be just easily dusted off the face. Powders do not provide water resistance characteristics, making them only appropriate for day wear with casual sun exposure. Also, the powder does not provide an even film over the face, allowing for uneven photoprotection. For the patient with serious sun protection needs, it is best to apply a sunscreencontaining moisturizer followed by a mineral makeup. The moisturizer will allow the powder to stay in place and offer increased photoprotection due to layering. It is important to note that the SPF rating of the powder and the moisturizer are not additive. For example, an SPF 15 sunscreen-containing moisturizer and an SPF 15 mineral makeup do not combine to confer SPF 30 photoprotection. Each product application will make a more even sun protective film, allowing closer approximation of the SPF 15 rating.

Multifunctional SPF Rated Cosmetics

Multifunctional SPF rated cosmetics are increasing in the marketplace. Lipsticks, lip balms, facial serums, and eye creams are all commercially available formulations that can possess an SPF rating. Increasing patient compliance with sun protection through the inclusion of sunscreen filters in many commonly used facial products can be a synergistic effect. Patients do not wish to purchase or use multiple products that are expensive and time consuming to apply. The multifunctional cosmetic is an important dermatologic advance. This trend is expected to continue with extensions to male skin care, such as sunscreencontaining after shave preparations. Sunscreen filters are also finding their way into hair care products that claim to prevent color fading. Protection from UV exposure improves color purity and retention, lengthening the time a hair dye can be worn until repeat dyeing is required.5 This is a positive trend for dermatology as it reinforces our safe sun message to our patients.


With the widespread emergence of sunscreen-containing moisturizers, foundations, and various lip treatments, it is apparent that the cosmeceutical industry has embraced the importance of photoprotection. These multifunctional products have the potential to encourage patient adherence to regimented sunscreen use by facilitating ease of application, thus minimizing the need for any significant behavioral modification, particularly during the morning routine.


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