Do you struggle with sensitive skin? It can be tough finding a product that nourishes your skin and is also effective without giving you a rash or other nasty reaction. This rings especially true when it comes to sunscreen, as many brands contain chemical sunscreens and harsh added ingredients that just don’t jive with the most delicate skin types.
As a result of this difficulty, some people try to limit the number of products they use on their skin. This common sense strategy can be helpful, but not when it means that those of you who need it most are skipping the sunscreen on your way out the door.
Sunscreen is important for everybody in order to stay safe from the sun’s harmful rays when we want to enjoy the outdoors, but it can be especially crucial when you have skin troubles like hypersensitivity.
That is why I’m bringing this guide to you today. I figure, if I’m going to be true to my mission and encourage everyone to wear high quality protective sunscreen, I ought to address every single obstacle that I can think of to ensure that all of you (my lovely readers!) have a strong foundation and all of the information you need to make a fully informed purchase decision.
After thorough research into requirements for sunscreen to be effective for sensitive skin, SimplySunSafe recommends Andalou Naturals Vitamin C BB Cream SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for sensitive skin. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for sensitive skin.
To guarantee you get an effective sunscreen that won’t trigger your skin’s sensitivities, make sure it has the following features:
Broad spectrum protection
When shopping for sunscreen, it is vital to ensure that you are getting broad spectrum protection. Broad spectrum protection means that the product shields you from both UVA and UVB radiation. You see, even though the sun appears to us as just a bunch of light and heat that makes a beach day worthwhile, there is a lot going on that isn’t visible to the naked eye.
The aspect of the sun’s rays that negatively affects us is the radiation damaging our skin. There is more than one type of radiation coming from the sun, and not every sunscreen can provide protection across the board.
The first type of radiation is UVB radiation, which is the type responsible for visible sunburns and the type that non-broad spectrum products focus on.
UVA radiation is the type that is responsible for accelerated signs of aging. This can mean thickened, sagging, wrinkly skin. It can also mean skin cancer, as repeated damage to our skin actually damages the cell’s DNA and can cause cancerous mutations.
Obviously, none of that stuff sounds like fun at all!
If you want to avoid all of that nastiness, don’t choose a product that only gets half the job done. Products that offer total protection will typically say either ‘Broad Spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB Protection’ on the label in a prominent spot.
Another clue is if the formula makes use of mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as both of these offer broad spectrum protection.
Best SPF for sensitive skin
Most of us know that when shopping for sunscreen you also need to pay attention to the SPF rating on the product you choose. The difficulty is, this little number is more complicated than it seems at first glance and so not everyone understands exactly why it’s important. Want to test your knowledge?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and can be thought of as a fraction describing what portion of the sun’s UVB radiation a given product lets through to your skin. For example, SPF 30 lets 1/30th of UVB radiation through to your skin and SPF 15 lets 1/15th through.
Of course, this rule must also be coupled with common sense limitations, such as the fact that severe conditions and/or increased time of wear can reduce the effectiveness of sunscreen.
This means that, for example, you cannot realistically stay in the sun 15 times as long when wearing SPF 15 sunscreen. Furthermore, SPF 30 is not twice as strong as SPF 15, so the ‘more is better’ rule doesn’t always apply either.
Take a look at this table to get a clearer picture:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
As you can see from the table, it is possible for the SPF ratings on sunscreen products to be just a tiny bit misleading if you don’t understand the meaning behind them.
Once you pass SPF 30 the differences in the amount of protection offered are very minimal. This is part of the reason why the FDA has said that SPF 30 sunscreens are more than sufficient for most people.
You should only need to opt for an SPF 50+ sunscreen if you are very fair or particularly photosensitive. If you decide to go that route for the extra protection, make sure you aren’t paying too much for only another percentage point or two of protection.
Physical is better than chemical
I mentioned mineral sunscreen ingredients above, and their ability to provide broad spectrum protection. This is because sunscreen products have a variety of active ingredients.
Not every company uses the same ingredient, not all ingredients are used in the same ratios, and some ingredients are more ‘sensitivity friendly’ than others.
All of the active ingredients used in sunscreen products can be broadly classified into two categories – physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.
