The Best SPF Makeup For Wedding Photos
Updated: Jul 31
In our previous blog 'The Best Sunscreen For Your Wedding Day', we set out to demystify the connection between SPF and wedding photography. So what’s the big problem with SPF that everybody keeps talking about, anyway? Well, basically, all the fancy technology that protects your skin from the sun is built to reflect light. So when your photographer's flash fires directly at your face, the result is what is known as “flashback.” It’s literally your face reflecting the flash back at the camera which makes you look ghosty, or like you’ve been hit in the face with a whole lot of baby powder.
The myth that SPF makeup and/or sunscreen shouldn’t be used on your wedding day is completely false and let us explain to you why...
WHAT MAKEUP DO I USE?
Obviously, if you’re getting married outside, during the day, or in another well-lit setting where flash won’t be used, wear all the sunblock that you want. It’s fine. However, if you're concerned about getting a sunscreen residue on your dress be sure to read our blog post on selecting the Best Sunscreen For Your Wedding Day. Now, of course, if you’re getting married inside and your photos will also be inside, you can skip the skin protection all together, and not worry. However, if you’re in a mixed lighting situation, such as where your ceremony is outside, where you obviously need sunblock, and your reception inside, where you will be having photos taken with flash, never fear, you have options. Most makeup with SPF photographs just fine with indirect, off camera flash. And if this doesn't ease your fears about looking potentially zombie-like in your wedding photos, we found that using moisturizer with SPF, and covering it with SPF-free foundation solved flash related problems, but more on that later.
Now before you go crazy at Sephora and buy up all the "great for photos" cosmetics that they sell, beware. Not all makeup that sells itself as being “great for photos” is. For example, Revlon’s Photoready line was among the worst we tried while Makeup Forever’s Ultra HD foundation was the single best foundation we tried, yet their HD powder was truly the worst product we tried, in terms of flashback from cameras. Go figure.
WHAT IS DIRECT FLASH?
If you’re getting married and you are really worried about flash issues, be sure to discuss them with your photographer. But if you want more detail what exactly the flash problem is, then read on.
Direct flash is the work of the devil...too harsh? We certainly don't think so. Truth be told, whether your chosen foundation has SPF in it or not, direct flash, which is literally anything that points a flash straight at your face, like the old point and shoot cameras or how your iPhone with the flash on makes everything look like a bad hostage photo...its just not flattering no matter how you cut it. Professional photographers avoid using direct flash for this very reason, however, we always highly recommend that you confirm with your selected photographer prior to booking them, if they shoot with off camera flash or not to avoid that "hostage chic" look on your wedding day. An indirect flash, often only results in minimal issues where SPF is concerned and most often can easily be corrected in photoshop later on.
IT’S NOT THE SPF, EXACTLY, THAT WE KNOW OF.
The common assumption is that flashback is a result of using SPF foundations. At least this is what we keep hearing so we performed a little experiment. In the end, just about all of the foundation that we sampled, even the ones without any SPF in them at all failed the direct flash test. We have found that several online resources have tried to break down exactly which ingredients in the cosmetics cause flashback..titanium dioxide? silica? talc?, but in the end we would like to save you time and stress and just suggest you do a simple photo test with the foundation you plan on using at your wedding. Just apply it the way you would normally, then take a photo with your cell phone flash. Those are truly the worst flashback culprits of them all. If your picture is all washed out then you might have trouble if your photographer is using direct flash. If it doesn't have a white cast to it you're fine. Keep in mind, however, that no matter what, direct flash is never going to be flattering, but at least you won't look like a ghost. Most drugstores and big box makeup stores like Ulta and Sephora gladly take returns, so don’t worry about wasting money on something you might not use in the end.
In order to learn about SPF and flashback, we tested a bunch of different foundations, each one in natural light, then with direct flash, then with an off camera flash. Sourcing from a range of products featuring high to low SPF levels we did the bulk of the leg work to narrow it down for what would be best to test at home.
It was harder than you'd think to find a drugstore makeup that didn’t have at least some SPF in it, but even without any, this foundation still gave us a bit of flashback when we used direct flash.
