Does Sunscreen Cause Acne?


Slathering an already oily surface with even more thick, oily, smelly cream isn’t how anyone wants to spend their summer.

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It’s also why we often avoid wearing sunscreen at all- who wants to look pasty white and smell like chemicals on top of having acne? No thank you!


This may have been the truth a few years ago, but it certainly isn’t anymore. The sunscreen market is huge and it’s full of thousands of types of creams for all kinds of purposes.


Well known brands like Sephora’s and Burt’s Bees even sell sunscreens that protect the skin from sunburn, don’t disturb acne or sensitive skin, and are designed to feel great.


Sunscreen does not usually cause breakouts when applied to skin. All sunscreen products are reviewed by the FDA before being sold to the public and they make sure that nothing in them can harm you.


Still, each individual may have different reactions to various sunscreens, and this can irritate skin that’s already broken out or is sensitive.


If someone has acne on their face, for example, and applies a heavy cream sunscreen primarily intended to cover areas like the arms, torso, or legs, then yes, their face may breakout.


All that cream sitting on their skin for a long period of time and clogging their pores isn’t going to do any wonders for their already existing acne.


But having acne and choosing not to wear sunscreen is a bad idea.


According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “one in five americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime”, and this doesn’t just apply to people living in the USA.


If you go out in the sun anywhere in the world, you should apply sunscreen to every part of your body that will be exposed to the sun.


There are many ways to prevent sunburn, decrease possible breakouts, and still protect yourself with sunscreen. But wearing sunscreen is important and you shouldn’t go out in the sun without it.


The Four Biggies


So you want to enjoy a beautiful summer day but don’t want to end up with irritated skin or sunburn.


If the only sunscreen you can find is in the back corner of your bathroom shelf and is an expired, dirty, bottle that feels greasy to touch, then it’s probably time to go shopping.


Here are 4 big things to look for when purchasing a sunscreen that will not only protect you from sunburns but won’t irritate your acne.


30+ SPF


Don’t buy sunscreen less than 30+ SPF. This is the minimum recommended number to keep you safe from UV rays. The sole exception to this rule is people with darker skin tones.


They may be able to get away with wearing SPF 15+, but everyone should know their tolerance for being out with the sun and play it safe. Remember, when in doubt go for more protection than less. Your skin will thank you.


Water Resistant

From sweating to garden hose fights to splashing around, make sure to choose a sunscreen that’s up to the job. Make sure it’s water resistant and remember to reapply it every 40 minutes to 2 hours, and right after you get out of a body of water.


(Bonus points if you opt for oxybenzone-free sunscreen; that’s one of the major chemical culprits that damages coral reefs, and you’ll feel great while also protecting the environment).



Everyone knows that we use sunscreen to protect ourselves from UV rays, but what you may not know is that there are two types of UV rays- UVA and UVB. Make sure the sunscreen you choose is labeled “broad spectrum”, which means it protects you against both kinds of rays so you don’t risk getting burnt.




Non-comedo…what? This is a long word that has a super simple definition: according to Google, “a skin-care product or cosmetic that is specially formulated so as not to cause blocked pores.” That’s exactly what someone with acne-prone skin would want to apply when wearing sunscreen!  


Other Things to Consider


So now you’re ready to purchase a sunscreen that won’t irritate your skin or feel weird when you apply it.


Every person will have a different reactions to all of the types of sunscreens out there, but here are some general guidelines I’ve compiled after searching the web.


What’s your Skin Type?


Have you heard of the Fitzpatrick Scale? It was developed in the 1970s and is a good way to tell how much sun exposure you can be exposed to safely based on your skin type. It categorizes six skin types from type 1, very fair skin, to type 6, very dark skin.

A good rule is that types 1-3 should stick to sunscreen 30 SPF or higher, and types 4-6 to sunscreen 15 SPF or higher. If you don’t know what your skin type is, there are plenty of online quizzes available to help you figure it out.


