Everyone gets scars during the rough and tumble of life. Some are small and barely noticeable, others are large enough to make us self-conscious. Whatever the type of scar, you’re dealing with sensitive skin that has recently healed. This is an important time that determines what a scar will look like in the long term.
Scarred skin becomes more sensitive than normal skin. This sensitivity extends to the way the skin reacts to sunlight. Scars (new or old) exposed to unnecessary amounts of UV radiation heal slower and can easily become discolored and more noticeable (hyperpigmentation) instead of naturally fading.
This is why the American Academy of Dermatology’s last recommendation on how to minimize scarring is to apply sunscreen once the wound has properly healed. They recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher be reapplied frequently to protect this sensitive area.
This dermatologist recommendation is for sunscreen. That means SimplySunSafe’s recommendations won’t extend to topical scar treatments that have an SPF formulation added on. Products like Mederma Scar Cream Plus SPF 30 and bioCorneum plus SPF 30 Advanced Scar Supervision are highly rated and recommended, but they aren’t proper sunscreens. They work to treat the scar (which they do well), but the SPF is a bit of an afterthought. Plus, they’re chemical sunscreens, which I try to avoid recommending as they aren’t as effective as physical sunscreens (see buyer’s guide below).
After thorough research into scar treatment and minimization and the requirements for sunscreen to be effective on scarred skin, SimplySunSafe recommends Dermaflage ScarScreen SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for scars. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for scars.
Based on scar treatment and minimization strategies there are a number of factors a sunscreen must have to protect your scars:
Broad spectrum protection
Sunlight contains two types of damaging UV radiation. UVA radiation affects the DNA of deep skin cells which increases the risk of skin cancer and increases skin aging (wrinkling and sagging). UVB radiation causes immediate and visible damage to the skin in the form of sunburn.
Both of these are dangerous in their own right, but in terms of scar minimization, both are able to stimulate pigment production. As such, you should only use sunscreens that offer high quality broad spectrum protection to avoid your scar darkening because of the sun.
Best SPF for Scars
How many times have you used a sunscreen’s sun protection factor (SPF) as an indicator of the level of protection it’ll provide. But do you actually know what this number means? The difference between the various rating will probably surprise you.
The confusing and unhelpful definition of SPF provides you with a time for which you’ll be protected from burning. You get this time by multiplying the time it takes you to burn without protection by the SPF. So if you take 10 minutes to burn without sunscreen, an SPF 15 sunscreen will provide enough protection so that you’ll burn after 150 minutes. If you can only last 5 minutes without burning naturally, you’ll only get 75 minutes of protection from the same sunscreen.
This time concept can be misleading. If you’re particularly resilient to the effects of the sun and use an SPF 50 sunscreen you’d assume you’d get hours and hours of protection. In reality, a sunscreen will only last for about 2 hours no matter how high the SPF. This is even less if water and/or sweat are involved. This means reapplying frequently, wearing sun-protective clothing, and seeking out shade when you can are all critical to your overall sun protection.
Apart from being a confusing number, there are a couple of other things to know about SPF:
- It only indicates protection offered against UVB radiation. To get an indication of UVA protection, you need to know which active ingredients to look for (more on this below).
- The time indicated by an SPF rating is more arbitrary than you’d think. The intensity of sunlight and thickness of the sunscreen also affect this number – making it a useless predictor of effective protection.
- The common ratings on the market make it seem like SPF 15 provides half the protection that an SPF 30 sunscreen does. Check out the table below to understand why this isn’t the case.
Sunscreen rating would be much clearer if they instead advertised with the percentage of UVB radiation they blocked. These numbers provide a lot more information to consumers:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
From this table you can see that SPF 30 is almost as good as it gets when it comes to sun protection. Anything above this doesn’t offer much additional protection. Companies began taking advantage of this misunderstanding from consumers by producing SPF 100 and over sunscreens, not telling consumers the additional protection was a mere 2%. This is why the FDA now caps SPF ratings at 50+.
So now you understand the rating a lot more, which should you use? Skin specialists recommend recommend you use SPF 30 and above. The table makes their reasons for this recommendation clear. SPF 30 provides great protection (97%) that will protect even the most photosensitive of skin types. Higher SPFs can be used to ease your mind but ultimately don’t do that much more for you.
Physical not chemical
Physical sunscreens use active ingredients to reflect sunlight away from the skin. Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients to absorb UV radiation before it can affect your skin.
SimplySunSafe recommends the use of physical sunscreens over chemical sunscreens as they are known to be more effective. Physicals stop more light reaching the skin which is the best way to prevent pigment production and the worsening of scars. As such, only physical sunscreens are recommended by me for protecting scars.
