Acne. Nobody likes to talk about it. Red, blotchy skin with pimples magically springing up overnight to turn your skin into an irritated mess. Many of us even feel embarrassed about our acne struggles, as we have come to believe that this is something only teenagers experience.
Not so, my friends. There are so many different factors that can affect acne, especially when it comes to what you’re putting on your face. Taking a bit of time to find the best sunscreen for your acne-prone skin may be a pain at first, but it will be a huge help in the long run.
Sunscreen upsets my acne, can’t I just avoid it?
Definitely not! In fact, this is a terrible idea for more reasons than you may expect.
First off, this will leave your admittedly delicate skin vulnerable to the punishing rays of the sun which can greatly increase your risk of wrinkles, sagging skin, burns, and even skin cancer. Also, extended exposure to the sun can actually cause breakouts, especially if your skin burns while you’re outside.
Not to worry, though. As we’ll discuss below in the buyer’s guide, not all types of sunscreen will upset your skin and contribute to breakouts. You simply need to know what to look for, and that’s where I come in!
After thorough research into the requirements for sunscreen to be effective for those struggling with acne, SimplySunSafe recommends Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for acne-prone skin. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for acne sufferers.
Sunscreen is a vital part of any skincare routine, but it is especially important for those with acne-prone skin. To help keep your face looking fresh and prevent breakouts, there are a number of must-have features your sunscreen needs:
Broad spectrum protection
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing the best sunscreen for acne (or really, any type of skin) is to ensure that you’re getting broad spectrum protection. While we generally just notice the sun’s rays in terms of light, the damaging aspect of sunlight comes from two different types of radiation it gives off along with all that lovely light. These two types of radiation are called UVA radiation and UVB radiation.
UVA radiation is the type that is responsible for accelerated signs of aging such as loss of skin’s elasticity, sagging, and increased wrinkles. It’s also the type of radiation that damages our skin on a cellular level, causing DNA damage that may eventually lead to the development of skin cancer.
UVB radiation is the radiation responsible for the damage we notice right away: a red, painful sunburn. The trouble is, not every sunscreen protects you from both – some brands only offer protection from UVB radiation while UVA rays are the ones we worry about most.
If you want to be sure that the sunscreen you’ve just picked up off the shelf is broad spectrum, take a closer look at the label. Most sunscreen will proudly display either ‘Broad Spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB Protection’ as part of their labelling to assure customers they are getting a quality product.
Another way to check is by taking a look at the active ingredients: minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, although zinc oxide does a slightly better job of it than titanium dioxide.
Best SPF for acne-prone skin
SPF, or sun protection factor, is another major influencer of purchase decisions when it comes to sunscreen. This number on your sunscreen bottle is important, but it can also be quite misleading. Manufacturers use this number to encourage you to buy their product, trusting that you won’t take the time to educate yourself and learn how SPF really benefits you.
What’s so complicated? More protection is better, so get the highest SPF possible, right?
Yup, that’s exactly what those pesky manufacturers want you to think. To an extent you’re right, but there is a definite limit on the usefulness of a sunscreen in protecting you from the sun. It can be helpful to think of SPF as a fraction.
For example, SPF 15 sunscreen will ensure that only 1/15th of the sun’s rays actually affect you. However, given that sunscreen are only effective for a few hours at best, that doesn’t mean you can stay outside 15 times as long. Nor does it mean that SPF 30 is twice as effective as SPF 15. Take a look at this table to better understand the protection offered by different SPF levels:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
As you can see, once you get to SPF 30 there really isn’t that big of a difference in the level of protection offered by a given sunscreen. The FDA actually believes that SPF 30 is sufficient for most people, which is why they altered labelling regulations in 2012 to limit the maximum SPF rating to 50+.
If you want the extra bit of protection offered by going over SPF 30 that’s perfectly fine, but don’t be tricked into paying an arm and a leg for a single percentage point of added protection.
Physical is better than chemical
Remember earlier when I said we’d talk about how not all sunscreens are out to mess with your acne? Well, a big part of whether or not a sunscreen negatively affects your skin is actually the active ingredients in the formula.
There are a handful of ingredients that can be used in a sunscreen to provide protection from the sun, but they don’t all work the same way.
Which ingredients a sunscreen uses broadly classify it as either a physical sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen.
Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that soak into your skin and work to absorb the radiation from the sun before it can actually reach your skin and affect you.
Physical sunscreen works more like armor – it sits on top of your skin, and deflects light away from the surface so that it never has a chance to reach your skin cells and cause damage.
