Figuring out what kind of sunscreen to can be a little difficult for any person. But if you have very sensitive skin or struggle with acne, it can add an extra layer of confusion. In this article, we’ll explain the factors to consider when looking at different products and give you our recommendations for the best sunscreen for acne prone skin.
Types of Sunscreen
The first thing to look at is what type of sunscreen to use. Sunscreen comes in two types of protection: physical or chemical.
Physical sunscreen uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block or reflect the sun’s rays. For acne-prone skin, zinc oxide offers better protection and is gentler on the skin. Physical sunscreens last longer than chemical and don’t clog the pores as much, but they tend to dry out the skin more quickly and make the skin look paler when used.
Where physical sunscreen blocks the sun’s rays, chemical sunscreen absorbs them. These can often cause poor reactions to sensitive skin, so it’s not recommended to use chemical sunscreen if your skin is acne-prone. This type also wears off more quickly, lasting only a couple hours, although it is clear and more moisturizing than physical sunscreens when used.
SPF, or the Sun Protection Factor, refers to a number of UVB rays that are blocked. UVB is what causes tanning and burning of the skin, but UVA rays can also damage the skin and cause cancer.
Since SPF only refers to UVB protection, you would need to get a sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum,” which covers both UVB and UVA, if you wanted full protection. The physical sunscreens are by default broad-spectrum, with zinc oxide giving more protection than titanium dioxide. Most (though not all) chemical sunscreens are ineffective against UVA rays.
To explain SPF further, the number of the SPF refers to how long you can stay in the sun without burning, as well as the percentage of rays that are blocked. For example, if you usually burn in one hour without sunscreen, wearing a sunscreen with SPF 2 will allow you to stay in the sun for two hours, SPF 3 for 3 hours, etc.
Regarding protection, an SPF of 2 blocks 50% of UVB rays, SPF 15 blocks 93%, and SPF 30 blocks 97%. No sunscreen offers 100% protection. Usually, the higher SPF is recommended, to provide the most protection, although the trade-off is that the higher the SPF number is in physical sunscreens, the more drying the product is, and the higher it is in chemical sunscreens, the greasier it is.
Sunscreens that are labeled “water-resistant” or “waterproof” contain ingredients that help to repel water. These products are not recommended if your skin is very sensitive or acne-prone because the chemicals used to create the water resistant effect tend to be irritating and inflammatory, and are harder to wash off.
How to Properly Use Sunscreen
Physical sunscreens work immediately as soon as they are applied, and can be put on before going out into the sun. Chemical sunscreens, however, react to sun exposure to work, so should be applied soon after going out, keeping in mind that they can take up to 15 minutes to reach their full effectiveness.
The amount of protection is also related to how much sunscreen is used. Most people don’t apply enough and only get a fraction of the protection advertised on the product. The average person needs about one ounce, or a full shot glass, to adequately cover their whole body. For acne-prone skin, it’s also best to apply the sunscreen gently to avoid irritating sensitive skin.
As far as how often it should be used, chemical sunscreens need to be applied much more often than physical ones. Physical sunscreen lasts all day long, except if you get wet, either from water and by sweating a lot, or if you use a towel to dry off. Only then does it need to be reapplied. Chemical sunscreens degrade in sun exposure and usually need to be reapplied every two hours that you’re out in the sun.
Another factor to consider in regards to SPF is that even in products with an SPF as low as 8, your body’s ability to create Vitamin D for itself will decrease by 95%. For this reason, doctors recommend using sunscreen only when necessary, and if it is often needed, to talk to your doctor about Vitamin D supplements.
Sunscreen and Acne
The main thing to look for when searching for a good sunscreen when you have oily or sensitive skin is to look for products labeled, “non-comedogenic.” This means that the formula has been made to be non-clogging for your pores. It’s a little drying, but much less irritating.
And for any other products you may be using on your skin, it’s important to keep in mind that they can affect your skin in different ways. Many substances used to treat acne, such as Retin-A and salicylic acid, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
This makes it necessary to get an even stronger SPF in your sunscreen, which may make it even harder for your body to produce Vitamin D. Although many of these effects are hard to know ahead of time, the general rule of thumb is the fewer products you apply to sensitive skin, the better.
