Are SPF Powders Reliable Sun Protection?

Math might not be everyone's favorite subject, but I recently learned some arithmetic from a colleague that I just had to pass on to you!   

When scientists test facial powders to determine SPF (as mandated by the FDA), they typically assume that 2mg of product will be used per cm2 of skin. The average face is about 600cm2 (although that varies from person to person, of course), meaning that a person needs to apply about 1.2g of facial powder to get the SPF stated on the product's label.


So what's the problem? Studies show that most women only apply about 0.085g of powder at a time. In a nutshell, you'd have to apply 14 times the amount of powder you usually do to be sufficiently protected against the sun! Even if you were willing to cake on your makeup, there's no way to pile on that much powder. Bottom line: While it's never bad to use products with SPF, your facial powder is simply not offering enough protection against UV waves to use it in lieu of sunscreen. 


If you've been using an SPF powder in the hopes that it would give you adequate sun protection, you have been misled. Instead, look for gel and lotion sunscreens, for example, and skip heavy creams.  Mary Kay Timewise Age Fighting Moisturizer, SPF 15 is a good choice. If your skin is particularly oily, you could also try mixing equal parts oil-control product (I like DDF Glycolic Oil Control Gel and Jack Black All Day Oil-Control Lotion) with your usual sunscreen.


And don't ditch that SPF powder entirely -- it might not be enough protection against the sun, but it's a great way to minimize shine. By the way, many powders contain small levels of SPF, but most reputable companies don’t put an SPF on the label because they do not want to mislead you that the powder is adequate sun protection.


Wishing you great skin!

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Dr. Baumann is author of the best-selling book, " The Skin Type Solution." To learn more about her revolutionary skin typing system, visit her Web site,

All of Dr. Baumann's recommended skin care products are available online, and a portion of proceeds goes to The Dermatology Foundation.

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