Types of sunscreen


Did you know that sunscreen doesn’t have to be a cream or spray? You can buy sunscreen in the form of lotion, sticks, gel, powder, and even lip balm! Yes, your lips can burn too, so don’t leave them unprotected!


The sunscreen market is huge. If you’ve only used thick creams and don’t like the effect, try shopping around for a different sunscreen medium like a gel or stick.


You’ll also want to consider price and know how sensitive your skin is to burning and to products you may rub on it.


Make it work for YOU


No one likes to be forced to do something they don’t want to do. If wearing sunscreen everyday seems out of reach for you or just not feasible, consider these options.

Who knows, they may help you find your perfect sunscreen type and maybe even have fun applying it!




Do you wear makeup consistently everyday? If so, you’re probably reading this and thinking something along the lines of “there’s no way I’m going to lather my face up with sunscreen after perfecting my look!”

Fortunately, you don’t have to! There are now sunscreen-foundation or sunscreen-moisturizer combinations that you can incorporate into your daily makeup routine without worrying about being greasy or smelly.


This means you don’t have to form a new habit of putting on sunscreen each day since you’re just adjusting your daily makeup ritual! Win-win!


Skin Preference


No, this doesn’t mean what type of skin you prefer, but what types of things your skin reacts to. If you’ve got naturally oily skin, a physical, oil-free sunscreen might be the way to go.


If you’ve got naturally dry skin, maybe a lotion or gel is what you need. If your skin falls somewhere in the middle, experiment and see what works best!


For sensitive skin, avoid sunscreens with fragrances and choose a physical sunscreen instead of a chemical one. This means that the sunscreen will reflect the sun’s rays off of you instead of absorbing them with the help of potentially irritating chemicals.


And remember to always buy non-comedogenic!


Buy Two


Not all sunscreens are created equal. Maybe that thick cream you usually use has never yet failed to protect your legs, arms, and torso from the sun’s rays, but applying it to your face is an absolute nightmare.


There’s an easy solution to this problem- buy another sunscreen! Shop for one that won’t be super thick and consider using a light lotion or cream instead.


And don’t forget your head! Yes, your scalp can burn too (it’s happened to me and I can tell you, it’s no picnic).


The best way to prevent this is to purchase a sunscreen gel and rub it into your hair like hair gel, or wear a sunhat. With the right duo of face/body sunscreen, you’ll be outside in the sun in no time!




Yes, we’ve said it once and we’ll say it again. SPF 30 is your best general guideline for sunscreen. But something else to consider is location. Someone who works outside will probably need a higher SPF sunscreen than someone who works inside.


If you’re never in the sun except for when you walk from your car to your office, you definitely don’t want to walk around with a heavy sunscreen aroma all day.


While purchasing an SPF 30 is still a good idea, use your judgement to assess your personal needs for your daily work routine.




You’ll need to know what you’re willing to pay for sunscreen. There are options available starting at less than five dollars at your local drugstore, and others that cost nearly $140!


Since wearing sunscreen should become a daily habit year-round, consider how much you’re going to go through and what you’re willing to pay.


A good rule of thumb is that an average-sized person needs to use 1 oz. of sunscreen to get full body coverage every time they apply it. For those who prefer sprays, that means spraying until there’s a light sheen on all surfaces of the body.


Another option is to purchase sun-resistant clothing. You can buy shirts, hats, and pants that are made to reflect the sun off of you.


If you don’t like the idea of lathering up with sunscreen every time you go outdoors, consider looking into sun-resistant clothing.


Acne-resistant Sunscreens


Finally, I’ve saved the best news for last. Are you ready?


There are acne-resistant sunscreens out there that are specially designed to protect your skin and not cause breakouts! If your acne is preventing you from doing the outdoor activities you want to do, consider purchasing one of these.


A quick google search will bring up so many options that you won’t know where to begin, so remember to consider our guidelines from earlier when shopping.


Remember, not wearing sunscreen isn’t a prevention against acne but can cause a higher risk of skin cancer. Finding a sunscreen that suits your needs is the first step towards keeping your skin healthy year-round and life-long.



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