Verdict: Fine, not perfect.
Make Up For Ever HD Foundation - Pro Quality, No SPF ($42)
Exclusive to Sephora, this is the one their associates flock to anytime you mention weddings. The good news is it is easily the best looking foundation we photographed if you’re willing to splurge a bit on your wedding foundation, or if you want buildable coverage. The downsides are you probably will never use this foundation after your wedding as its a bit heavy handed, and it might be too much if you’re used to sheer foundation or no foundation at all.
Verdict: The winner, but definitely heavy-duty foundation.
Make Up Forever HD Microfinish Powder - Pro Quality, No SPF ($34)
A funny thing happened when we paired our winning foundation with its matching powder. It became the worst out of all the products we tested. Makeup Forever HD foundation paired with their HD Microfinish Powder, has the worst flashback we've ever seen! Don’t buy this powder for you wedding.
Verdict: DO NOT USE THIS POWDER if being photographed with direct flash...or any flash for that matter. YIKES!!
L’Oreal True Match Foundation - Drugstore, SPF 17 ($11.49)
This gave us some trouble in our direct flash test, but at least it looked and felt pretty good in person.
Verdict: If you’re not dealing with a lot of direct flash, and you want an affordable foundation with SPF, this is a good choice.
NARS Sheer Matte Foundation - Pro Quality, No SPF ($55)
Even without any SPF, we got some flashback from this foundation. This likely because it is formulated for oily skin. The shine is also much more noticeable in person than it is in photos, which we did not love. If you want a ton of coverage, you might like this, but overall, we wouldn’t recommend it for your wedding day.
Verdict: Wouldn’t recommend.
Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin SPF 55 Foundation - Drugstore, SPF 55 ($12.49)
Truth be told, for something called "healthy skin" it kind of left us with a burning sensation that made us want to wash it off almost immediately. This might have been because we had already washed our faces half a dozen time between other tests, but still...that said, if you’ve got sensitive skin, be forewarned, the level of SPF in this product might irritate you. Otherwise, it doesn’t appear that the level of SPF has any bearing on flashback. If you have extra fair skin and need a high SPF, this is an affordable option that photographed almost as well as the pro level foundations.
Verdict: Works well, but harsh on sensitive skin.
Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream - Pro Quality, SPF 35 ($42)
This selection fared pretty well in the flashback test, despite its SPF 35 rating. We didn’t get nearly as much flashback as the drugstore SPF 17, and felt much better on the skin than a lot of the other foundations we tried. This would definitely be one of our top choices for this SPF level, how it felt on our faces, and how it photographed.
Verdict: If you don’t mind a teeny bit of flashback with direct flash and want foundation with a good amount of SPF this is an excellent choice.
Clinique Super City Block Sheer Foundation - Pro Quality, SPF 40 ($27)
If all of the above foundations seem like way too much makeup, we absolutely love love love the Clinique Super City BACK. Yep. You read that right. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch.
Verdict: If you’re looking for something super sheer with some SPF, this is a clear winner.
SPF Under Foundation
If you love your current foundation and it doesn’t have SPF in it, or you want to use one of the no SPF foundations from above, but will need SPF on your wedding day (or really, for every day), we put Neutrogena SPF 15 moisturizer under the Make Up For Ever HD foundation and found absolutely no issues with flashback. You win! Verdict: A clear winner. Also, easy.
In the end, you have to remember that flashback exists, but that flash is not necessarily the enemy. It’s all in how you use it. There are many different types of flash that your photographer may use. Its best to find a professional photographer who shoots specifically with off camera flash to avoid direct flash. (Remember? Direct flash is the work of the devil.) Also, don't forget to test your makeup using your cell phone flash. If it looks like you dipped your face in talcum powder you will likely have issues with direct flash. Either find a photographer who doesn't utilize on camera flash or change up your foundation to one of the suggested cosmetics we thoroughly tested on your behalf. So, unless your photographer plans on using direct or on-camera flash all day, your makeup situation is probably going to be just fine.