Acne is a common skin condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and while there are countless products out there that promise to help clear up acne, many people overlook one crucial element of their skincare routine: sunscreen. But can sunscreen really help acne, and how do you know which ingredients to avoid? In this article, we’ll explore the importance of using sunscreen when dealing with acne and the ingredients to look for and avoid to ensure clear, healthy skin.
Why Sunscreen Is Important for Acne-Prone Skin
When you’re dealing with acne, the last thing you may want to do is slather on another product onto your face, especially one that might clog your pores. However, wearing mineral sunscreen or chemical sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, which can actually exacerbate acne.1 In a study published in the Annals of Dermatology journal, there was evidence that using sunscreen did not worsen acne and that sunscreen is important for overall skin health and skin damage prevention.2
The sun’s UV rays can cause inflammation and sun damage to the skin, which can make acne worse.1 Sun exposure can also cause hyperpigmentation, or darkening of the skin, because our skin produces extra melanin to protect itself from the sun.3
This excess production of melanin can lead to the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) after an acne breakout.4 Sometimes it’s hard to spot sun spots versus freckles. PIH can be challenging to get rid of, so it’s best to prevent it from occurring in the first place. In a study, established dermatologist Gabriella Fabbrocini states that “sunscreen may actually help prevent breakouts by decreasing inflammation and redness associated with acne.”5
Additionally, some acne treatments can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, making it even more important to wear sunscreen and protect your skin. For example, many topical acne medications contain retinoids, which increase your skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation since they increase cell turnover.
Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin
When choosing a sunscreen to use on acne-prone skin, it’s good to know which sunscreen ingredients to avoid. It’s essential to look for products that are labeled “non-comedogenic,” which means that they are specially formulated not to clog pores,6 a huge culprit to those pesky breakouts. We recommend using a specified face sunscreen on your face rather than wondering if your body sunscreen can be applied to your face.
Another key to finding the right sunscreen is finding the right sunscreen for your specific skin type. Some well known ingredients that you should avoid in sunscreens for acne-prone skin include:
- Oils: Sunscreens that contain different types of comedogenic oils, like coconut oil and soybean oil, can clog pores and exacerbate acne. It’s also important to note that not all oils are comedogenic for everyone since everyone’s skin is unique. Look for oil-free or water-based sunscreens instead.
- Fragrance irritants: Some fragrances in sunscreen can also irritate the skin and cause acne breakouts. Look for face sunscreens that are EU-allergen free or fragrance-free.
- Non-mineral sunscreens: Depending on an individual’s skin sensitivity, non-mineral, often called chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and avobenzone, can cause irritation and breakouts in some people. Consider using a physical or mineral sunscreen with ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead.
Ingredients to Look for in Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin
While certain sunscreen ingredients should be avoided for acne-prone skin, there are also some specific ingredients that can actually help prevent and treat acne. Not only are these ingredients beneficial in sunscreen, but they can also be helpful ingredients in skincare products for sensitive skin. Look for sunscreens that contain these ingredients:
- Zinc oxide: Zinc oxide is a component of physical sunblock, which can protect from ultraviolet rays and reduce irritation. It is also non-comedogenic, meaning it does not block pores.
- Titanium dioxide: Titanium dioxide, similarly to zinc oxide, is a physical sunscreen component that safeguards the skin from sun exposure without impeding the pores.
- Niacinamide: Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3, is a popular skincare ingredient that can reduce inflammation and inflammation-related redness. It has been found to be a useful remedy for acne, too.
- Centella Asiatica: Centella asiatica is a plant that has become popular in skincare due to its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been shown to protect against environmental stressors, aka those harmful UV rays.
- Green tea extract: Green tea extract is a natural antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation and redness in the skin.
Tips for Using Sunscreen with Acne-Prone Skin
Finding a sunscreen for acne-prone skin doesn’t have to be a tediously long chore. Here are some tips to make it easier:
- Choose a sunscreen that is labeled “non-comedogenic” to prevent clogging pores.
- Apply sunscreen after your moisturizer and before your makeup. Allow each product to dry before applying the next.
- Consider using a matte or dry finish sunscreen if you have oily, acne prone skin, since they can help absorb excess oil and keep your skin matte throughout the day.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after sweating or swimming. If you’re worried about disrupting your makeup, consider using a spray or mist sunscreen.
- Don’t forget to protect your lips with lip sunscreen! Use a lip balm with SPF to keep your lips from getting sunburned or chapped.
So… Does Sunscreen Help Prevent Acne?
In the United States, around 50 million Americans battle with acne prone skin.7
Using sunscreen is essential for protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, especially if you’re dealing with acne. While it may seem counterintuitive to add another product to your skincare routine, wearing sunscreen can actually help prevent acne and reduce the appearance of PIH (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation) after a breakout. Wearing a daily SPF is important, even when it’s cloudy, to help protect your skin.8 When choosing a face sunscreen for acne-prone skin, remember to look for products that are labeled “non-comedogenic” and avoid ingredients like oils, fragrances, and chemical sunscreens. Instead, look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, niacinamide, and green tea extract to help keep your skin healthy and clear. There are different types of face sunscreens you can try – from anti-aging sunscreen to mineral sunscreen. Don’t forget to apply body sunscreen too, especially on areas that are exposed to the sun. With these tips and tricks, you can protect your skin from the sun and keep your acne under control.
- Piquero‐Casals J, Morgado‐Carrasco D, Rozas‐Muñoz E, et al. Sun exposure, a relevant exposome factor in acne patients and how photoprotection can improve outcomes. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. Published online March 22, 2023. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jocd.15726
- "Sunscreen Use and Acne: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Controlled Trial" by Sethi et al., published in the Annals of Dermatology journal: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3275240/
- Slide show: Sun damage. Mayo Clinic. Published 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/sun-damage/sls-20076973
- Hamzavi I, Fatima S, Braunberger T, Mohammad T, Kohli I. The role of sunscreen in melasma and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2020;65(1):5. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/ijd.ijd_295_18
- "Sunscreen and Acne: A Comprehensive Review" by Fabbrocini et al., published in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7152462/
- "Photoprotection in Acne Vulgaris: A Randomized, Controlled Trial of a Novel Sunscreen" by Del Rosso et al., published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3970824/
- Bickers DR, Lim HW, Margolis D, Weinstock MA, Goodman C, Faulkner E et al. The burden of skin diseases: 2004 a joint project of the American Academy of Dermatology Association and the Society for Investigative Dermatology. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2006;55:490-500.
- "Sunscreen Use in the Prevention of Melanoma: Common Myths and Misconceptions" by Burnett et al., published in the Journal of Skin Cancer: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4326277/