- Physical sunscreens are the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They work by sitting overtop your skin after application and functioning as a type of armor to deflect damaging radiation away from your skin.
- Chemical sunscreens soak down into your skin and are meant to absorb the radiation before it reaches your skin and causes damage to your cells.
Chemical sunscreens are known to be more irritating to the skin, particularly after repeated use. Some chemical sunscreens such as oxybenzone have even been investigated by the FDA because they act as endocrine disruptors and can cause health issues.
While oxybenzone is still legal, SimplySunSafe shares the FDA’s concerns about its use and so you will never see a product recommended here that contains oxybenzone.
If you want to ensure that you choose the best sunscreen for your hypersensitive skin, it’s definitely better to stick to physical sunscreen.
This will mean that you are using more minerals and less chemicals in your skincare routine which can greatly reduce your risk of an adverse reaction to your sunscreen.
Suitable for daily use
According to WebMD, one of the best things you can do to help keep your sensitive skin calm and happy is to wear sunscreen every time you go outside, regardless of the season.
Temperature and cloud cover are largely irrelevant, and sun damage can cause your skin to ‘flare up’ and react even more frequently than normal. If you’re going to be wearing sunscreen every day (and you should!) then you ought to make sure that it has a formula that is friendly for everyday use.
We already the covered the first step above, making sure the active ingredients are physical sunscreens to avoid unnecessary chemical irritants. Other concerns for everyday use differ based on your individual needs. Some things to consider may be:
- Do you need this sunscreen to be suitable for both face and body?
- Does it need to be compatible with skin conditions (e.g. hypoallergenic sunscreen or sunscreen for acne)?
- How old is the user? (Sunscreen for babies often has an altered formula)
- Will you want to put makeup on your face overtop the sunscreen?
- Are there any specific cosmetics ingredients that you know you react to?
Not all of these concerns will apply to everyone, and some people may have additional concerns.
The point is that it is important to take a moment when deciding which sunscreen to purchase and ensure that you choose something that will easily fit into your daily routine. If you hate strong scents, go for a fragrance-free version. If you work outside and sweat a lot, a water resistant option may be beneficial.
Right about now you may be feeling just a teensy bit overwhelmed at all of the complications and considerations I’ve mentioned. This is your moment to stop and take a deep breath.
The last item in this buyer’s guide is all about simplicity. With sensitive skin, a wholesome and simple sunscreen formula is your best shot at achieving protection without your skin making you suffer for it.
Everyday Health discusses the need for skin-friendly products when you have extra sensitivity, counseling us to avoid products that contain fragrance, antibacterial ingredients, or anti-aging additives.
Anti-aging might sound like a good thing, but the acidic nature of these additives make them too harsh for sensitive skin.
A good rule of thumb is the kindergartener test: if you can read the ingredients list and be reasonably confident that a kindergartener would understand what all of the ingredients are, then it’s a fairly wholesome formula.
Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin Comparison
|Andalou Naturals BB Cream||SanRe Vanilla Sensation Solar||bareMinerals Prep Step||derma e Antioxidant Sunscreen||Raw Elements Eco Formula|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (9%) & Titanium Dioxide (4%)||Zinc Oxide (23.8%) & Titanium Dioxide (4.1%)||Zinc Oxide (16%)||Zinc Oxide (23%)|
|Suitable for daily use||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Water resistance||None||None||None||None||80 minutes|
5 Best Sunscreens for Sensitive 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 sensitive skin.
All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, are suitable for daily use, and are sensitivity-friendly.
This SPF 30 sunscreen from Andalou Naturals is a fabulous choice if you are specifically looking for the best sunscreen for a sensitive face. The tube is relatively small because it is geared more toward use on the face than the body as a whole.
It does provide high quality, broad spectrum protection with only one active ingredient: zinc oxide (20%). This high concentration of zinc is surprising, if only because you never notice it!
The formula is slightly tinted, which combats the zinc just enough that there is no immediately noticeable white cast, making this a great sunscreen to wear underneath makeup.