Physical sunscreens will usually be labeled as ‘physical’ or ‘mineral’. If you can’t find that wording, look for high concentrations of either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (the two active ingredients in physical sunscreens).
Zinc oxide over titanium dioxide
There’s also a preference in which active ingredient works best in physical sunscreens.
Studies show that zinc oxide works better than titanium dioxide and stops more of the dangerous UVA spectrum. Don’t write off titanium dioxide sunscreens though. They still provide great protection and are still considerably better than their chemical counterparts.
Suitable for the face and everyday use
Scars can appear anywhere on the body. By making sure you choose a safe sunscreen for scars on the face, you’re ensuring the formula is gentle enough for your most sensitive skin.
You also want your scar sunscreen to be suitable for everyday use. This is because you’ll want to protect your scar whenever you go in the sun, no matter how frequent that is.
For people who want to use makeup over the top of their sunscreen, the products recommended below are suitable for this purpose. Some of them are even designed with this in mind so read the recommendations and you’ll find a great product for you.
Matte finish (not obvious when applied)
Scars are noticeable enough without highlighting them with a sunscreen that leaves a white cast on your skin. This means you’ll want your sunscreen to have a matte finish that makes it completely (or almost) unnoticeable on your skin.
When applied properly and rubbed in thoroughly, the sunscreens featured here won’t appear white or greasy on your skin. This makes them less obvious which also makes them suitable to be used with other cosmetics.
Best Sunscreen for Scars Comparison
|Dermaflage ScarScreen||BurnOut for Face & Body||La Roche-Posay Anthelios||CōTZ Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin||Heliocare Ultra Gel|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (15%)||Zinc Oxide (18.6%)||Titanium Dioxide (11%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide|
5 Best Sunscreens for Scars
After thorough research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, participating in skincare forums, and reading medical journals SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for scars. All of these physical sunscreens provide broad spectrum protection, have an SPF of 30 or more, have a matte finish, are suitable for everyday use, and are compatible with makeup products.
Dermaflage ScarScreen SPF 30 is a physical sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection using the most effective active ingredient in sunscreens, zinc oxide. At 15% concentration, the protection this sunscreen provides is particularly effective.
ScarScreen takes the number one spot as the best sunscreen to protect scars as it was specifically developed and formulated to provide effective protection against the hyperpigmentation of fragile and sensitive scar tissue.
ScarScreen is hypoallergenic and contains no synthetic chemical sunscreens which can affect the body’s hormone balance. This makes it perfect for people who have normally sensitive skin and makes it the best sunscreen for surgical scars. It is ideal for use on new scars following cosmetic procedures to help minimize the scar by preventing UV exposure.
ScarScreen was designed with discretion and other cosmetics in mind. It has a non-greasy, dry finish that makes it unnoticeable on the skin. This is particularly impressive as sunscreens with such a high concentration of zinc oxide will usually leave a notable white cast. The matte finish also makes it great as a base for makeup if you wear it. This means you can feel confident no attention is being drawn to your scar while effectively preventing it from darkening over time.
The slight downside to this product is that it’s a little pricey for a sunscreen. It makes sense as this product was specifically developed for scar treatment, but if you’re after a more affordable option continue reading.
- Specifically formulated for scar tissue
- Designed for discretion and use with cosmetics
- High concentration of active ingredient
- A little pricey
BurnOut SPF 30 for Face & Body is a physical sunscreen with 18.6% zinc oxide to provide protection from both UVA and UVB radiation. This highly recommended sunscreen came a very close second in this list. It was only beaten by Dermaflage ScarScreen because it isn’t specifically formulated for scars. This product is, however, made for sensitive skin (which is close).
Despite it’s impressive zinc oxide concentration, even customers with dark skin tones are impressed with it’s matte finish that doesn’t leave a white cast or lighten skin tone. This is an impressive feat for a sunscreen that provides such amazing sun protection.
If a white coat is left on your skin during application, simply rub the sunscreen in for slightly longer and it will disappear. This non-greasy, invisible finish makes BurnOut for Face & Body a great base for makeup and many of its users take advantage of this.
As mentioned above BurnOut for Face & Body is formulated for sensitive skin. As such, this product is paraben, oil, nanoparticle, and fragrance free. This makes it incredibly unlikely to react with your skin or scar during use.
For its quality and features, this product is very reasonably priced. It provides considerable value for money, especially over the more expensive products featured here.
This BurnOut product is also SimplySunSafe’s number 1 recommended product for people with melasma. As the requirements for sunscreens to be effective on skin with melasma are even stricter than for sunscreens for scars, you can guarantee it’ll do an amazing job on scars.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Great value
- Matte finish makes it a great base for makeup
- Formula feels a little thick
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Tinted Sunscreen is a high-SPF, physical, broad spectrum sunscreen that uses titanium dioxide (11%) as its active ingredient. This product is highly recommended by dermatologists and is the sunscreen for scars most compatible with makeup.