Best Sunscreens for Acne Prone Skin
Eltamd UV Clear SPF 46
Eltamd UV Clear is Fragrance-free, Oil-free, paraben-free and non-comedogenic, good for sensitive skin. It also contains antioxidants, which help fight free radicals that damage skin tissue. Made with zinc oxide, it provides physical, full spectrum and non-clogging protection. This formula is made specifically for those with sensitive skin, prone to acne, rosacea, or other inflammatory skin problems.
- The product is lightweight, and can be worn alone or mixed into make-up
- It contains vitamins, such as Vitamin B3, that helps promote healthy skin.
- This formula calms sensitive skin to prevent inflammation and breakouts.
- The container pump is flimsy and tends to break or stop functioning altogether.
- Although the sunscreen is usually soft and silky, it sometimes becomes flaky once it dries after application.
- It goes on mostly clear but can leave a white residue after application.
Skinceuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50
This SkinCeuticals formula also provides water resistance, but without the chemical irritation. It is also infused with a special “universal tint” that blends well with all skin colors. It contains artemia salina, an extract made from plankton, which helps the skin’s defense against heat stress.
- The formula contains a tint that dries natural-looking for all skin types.
- Plankton extract enriches the skin’s defenses along with the built-in UVB and UVA protection.
- After application, it dries without residue.
- The price is somewhat more high than other options.
- Although protective, this sunscreen can be very drying on sensitive skin types.
- The formula tends to be heavy and is not recommended to use with make-up.
Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 42
Designed to protect skin while retaining moisture, this anti-aging sunscreen is a lightweight formula good for those with oily skin types. It smells nice, has a smooth and even consistency, and also with a lighter blend of zinc oxide, helps combat the drying effect of other physical sunscreens.
- The formula is lightweight and smooth and mixes well with makeup or moisturizers.
- This sunscreen has a calming effect on irritated skin.
- It goes on evenly and dries matte, so it doesn’t leave a greasy shine on your face.
- The amount of product you get is small compared to the price.
- The formula mixes physical and chemical sunscreens, so those who prefer only physical protection should consider something else.
- After drying, it can leave a pale white cast, but it is also easily mixed with make-up to prevent that.
La Roche Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Facial Sunscreen SPF 60 with Antioxidants
Made for sensitive skin, this is a fragrance-free and paraben-free sunscreen with anti-inflammatory properties. The texture is light, absorbing and dries matte. The formula contains antioxidants to help fight free radicals and has a smooth consistency that can be used underneath make-up.
- The container is small, but the formula goes a long way. Not as much is needed as other sunscreens.
- It has the same consistency as a make-up primer and can be used in place of that.
- It absorbs quickly with no residue and leaves a smooth, clean feel.
- For those with allergy sensitivities, the ingredients in the 60 SPF formula are different from the 50 SPF and may cause an allergic reaction.
- It is not water resistant, so if you wear this during physical activity and sweat a lot, it can leave a streaky look.
- This sunscreen sometimes leaves a light yellow stain on clothing.
Murad Oil-Control Mattifier SPF 15
This non-comedogenic formula is made to balance moisture and oil production in skin with the use of natural ingredients. It has a hydrating mixture that contains botanical herbs, such as Willow Bark extract, to help fight acne and prevent breakouts.
- This is an especially good formula for those with oily skin, as the ingredients help the skin to control oil production.
- It is also very softening and hydrating.
- It contains a lot of natural ingredients.
- This sunscreen has somewhat of an odd smell, but that goes away after half an hour or so.
- The consistency is a little thick and difficult to spread.
- The price is more high than other options.
Although all of these products are specially designed for sensitive, acne-prone skin, our favorite is the Murad Oil-Control Mattifier. Despite the fact that it’s a little pricier and might be hard to fit into a budget, the moisturizing and oil-control effect works as advertised.
We also like how many herbs and natural ingredients are used to make this sunscreen. As a sunscreen, it does a good job of protecting against UV damage. The SPF is not as strong as some of the other options, but it is also far less irritating on the super sensitive skin.
It provides a good balance between shielding against the sun’s UV rays, while also nourishing and supporting skin, instead of giving protection at the cost of your skin. Used alongside a gentle and natural-based skincare regimen, Murad sunscreen can give your skin adequate protection without added irritation.
It can be really difficult finding the right sunscreen to fit both the needs of your skin and what’s needed for any given activity in the sun, but we hope this article helped shed a little light on the options available and what to look for as you shop for the perfect sunscreen.