Application of SPF moisturisers is inferior to sunscreens in coverage of facial and eyelid regions

PLoS One. 2019 Apr 3;14(4):e0212548. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0212548. eCollection 2019.


Many moisturisers contain sun protection factors (SPF) equivalent to those found in sunscreens. However, there is a lack of research into how SPF moisturiser application compares to sunscreens in terms of coverage achieved and protection afforded. Previously we demonstrated that users incompletely covered their eyelid regions during routine sunscreen application. Here, we aimed to determine if SPF moisturiser users also displayed these tendencies. A study population of 84 participants (22 males, 62 females, age 18-57) were exposed to UV radiation and photographed using a tripod mounted UV sensitive DSLR camera on two separate visits. At visit one, images were acquired before and after applying either SPF30 sunscreen or moisturiser, then at visit two the study was repeated with the other formulation. Images were processed for facial landmark identification followed by segmentation mapping of hue saturation values to identify areas of the face that were/were not covered. Analyses revealed that application of moisturiser was significantly worse than sunscreen in terms area of the whole face missed (11.1% missed with sunscreen compared to 16.6% for SPF moisturiser p<0.001 paired t-test). This difference was primarily due to decreased coverage of the eyelid regions (14.0% missed with sunscreen, 20.9% moisturiser, p<0.001). Analysis of a post-study questionnaire revealed participants to be unaware of their incomplete coverage. Secondary analyses revealed improved coverage in males (p = 0.05), and, with moisturiser only, in participants with darker skin tones (p = 0.02). Together these data indicate that, despite potential advantages in terms of increased frequency of application of moisturiser, the areas of the face that are at higher cancer risk are likely not being protected, and that participants are unaware that they are at risk. As such, alternative sun-protection strategies should be promoted.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Emollients / administration & dosage*
  • Emollients / chemistry
  • Eyelids
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sex Factors
  • Skin / diagnostic imaging
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / radiation effects
  • Skin Cream / administration & dosage*
  • Skin Cream / chemistry
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Skin Pigmentation
  • Sun Protection Factor*
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Sunscreening Agents / chemistry
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Emollients
  • Sunscreening Agents

Grants and funding

This work was supported by bench fees raised from a University of Liverpool Masters in Research Course.