Drugstore Dupes to the Test: Peter Thomas Roth vs. ELF Powdered Sunscreen

As much as I preach the virtues of sunscreen, I have the serious disadvantage of being one vain motherfucker. You are supposed to re-apply sunscreen every two hours. Additionally, sunscreen is supposed to be the first layer you put on your skin. There is no chance in hell that I am genuinely going to wash off all my makeup, put on sunscreen, and re-do my makeup every two hours. You should! You really should! But… some of us need alternatives. That’s where powdered sunscreen comes in.

This is not a substitute for an actual good sunscreen routine. If you are already sunscreening it up as you should, don’t stop! But if you, like me, just put on sunscreen in the morning and try to pretend that that’s sufficient, powdered sunscreen might be a decent option. Powdered sunscreen probably isn’t going to be applied evenly or in sufficient quantities, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Unfortunately, there are not very many powdered sunscreens on the market. Bare Minerals offers one powdered sunscreen for $28 for 0.14oz ($200 per oz), but it is tinted and only comes in one color: medium. Jane Iredale comes in at $45.60 for 0.62oz (a much more reasonable $73.55 per oz). Colorescience costs $19 for 0.21oz ($90.48 per oz). Most of the other versions of this product are not only expensive, but are from brands I have literally never heard of, such as Bee Sunny or GO!Screen.

Based on a combination of positive reviews and the fact that it is marketed as “transparent”, I decided to look at Peter Thomas Roth for my high end brand. Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral Powder SPF 45 retails for $30 for 0.12oz (a pretty pricey $250 per ounce). The only low-end powdered sunscreen I am aware of is ELF. The ELF Studio SPF 45 Powder Sunscreen with UVA/UVB Protection retails for $6 and gets you 0.35oz. Thus, it is a comfortably priced $17.14 per ounce. (It also claims to be sheer.)

The Peter Thomas Roth version is packaged in a brush. You twist the end to push product out that top. The ELF version is in a more conventional jar form.

I can only conclude that the Peter Thomas Roth version is in a brush to disguise how little product you are actually getting, as the brush packaging is hardly functional. Every time I twist the end, I find myself in a poof of UVB-resistant dust. Not only is it obnoxious, but it wastes what little product I have. Furthermore, the rough, unappealing brush is no substitute for a decent powder brush.

This problem can be alleviated by de-potting the powder. Luckily, you can easily unscrew the back, meaning that this isn’t a hassle.

The ELF version is in a little pot. It comes with a powder puff that will do fuck-all to actually help apply this stuff. Again, I recommend just using a regular powder brush.

Both products are completely messy and a big pain. However, because of the brush applicator, the Peter Thomas Roth version is much messier.

Although these products claim to be “translucent” and “sheer”, they are anything but. (Retrospectively, I am not sure why I believed this claim. Titanium dioxide is blindly white, meaning it probably couldn’t easily be included in a sheer product.) This can be a major problem for both light and dark skin tones. Light skin tones end up orange, whereas dark skin tones end up looking sickly.

ELF on the left, Peter Thomas Roth on the right

The ELF version is much lighter than the Peter Thomas Roth sunscreen. I have seen some complaints about the ELF version being too dark, but I found that it was a nice color for my skin. Peter Thomas Roth was very dark. On my face, it looked like I had applied a bronzer.

If you have light skin, I strongly suggest checking out the ELF powdered sunscreen. The packaging is convenient. The size is generous. The price is lovely. The SPF is fabulous. Its ability to facilitate both laziness and vanity is laudable. However, if you do not have light skin, this will almost certainly leave a white cast on your face.

If you have medium-toned, I am not sure that anything compensates for the inconvenience, price, and tiny size of the Peter Thomas Roth sunscreen (and it still will probably be too light for those of you with dark skin!) However, it’s up to you to decide whether it is worth it to you. If I were you, I would keep looking.


1. FWIW I think you might be looking in the wrong place for the Bare Minerals one – I bought it for much the same reasons you want a powder screen – and I have one in LIGHT!!!


I bought it in the UK, but it seems like they would have it in the US too…? somewhere…? Anyway, the light color makes me look a little bit bronzed in winter so I didn’t use it at all then, but now that it’s vaguely warm out (hah, I live in Scotland, “warm” always has quotes) even just having more perfusion in my face seems to make me the right colour to wear it without looking weird. (As in, I don’t have a tan at ALL, but it suddenly looks all right… whatever.) I quite like it, has good coverage, doesn’t cling, you can see it coming out of the brush better than the Peter Thomas Roth one, and it’s definitely de-pottable if that’s your bag. It’s also refillable. My one complaint about it is that I have twice accidentally depotted it all over my bathroom, but I’ve looked for other reviews and concluded that I am just an idiot and it’s my fault.

2. Wow! You are totally correct! It seems that there are just a lot of US places that only stock the medium skin tone version, but there are a few places you can get a hold of “light” or “tan” versions. It’s too bad that they don’t make a true “dark”, but that’s a lot better than only one color choice. I will check it out when I use up the ELF and PTR versions!

3. I also have the Bare Minerals powder. In the lightest shade. I picked it up at the counter at Macy’s. It seems to work well enough. Honestly, I keep spray sunblock with me when I’m outdoors, and just spray that on my face every couple of hours. It seems to work well enough, and my makeup doesn’t go sliding everywhere.

4. Do you have a spray sunscreen that is safe to use on your face? I use a spray sunscreen for my body, which is nice when it comes to reapplication since it is so little effort, but mine says not to spray it on your face.

5. Do you have any sunscreen recommendations for the scalp? I have fine hair and a prominent part and I have torched my head on many occasions. As much as I’d like to be a girl that wears hats, I can’t pull that look off. A lady sitting behind me at the Indianapolis 500 once took it upon herself to spray the top of my head with sunscreen! I appreciate the concern, but that was some nasty hair I had going on after that.

The powder might work…

6. I believe there are some sprays specifically targeted towards your scalp, but I don’t know a lot about them. Powder sunscreen is definitely used for scalp protection, though! (And, obviously, a hat is your safest bet.)

7. I really wonder how heavily this needs to be applied in order to get the reported sunscreen benefits. Typically I don’t layer powder on to form dense coverage over my skin…

I do plan to check out the ELF since it is cheap and would be handy to have at work if I go out for a lunch time walk.

8. I find it highly unlikely that you’re getting anything close to the stated SPF unless you seriously cake on the powder. However, I still think it’s a nice tool for those of us who otherwise don’t reapply sunscreen.

9. The elf powder is too dark for my skin!
I’ve been using the Physician’s Formula mineral wear, talc free, mineral airbrushing pressed powder spf 30 in translucent.