Particularly for acne, physical sunscreens tend to be better because they make use of minerals to protect you rather than chemicals. The chemicals used in sunscreen can be quite harsh and are very easily irritating to the skin which can cause breakouts following use of the sunscreen.
To avoid this issue, look for products marked ‘mineral’ or ‘physical’ on the packaging. Even then, however, it can be good to check the label if you’re particularly sensitive as some brands will use a chemical ingredient in addition to a physical one. You want a sunscreen that lists its active ingredients as just a combination of the two physicals ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
INSIDER’S TIP: A lot of the big sunscreen brands use a lot of chemical ingredients. The worst of these is called oxybenzone. It’s got a terrible reputation as a chemical that absorbs through the skin a affects hormones in the body. No matter what sunscreen you decide to buy – stay away from any that contain oxybenzone!
Suitable for daily use
When you have acne, you can sometimes react to a wider range of products than most people. Because of this, when choosing your sunscreen you’ll want to be sure that whichever option you decide on in the end is suitable for daily use. This means it won’t contain ingredients that can become irritating to the skin with prolonged use, and has a formula that is pleasant enough for you to use consistently.
Not every person reacts to the same ingredients every time. Some people may be fine with sunscreens which combine certain chemical protectants and physicals, some people may be ultra sensitive and will be able to use only the most gentle formulas.
If you think that you’re probably in that second category, here’s a tip: ‘baby’ sunscreens and those meant for very sensitive skin typically have nearly identical formulas, so if you cannot find a sunscreen labelled for sensitive skin you may perhaps try a baby formula to achieve the desired level of protection without any irritants.
Suited to your complexion
Lastly, a special concern when dealing with acne is to choose a sunscreen that is suited to your complexion. Just as with facial washes and moisturizing products, the best sunscreen for dry acne prone skin isn’t going to be the best sunscreen for oily acne prone skin. Some sunscreens contain additional moisturizers that would help dry skin but only make an oily complexion worse.
Similarly, zinc oxide in particular is a physical sunscreen ingredient that can have a drying effect on the skin, so formulations with a lot of zinc that don’t contain moisturizers will be best for oily skin but could make dry skin flaky.
If you’re searching for the best sunscreen specifically for face acne, you’ll want to pay attention to the labelling. Formulas will typically say ‘facial’ or ‘face and body’ if they’ve been optimized to have a silky formula that won’t clog the pores or irritate the skin on the face.
If your acne isn’t too bad but you have other issues, you might be more interested in dealing with those things directly by looking at, for example, oily skin sunscreen or sunscreen for sensitive skin.
If your acne has stopped but left scarring in its place, the SimplySunSafe guide to scar sunscreen can help.
Best Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin Comparison
|Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral||CeraVe Baby Sunscreen||Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc||EltaMD UV Physical||EltaMD UV Shield|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (14.5%) & Titanium Dioxide (2%)||Zinc Oxide (11.4%) & Titanium Dioxide (7.4%)||Zinc Oxide (18.4%)||Zinc Oxide (9%) & Titanium Dioxide (7%)||Zinc Oxide (9%) & Octinoxate (7.5%)|
|Contains oils / moisturizers||Aloe, Shea butter, Jojoba / Sunflower / Grape seed oils||Aloe||Shea butter, Sunflower seed oil||Oil-Free||Oil-Free|
5 Best Sunscreens for Acne-Prone Skin
After thorough research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications and participating in skincare forums, SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for acne prone skin. All of the sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, and are suitable for daily use.
Alba Botanica’s Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen is a bit of a sun protection superstar. It provides broad spectrum protection of SPF 30 with only physical ingredients (14.5% zinc oxide and 2% titanium dioxide). It’s also got a shockingly low price for a physical sunscreen with such a high concentration of active ingredient – the cheapest on this list!
The bottles are quite small, only three ounces. Unfortunately Alba doesn’t make this product in larger containers so if you’re planning on using this for your whole body and not just the facial area you may want to stock up.
One of the reason’s this particular sunscreen is so popular with its users is the dreamily smooth application. It can appear a bit thick coming out of the tube but once you start to work it with your hands you get easy, even coverage of a moisture-rich sunscreen.
The high moisture content of this product makes it ideal for those with dryness problems in addition to acne.
- Hydrating ingredients
- Smooth texture
- Takes time to dry
This baby sunscreen from CeraVe has a hypoallergenic formula that will be a comfort to those of you dealing with hypersensitive skin. It’s also a good choice for anyone with very fair skin or extreme photosensitivity due to its higher SPF.
It provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 45 (the highest SPF on this list!) with a mix of zinc oxide (11.4%) and titanium dioxide (7.4%). It’s not ultra expensive, but it is not as budget-friendly as Alba’s product.
While it does have a higher SPF, the difference is minimal and the price jump might make everyday use of this product cost-prohibitive for some, which is part of the reason Alba Botanica came out on top of CeraVe during SimplySunSafe’s selection process to win 1st place.
This sunscreen is particularly healing to skin because of the Niacinamide in its formula which has reportedly helped some individuals deal with skin issues ranging from acne to eczema.
- High SPF
- Repairing ingredients
- Slightly more expensive
Don’t let the sweet little bunny on the bottle fool you, Babo Botanicals’ Clear Zinc sunscreen is tough stuff!
You may have heard that products containing clear zinc are a no-go due to the dangers of nanoparticulated ingredients. Thankfully, Babo cares about its customers too much to fuss around with that stuff. While they do use micronized zinc, it is non-nano so you don’t need to worry about it entering your bloodstream.
The micronized formula does, however, greatly reduce the white cast this product leaves, which is a boon because it gets its SPF 30 broad spectrum protection from a whopping 18.4% of zinc oxide. That’s quite a bit of zinc, and usually that high of a concentration would leave you looking pasty.
Let’s be clear though, ‘clear zinc’ is not literally clear, it just has a lower opacity after application than traditional zinc. It’s chemical free, so there can be no magic tricks making the zinc disappear. But hey, consider it a friendly reminder to reapply often!
This sunscreen is hypoallergenic, so should be a good bet for the sensitive types. Af far as matching it to a complexion, this one could be labelled ‘combination’. It does have a lot of zinc, which is usually drying, but it also has some shea butter and oils in it. This means that whether it helps or hinders your skin’s oil level is a bit of a gray area and will vary from person to person.
- Hydrating ingredients
- High concentration of zinc oxide
- Lots of zinc may dry out some skin types
EltaMD’s UV Physical facial sunscreen is a good product for anyone who likes to hide facial acne with a bit of makeup. Traditional makeup can make acne worse, and doesn’t always go well with sunscreen.
This facial sunscreen is lightly tinted, meaning you’ll the protection you need while camouflaging that pesky acne. Speaking of protection, this sunscreen offers broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 41 with the use of zinc oxide (9%) and titanium dioxide (7%).
It’s also oil-free, making it the first pick on our top 5 list that’s geared towards those with a more oily complexion. This sunscreen is a great option for anyone struggling with acne and a higher oil level on the face, that wants to reduce steps in their beauty routine.
The non-irritating formula provides you lots of protection with enough tint to take the place of your foundation (or keep you from having a white cast if you’ve got darker skin) and sets you up to take on the day without worrying about sunburns, wrinkles, or acne.
- Lightly tinted
- Made for oily complexions
- Lower levels of active ingredients
- A bit pricey
UV Shield, also from EltaMD, rounds out our top 5 sunscreens for acne prone skin. This sunscreen offers broad spectrum protection of SPF 45 that combines a physical ingredient (9% zinc oxide) and a chemical ingredient (7.5% octinoxate).
While the sunscreen does still have a favorable rating from the EWG, the fact that it contains octinoxate means there is a possibility that it may irritate very sensitive skin types. It is, however, another oil-free option that may be helpful to those with more oily skin.
It is slightly less expensive than EltaMD’s UV physical, and doesn’t contain any tint which makes it a good choice if you want to avoid the ‘makeup’ look.
Users love this sunscreen because it has a silky formula that absorbs into the skin quickly and doesn’t feel heavy when worn all day.
- High SPF
- Amazing texture
- Contains chemical sunscreens
- Slightly expensive
The goal of this guide was to help readers – that’s you! – find the best sunscreen for acne. I hope that this has been an informative read and has given a good place to start in your search for the perfect sunscreen to help combat your acne.
SimplySunSafe strives to provide high quality recommendations for its readers – while I recommend Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for acne-prone skin, all of these products are great picks that should give you the protection you need.
It may take a bit of trial-and-error to find a sunscreen that works well with your skin type, but starting with this list and knowing what to look for puts you firmly on the path to success!
I also love to learn about new products and to hear from readers. If there’s a product you love that you don’t see on this list, leave a comment! Who knows, it might end up in this guide!