An SPF Highlighter Exists — Here's What It Actually Does

When we got wind that Joan Smalls has been using sunscreen as a highlighter, it set off a debate: Was this a brilliant or odd idea? If we're talking about dabbing on a little extra sunscreen on your cheekbones to score some added sheen, love it. One less item you have to throw in your makeup bag for the day.

But if the high points of your face — spots you traditionally apply highlighter, like the bridge of your nose, cheekbones, Cupid's bow, and chin — are the only place you're dabbing SPF, that's a different story. As Smalls described it, the idea here is that you'll be left with a well-contoured tan — after spending a day in the sun, your double-protected highlight spots will be lighter than the rest of your face which, will get a few shades darker in the sun.

That's the idea behind a new "SPF Highlighter" from Petiue. The $36 sunscreen stick is designed to give you "a natural illusion of contour by overprotecting the areas you want to appear lightest," thereby eliminating the need to apply an actual highlighter, according to the brand.

The idea is cool — with one major caveat. You still have to wear a base layer of sunscreen in order to protect your entire face from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays. (Which, as we could talk about all day at Allure, include age spots, wrinkles, and, quite obviously, skin cancer, which is on the rise.)

To that end, Petiue recommends always using a base layer of SPF 15 to SPF 30 "no matter what" before appling the SPF Highlighter, which contains SPF 45. Only using the highlighter to get an even deeper contour tan would be a no-go, according dermatologists. "The issue is that it doesn't provide protection on the entire face — just on the areas that you'd want to contour," Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist in Virginia, tells Allure. To protect yourself from sun damage, the full-face sunscreen underneath the SPF Highlighter is a must, she says.

The SPF-meets-makeup product could help you remember to reapply your sunscreen, Talakoub says. "Most people don't reapply sunscreen because it goes on under their makeup, and they don't want to mess it up," she says. "So, this is an interesting product. If it's applied along with a regular sunscreen, it could help protect."

Petiue's SPF Highlighter contains both physical and chemical sunscreens: zinc oxide, which protects against UVA rays, and octinoxate, octocrylene, and octisalate, all of which protect against UVB rays, explains cosmetic chemist Ginger King. But again, the experts stress it shouldn't be used alone. "If anyone is going to use this as a highlighter, they must apply with a separate sunscreen all over the face," King tells Allure.

Since dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30 (Talakoub actually recommends wearing at least SPF 50) all over your face, trying to "highlight" with an SPF 45 pretty much defeats the purpose of trying to darken some parts of your face more than others for a lasting "contour." For that, we'll stick with applying a regular highlighter to our protected, SPF-slathered skin.

The Petiue SPF Highlighter is $36 at

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