Users with a darker skin tone may still notice a bit of a white cast. If this is the case, consider supplementing the tint already in the sunscreen with a bit of your own liquid foundation to help it blend more seamlessly with your makeup.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Tinted so there’s no white cast
- Best-suited for use on face
SanRe’s Vanilla Sensation Solar sunscreen is one that would certainly pass the kindergartener test! With only a handful of (SIMPLE) ingredients, this product nourishes your skin as it protects, leaving you feeling as if you’ve just rubbed in something indulgent rather than the goopy chore mineral sunscreens can sometimes feel like.
Vanilla Sensation Solar is lightly vanilla scented without being overpowering, and delivers broad spectrum SPF 30 protection through the use of two physical sunscreen active ingredients: zinc oxide (9%) and titanium dioxide (4%).
If you know that the least complicated formula possible is what decides the best sunscreen for your ultra sensitive skin, then SanRe is a great choice.
It is slightly more expensive than our first place product and has slightly less active ingredients, but the gentle formula will get the job done without aggravating your skin.
- Simple formula
- Indulgent texture
- Lower concentration of active ingredients
bareMinerals Prep Step provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 50 through two active ingredients: zinc oxide (23.8%) and titanium dioxide (4.1%).
This is the most expensive option on this list and is specialized just for use on the face, but it does its job very well. The SPF 50 gives you an extra smidge of protection for those days where you know you’ll soaking up a lot of sun.
The micro-encapsulated pigments help the lotion blend smoothly into your skin without leaving a thick residue or white cast.
Users love its moisturizing properties to keep skin happy, but the clear standout is the texture of this product. It is a very thin, almost serum-like lotion that spreads like a dream on the skin. No rubbing and rubbing…and rubbing to work in into your sensitive facial skin.
You might notice that the formula can be a little bit ‘grainy’, probably due to the lack of extensive emulsifiers in the formula.
- High SPF
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Easily-spread texture
- Slight grainy texture
Derma e doesn’t disappoint with this whole-body sunscreen. It delivers broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 with a 16% concentration of zinc oxide as the only active ingredient.
The formula is fortified with antioxidants to help your skin stay healthy and strong. The formula is fragrance free, which is a nice bonus for anyone who tends to react to added fragrance in their skincare products.
The texture upon application is slightly thicker than their facial formula, which may make it undesirable for use on the face if you don’t like the ‘heaviness’ of formulas that remind you they’re sitting on your skin.
This sunscreen is not water resistant, meaning it shouldn’t be worn when you’ll be going in the water or when you expect to be outside in extreme enough conditions that you’ll be sweating a significant amount.
This is a great option for anyone looking for the best sunscreen for very sensitive skin who wants dependable, basic protection while avoiding fragrances, parabens, and other harsh ingredients.
- Can feel heavy
- Not water resistant
This moderately-priced option from Raw Elements is for the seriously committed outdoor enthusiast. Users of Eco Formula Sunscreen love that it seems like the water resistant capabilities of this killer sunscreen just won’t quit.
It provides robust broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 with a whopping 23% zinc oxide as the active ingredient.
The downside to the enthusiastic water resistance and the high concentration of active ingredient is that this product is likely to leave a white cast on all but the fairest of fair skin. This makes it a fantastic option for sport use or a day at the beach, but maybe not the company picnic.
Also, some people may be steered away from this product in their quest for the best sunscreen to protect extremely sensitive skin because the formula does contain coffee which can increase blood flow near the surface of the skin and cause redness in a select few of the most sensitive people.
- High concentration of zinc
- Water resistant (80 minutes)
- White cast
- Contains coffee
Now that we have come to the end of our intensive quest to find some great facts and products to help you choose the best possible sunscreen for your extremely sensitive skin, I do hope that you have found this guide helpful.
It was written with the intent to clarify the broader picture of what factors should influence your purchase decisions when it comes to sunscreen, and to give you a good starting point in these top 5 product recommendations.
While SimplySunSafe does recommend Andalou Naturals Vitamin C BB Cream SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for sensitive skin, all of the products listed here are great choices.
I take a lot of pride in ensuring that only quality product recommendations appear here. That being said, I am always itching to learn about new products, so if you have a sensitivity-friendly sunscreen that you love and don’t see listed here – tell me!