Does Sunscreen Cause Acne? How to Pick The Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin

Specialty: Integrative Dermatology

Dr. Veerula (Dr. V) is a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons. She is an energetic, proactive, and compassionate medical practitioner w... more

  • Does Sunscreen Cause Acne?
  • What Ingredients In The Sunscreen May Cause Acne?
  • Tips To Choose The Right Sunscreen For Your Skin
  • Sunscreen And SPF-based Products For Acne-prone Skin

Does Sunscreen Cause Acne?

You may think the active ingredients in the sunscreen are to blame for breakouts and acne.But this is far from the truth.

Your skin is not sensitive to the active ingredients in the sunscreen. These ingredients do not really make your skin break out.

Then, which ones do?

The breakouts are mainly due to other ingredients in the sunscreen, such as preservatives, fragrances, and emollients.

Moreover, improper storage of sunscreen can also break down the chemicals and ingredients and cause acne breakouts.

For instance, if you leave your bottle or tube of sunscreen inside a hot car or under the sun by the beach or poolside, the heat makes the ingredients in the sunscreen ineffective and breaks them down. When you apply it the next time, you will get breakouts.

Certain chemical UV filters used in sunscreen can also cause skin allergies and breakouts. Let’s take a look at the ingredients that might cause acne.

What Ingredients In The Sunscreen May Cause Acne?

Certain pore-clogging ingredients in the sunscreen may cause acne. However, remember that excess build-up of dirt, oil, sebum, and dead skin cells, along with bacterial growth, causes pimples and acne. Applying products with pore- clogging ingredients that cause further congestion can worsen the situation. Hence, before buying sunscreen, make sure that it does not contain these ingredients:

1. Comedogenic Oils And Butters

A lot of sunscreens contain ingredients like cocoa butter, wheat germ oil, soybean oil, and coconut oil. Although they are natural ingredients, they tend to clog skin pores. If you have acne-prone skin, these ingredients can aggravate your breakouts. Hence, avoid them. Instead, you can pick sunscreens that contain sunflower, jojoba, sea buckthorn, rosehip seed, and grapeseed oils.

2. Mineral Oils And Silicones

These are the two most common ingredients you will find in sunscreens. Mineral oils and silicones do not let the sweat escape through your skin pores. As a result, sweat and dirt are trapped inside the pores, which ultimately causes irritation and breakouts.

3. Benzophenones

These are UV filters that you will find in a lot of sunscreen creams and lotions. The most common ones are oxybenzone and avobenzone. A study found that oxybenzone might induce erythematous papulovesicular eruption and cause photoallergy. It concluded that benzophenones could induce such skin responses (1).

4. PABA And Other Chemicals

A few ingredients, such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and methoxycinnamate (commonly found in waterproof sunscreen), can cause acne and breakouts if you have sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Try to avoid sunscreens containing:

  • Butyl stearate
  • Decyl oleate
  • Isopropyl myristate
  • Isopropyl isostearate
  • Isopropyl neopentanoate
  • Myristyl myristate
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Octyl palmitate
  • Myristyl propionate
  • Octyl stearate
  • Peppermint oil or propylene glycol-2 (PPG-2)

All these chemicals can irritate acne-prone skin and cause breakouts (2).

5. Beeswax And Other Plant Waxes

Plant waxes and beeswax are extremely beneficial for skin, and most skin types can tolerate them. However, if you have sensitive and acne-prone skin, these waxes may clog your skin further. These ingredients can clog the already clogged pores, making it difficult for the skin to breathe.

Remember, all of these ingredients may or may not suit your skin. Some skin types can easily tolerate these ingredients, and others may not. Hence, it is important to pick your sunscreen wisely. Here are a few tips to keep in mind while picking a sunscreen.

Tips To Choose The Right Sunscreen For Your Skin

1. Check for Sunscreen That Says “Non-comedogenic” And “Oil-free”

Noncomedogenic is the word you should focus on if you have acne-prone skin. It means the sunscreen doesn’t contain any ingredients that can clog your skin pores and cause breakouts. Oil-free sunscreens help to keep away excess oil from the skin.

2. Avoid Oxybenzone And PABA

If you have acne-prone, sensitive, or rosacea and eczema-prone skin, stay away from these two ingredients. If you have ultra-sensitive and acne-prone skin, it is best to stick to mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or/and titanium dioxide, which do not irritate the skin.

3. Pick A Day Cream With SPF

Moisturizing is crucial for all skin types, and if the day cream contains SPF, your skin is going to love it. Instead of layering your skin with a moisturizer and an SPF, pick a product that offers both. There are a lot of moisturizer- sunscreen combos available on the market that have SPF 30 or higher along with broad-spectrum protection. Check them out.

4. Choose A Tinted Sunscreen

This is for those who have oily skin and use makeup. Instead of layering your skin with foundation and sunscreen cream, pick a tinted sunscreen and finish it off with loose powder with sunscreen ingredients.

If you are confused about what type of sunscreen you should pick for your skin, the American Academy of Dermatology Association has a few tips (3):

  • If you have dry skin, pick sunscreen creams for your face.
  • For other parts of the body, gel-based sunscreens work best.
  • For the sensitive area around the eyes, sunscreen sticks work best.

The American Academy of Dermatology also has guidelines on how much sunscreen you need to apply and the frequency of application.

  • Adults usually need about 30 mL of sunscreen to cover every part of their body.
  • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before stepping out in the sun and reapply every two hours or as per the directions on the bottle.
  • Do not forget your lips! Apply lip balm or lipstick with SPF while going out.

For your convenience, we have listed the best sunscreen and SPF-based products you can pick.

Sunscreen And SPF-based Products For Acne-prone Skin

1. Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

This sunscreen is highly recommended by the dermatologists and is available in both untinted and tinted forms. It is oil-free and fragrance-free.

2. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30

This gel-based sunscreen is lightweight, non-greasy, and water-resistant. It also offers hydration along with sun protection.

3. Avene High Protection Tinted Compact SPF 50

This is a mineral sunscreen, and it has a cream-to-powder formula. It is specially made for sensitive skin and is free of oxybenzone and octinoxate.

4. LA Roche-Posay Anthelios AOX Face Sunscreen SPF 50

This is a daily antioxidant serum with sunscreen. It contains antioxidant complex, and the formula is oil-free, dermatologist-tested, and paraben-free.

5. Clinique Super City Block Oil-Free Daily Face Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 40

This is a dermatologist-approved formula that feels weightless on your face. It can also be used as a primer for makeup. It protects against sun and environmental damage.

You will find a lot of options for sunscreens that are less occlusive and oily. Read the labels carefully and look for the right formulation for your skin. It is always recommended to choose a mineral or physical sunscreen over a chemical sunscreen. This will help limit skin irritation and breakouts.

We hope that you now have answers to all of your doubts. If you have any more questions, post them in the comments section below, and we will get back to you.

Read more on: sunscreen, acne, skin