Anthelios 50 is a paraben and fragrance free sunscreen suitable for daily use on the face and body. It sits at number 3 on this list because its active ingredient is titanium dioxide. As mentioned earlier, this is the less effective physical sunscreen active ingredient. However, it still makes the top 5 sunscreens for scars because it is so highly regarded and recommended in the skincare community.
It has an amazingly silky texture that absorbs quickly and dries to a matte finish without a sticky or greasy feeling. This is because it was designed to work flawlessly under makeup. Anthelios 50 is slightly tinted so it can blend more effectively with your skin tone, which makes it less noticeable under makeup. Don’t be put off by the color of the lotion that comes out of the bottle as it’s quite dark. When rubbed into the skin the tint isn’t dramatic and gives you a healthy glow.
If you’re fair-skinned the tint might look a little too dramatic on your skin. Luckily, La Roche-Posay sell a version without the tint that blends just as well on lighter skin tones and still has all of the product’s other amazing features.
This sunscreen is quite pricey in the scheme of things. However, you can’t argue with feedback and users of this product can only rave about its quality.
- Lightly tinted
- High SPF
- Great texture and finish
- No zinc oxide
CōTZ Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin is a physical sunscreen that uses 20% zinc oxide to provide broad spectrum protection. Marketed as the ‘healthier sunscreen’ its formula is free of oils, chemical sunscreens, fragrances, preservatives, PABA, gluten, phthalates, and is cruelty-free. That’s a hard list to top in terms of product safety!
CōTZ Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin is, as the name suggests, designed to provide effective protection to sensitive skin. It is dermatologist recommended and suitable for use after laser treatments, microdermabrasion, and cosmetic surgery. So it can handle scars without trouble.
It provides great sun protection while its gentle formula works to soothe irritated skin and prevent heat build-up in the skin. It has a non-greasy, matte finish that doesn’t leave a white cast which makes it great as a base for makeup – what many of its users love about it.
This sunscreen has durability as it doesn’t breakdown when exposed to sunlight and is the only sunscreen on this list that is water-resistant (up to 40 minutes). If you want sun protection for your scar while you work up a sweat or jump in the water – this is the sunscreen for you!
This is the most affordable sunscreen for scars on this list and for its price provides significant value for money. If you’re on a budget, don’t go passed this awesome sunscreen.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- 40-minute water resistance
- Designed for sensitive skin
- Not as compatible with cosmetics
Heliocare Ultra SPF 50+ Gel is a high-SPF, physical sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection by combining zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients. This sunscreen is up there as one of the best sunscreens for new scars as it’s specifically formulated for use while recovering from clinical treatments. This makes it well-suited for use on skin made sensitive by damage (like scars!).
Designed to work effectively on skin at its most sensitive, Heliocare Ultra Gel has a great texture. It feels like a moisturizer on the skin, is lightweight, and absorbs quickly. The gel itself is transparent, so there’s no chance of a white cast. This means it’s great as a base under mineral makeups if you want to wear cosmetics on top.
It is oil-free and non-comedogenic (doesn’t cause blackheads) which makes it suitable for everyday use, even if you’re prone to breakouts.
These great features do come at a cost as Heliocare Ultra Gel is the most expensive sunscreen recommended here. If this high price is a little over your budget but you love the sound of this product, you could just get this product when your scar is new and very sensitive. As your scar ages you could then use one of the more affordable sunscreens long-term.
(This sunscreen used to be called Heliocare Ultra SPF 90 Gel. When new packaging restrictions came in, Heliocare could only market it as SPF 50+. You can still get the old SPF 90 version for slightly cheaper than the SPF 50+ version, although this won’t last forever as they don’t use that packaging in current production.)
- Designed for post-treatment skin
- Cosmetic texture
This guide to the best sunscreen for scars was written to help you choose a sunscreen suited to your skin and needs. I hope the important features to look for in a scar sunscreen are now a lot clearer.
SimplySunSafe recommends Dermaflage ScarScreen SPF 30. On balance, it was the best sunscreen for the job. Having said that, all 5 have the necessary features to provide the required sun protection for your scars. Ultimately this is a decision for you to make based on your skin and scars.
If the first sunscreen you choose isn’t as effective as you’d like, don’t give up! Experiment and adjust based on your personal preferences and you’ll find the perfect product for your skin.
If you know of a product that has been particularly effective for your scars, please let me know about it in the comments below and I will consider adding it to this guide.