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You’ve likely heard it time and time again: Don't skip sunscreen if you want to prevent dark spots, sun damage and signs of aging. The only caveat: Thick formulas can congest your pores, which may lead to pimples. Still, wearing sunscreen daily is essential, especially if you use products that treat acne and contain ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids, salicylic acid or retinol.
“Sunscreen is important because many acne medications make your skin sensitive to sunburn,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. “The right sunscreen can give a mattifying effect and protect the skin without worsening breakouts."
SKIP AHEAD Preventing acne while wearing sunscreen
Pimples are avoidable if you choose the right sunscreen for your skin. With these concerns in mind, we talked to dermatologists about how to purchase sunscreen for acne-prone skin and rounded up both expert-recommended and highly rated products that meet expert guidance, all of which are non-comedogenic, fragrance-free and oil-free.
The best sunscreens for acne-prone skin
If you have acne-prone skin, experts recommend shopping for oil-free, non-comedogenic options, which means the products’ formulas are designed to ensure they do not clog pores. Dermatologists we spoke to also suggested opting for fragrance-free sunscreen — fragrances can irritate skin, potentially causing rashes or bumps to appear.
Below, we rounded up both expert-recommended and highly rated sunscreens that align with the above expert guidance.
Neutrogena says its lightweight Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen was specifically created for those with acne-prone skin in mind. The sunscreen features the active ingredient avobenzone, which Zeichner described as an "organic sunscreen filter that is extremely effective in providing broad-spectrum UV protection." It comes in SPF 30, 50 and 55 and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, according to the brand. This sunscreen has a 4.6-star average rating from over 16,600 reviews on Amazon.
Dr. Patricia Wexler, a board-certified dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology in New York City, recommended this sunscreen from EltaMD. It’s designed for those with sensitive and acne-prone skin, as well as those who have rosacea and dark spots, the brand says. Its mineral-based formula includes zinc oxide, which Zeichner said is “a mineral UV blocker that also has a soothing effect on the skin.” It also contains niacinamide for hydration, as we previously explained in our guide to blackhead treatments. It has a 4.7-star average rating from over 29,000 reviews on Amazon. Note that this sunscreen is not water-resistant.
SPF mineral powder is a helpful option for those with oily and acne-prone skin, said Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist. "It absorbs excess oil so it can serve a dual purpose as a finishing powder, actually extending the life of your makeup and providing sun protection,” she said.
Brush on Block’s mineral powder sunscreen is available as a translucent powder or in a Touch of Tan shade. It provides SPF 30 protection and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, the brand says. The accompanying brush has a twist-open feature that helps ensure powder is only released when you want to use it. The brush is also refillable — when it runs out of powder, you can purchase refills online. This SPF mineral powder has a 4.2-star average rating from over 2,400 reviews on Amazon.
La Roche-Posay offers this SPF 60 dry touch sunscreen that is quickly absorbed by the skin and doesn't leave behind a greasy finish, according to the brand. And it comes recommended by Wexler: "This sunscreen keeps skin dry, even in heat and humidity, making it great for oily, acne-prone skin,” she said. The sunblock is made with perlite and silica, two lightweight powders that the brand says helps absorb excess oil from skin and reduce shine. La Roche-Posay says its sunscreen is suitable for sensitive skin and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. The Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen has a 4.5-star average rating from over 9,000 reviews on Amazon.
Wexler said this mineral sunscreen is a “very thin liquid,” which gives it a lightweight feel and makes it a particularly good option for those with sensitive or acne–prone skin to use daily. Neutrogena says the sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and it contains non-comedogenic ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The sunscreen has a 4.4-star average rating from over 2,100 reviews on Amazon.
Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City, said that those with acne-prone skin can benefit from wearing sunscreen designed for sports even if they’re not doing something active — sport sunscreen is usually more alcohol-based, which means it’s also typically less greasy. Neutrogena’s SPF 70 Sport Face Sunscreen, for example, contains benzyl alcohol. It’s water-resistant up to 80 minutes, according to the brand, and has a 4.7-star average rating from over 8,900 reviews on Amazon.
If you’re looking for a tinted sunscreen, this option from Revision Skincare is suitable for acne-prone skin — it’s formulated with common non-comedogenic ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The SPF 45 sunscreen gives skin a sheer mineral tint and includes ingredients like vitamin C, which helps brighten your complexion, and peptides, which have anti-aging benefits like minimizing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as we previously reported. It has a 4.6-star average rating from over 300 reviews on Amazon.
Supergoop! Glowscreen Sunscreen offers SPF 40 protection and features hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5 and niacinamide to moisturize the skin. The sunscreen has a dewy finish and the brand says you can use it as the last step in your skin care routine since it doubles as a primer. The Glowscreen Sunscreen has a 4.6-star average rating from over 3,800 reviews on Amazon.
How to prevent acne while wearing sunscreen
There are two main reasons why sunscreen-related breakouts occur, experts told us. Heavy, oily sunscreens can block pores and cause breakouts. Your skin may also be sensitive to some UV-blocking ingredients in sunscreen, which could show up as a rash or little bumps, King explained.
If you have acne-prone skin or are concerned about breakouts, pay attention to the ingredients in sunscreen. Experts recommend checking a sunblock’s label and making sure it says non-comedogenic. This tells you the formula is designed not to clog pores, said Gmyrek. Two non-comedogenic ingredients commonly found in sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Pay attention to both active and inactive ingredients in sunscreen, both of which can contribute to clogged pores. Those with acne-prone skin should avoid oils that can clog the pores, said Wexler. Experts also recommended staying away from sunscreens with emollient-rich ingredients like:
- Vitamin E
- Mineral and soybean oils
- Cocoa butter
Additionally, Wexler said that anyone with acne-prone skin should stick to sunscreens free of fragrances, silicones and sodium lauryl sulfates, which can irritate the skin or clog pores. And make sure not to keep your sunscreen out in the sun, as King noted that “the heat and sun can break down the chemicals and render them ineffective and potentially irritating to the skin.”
How to apply sunscreen on acne-prone skin
Experts said that it’s important to wash your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser to help prevent pimples, especially after sun exposure. Wexler also recommended applying a face moisturizer made with hyaluronic acid or niacinamide to decrease inflammation and restore the skin barrier.
Keep in mind that regardless of which type you purchase, sunscreen is important to wear daily — Zeichner said you should apply a quarter-sized dollop of SPF to your face, and if you’re spending time in the sun, you should reapply every two hours or immediately after heavy sweating or swimming.