A Case For Sleeping In Your Sunscreen


Last year, at the peak of lockdown, I got into the habit of doing something weird. I called it “sunscreen masking.” At the time, my skin was going haywire with stress breakouts, and to make matters worse, I was in lockdown at my parents’ house in Florida, where the constant sun made my acne spots dark and lingering. My solution at the time was to slather my face in Zoca Lotion, a creamy, zinc-based Whole Foods-y sunscreen recommended to me by a facialist. It was… not wearable. The white cast was crazy. But I wasn’t seeing anyone, and the whiteness made it easy to guarantee I’d be covered everywhere. I told myself that slamming on my keyboard with a face covered in zinc was no different from writing in a clay mask, which had at that point been a generally agreed upon luxury of working from home. Plus, I also knew I was getting real skincare benefits. From the zinc, and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties! My angry red breakouts subsided faster, my oily t-zone chilled itself out, and my dry patches stayed soothed and happy. Ergo, sunscreen masking.

It’s not like I totally made this up. Experts love zinc for reasons beyond its UV-blocking ability. Dr. Macrene Alexiades (derm to Kaia Gerber and Sienna Miller, among others) uses topical zinc to support lots of treatment plans. “Zinc is effective for inflammatory disorders including acne, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis,” she explains. It’s anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and effective against many infections. Plus, she notes, zinc is a “key component” to wound healing. It’s often paired with niacinamide in serums; it’s in basically all of the La Roche-Posay products aimed towards acneic skin; and it’s sometimes mixed with acids too, like in the Allies of Skin Multi Nutrient Cream.

Zinc is also in U Beauty’s latest, the Multimodal Defender, a brightening SPF 30 cream that isn’t marketed as such. It’s recommended for use in the daytime and at night. Which sounded like a mistake, at first. And then I realized! It was just like sunscreen masking. 20-percent zinc is no joke, but I could lay it on thick after my nighttime cleanse without worrying about a white cast or it gumming up my eyebrows. Though the cream is rich, zinc itself is kind of drying and mattifying, so when I woke up my skin was generally calmer, less red, and balanced. Overall… a success?

To be clear: you should not sleep in all sunscreens. But if you have a creamy high-zinc lotion with good-for-skin ingredients, give it a go! The Zoca Lotion is an easy swap under 30 bucks, and Supergoop’s new Cloud 9 Balm seems like another good option. Diaper rash ointment, like Desitin, would work too.

Sunscreen overnight masking: maybe it should be a thing? Let me know if you try it. Sweet dreams!

—Ali Oshinsky

Photo via ITG