The Best Sunscreens That Won't Make Your Skin Break Out

What to look for and what to avoid if you're acne-prone.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., according to the American Association of Dermatology, with one in five Americans developing it in their lifetime. Sunscreen is not something you should skip, even if you’re afraid it will make you break out ― which it can do. In fact, it quite often does.

People with acne-prone skin are especially sensitive to pore-clogging sunscreens and sunblocks. But, as with anything, that all depends on the formula you use.

The good news is that there are a plethora of options for sun protection these days, so it’s just a matter of finding the best one that works for you.

Not sure where to start? First, look for one that’s broad spectrum, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and go for an SPF 30 at least. The next step is finding out which ingredients work best for sensitive or acne-prone skin types.

Read on for tips from experts on what to look out for.

Mineral sunscreens are often best for acne-prone skin.

There are two types of sunscreens: mineral and chemical. “The major difference is that mineral sunscreens work by reflecting the UV, whereas chemical sunscreen works by absorbing the UV light,” explained Ava Shamban, a board-certified dermatologist based in Los Angeles. There also are many forms of sun protection on the market that contain both mineral and chemical ingredients, and that are safe for sensitive skin.

Mineral sunscreen is often the better choice for acne-prone skin, but it is ultimately based on the individual, Shamban said. “Both chemical sunscreens and physical blocks may cause blemishes or breakouts,” she said. “Heavy, occlusive formulas of either kind can block or clog pores or irritate already vulnerable pores and inflamed skin.”

However, Shamban also pointed out that the chemical composition of traditional sunscreens can be irritating for some, especially those who have acne or reactive skin.

“Oxybenzone, one of the most commonly used chemicals, is amongst the most common causes of contact dermatitis and photo-allergic dermal reactions,” Shamban said. She also advised awareness of chemicals such as cinnamates and octocrylene, both of which can irritate or exacerbate acne.

While some mineral sunscreens can be heavy and occlusive, Shamban said minerals help inflammation and reduce redness. In fact, zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory properties and has shown to be effective in treating mild to moderate acne, and may even help to reduce the appearance of acne scars.

“Look for non-comedogenic,” Shamban advised. “Acne-prone patients should also avoid mineral oils and soybean oils, as well as beeswax, cocoa butter and lanolins, parabens and fragrances.”

Look for lightweight formulas, like fluids, mists, sprays and powders.

Renée Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician and skin expert, said that if you have skin that’s oily or sensitive to breakouts, it’s best to look for lightweight formulas that don’t have a greasy feel, so you can apply it generously without worrying about a breakout or clogging the pores. “Look for ones that use micronized zinc oxide, as they are most compatible with problem skin types,” Rouleau said.

Powder-based sunscreens also are great for reapplication, according to Rouleau. “They will absorb excess oil that acne-prone skin types tend to have, while giving a matte look to the face which many oily, acne-prone skin types like.”

Shamban also said acne-prone skin often does best with lighter formulas, including sun fluids, gels, mists or sprays. “Look for calming ingredients, green tea, aloe, calendula and niacinamide as an anti-inflammatory,” she said.

Got darker skin? There are new mineral products that won’t give you a white cast.

The dreaded white cast that you get with a zinc oxide sunblock turns a lot of people, especially people of color, away from mineral sunscreens. Thankfully, there are now mineral formulations that contain physical tints to help minimize the white cast.

“The newer formulations can also be blended more easily with foundation, which can help blend the product to darker skin tones,” said Shamban, adding that there are “near clear” sunblock formulations on the market with micronized minerals that are less visible on deeper skin tones.

Sunscreens For Acne-Prone Skin

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1
Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Daily Face Sunscreen
Sunday Riley
This mineral-chemical hybrid sunscreen contains anti-inflammatory turmeric to help reduce redness, as well as lutein, a plant-derived nutrient that can help protect against damage caused by blue light.

Get Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Daily Face Sunscreen for $35.
2
EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
Elta MD
This hybrid sunscreen is a favorite among people with skin issues, as it contains niacinamide, which can help with acne, rosacea and discoloration. It’s also available in a tinted version.

Get EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 for $37.
3
Kinship Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen Zinc Oxide SPF 32
Kinship
This reef-safe, non-nano zinc oxide formula contains turmeric and a proprietary probiotic that supports healthy, clear skin.

Get Kinship Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen Zinc Oxide SPF 32 for $42.
4
Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35
Tatcha
Good for all skin types, Tatcha’s sunscreen contains Japanese wild rose, which helps improve texture and reduce the appearance of pores. It also acts as a primer underneath makeup.

Get Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 for $65.
5
Fenty Skincare Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen
Fenty
This two-in-one sunscreen and moisturizer goes on sheer, making it suitable for all skin tones, and works well under makeup. It also contains niacinamide, which helps to even skin tone and reduce oiliness.

Get Fenty Skincare Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen for $35.
6
Supergoop! (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF 35
Supergoop!
Apply this mineral powder when you need to reapply your SPF and combat oiliness during the day.

Get Supergoop! (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF 35 for $30.
7
Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Stick
Sun Bum
Keep this noncomedogenic sunscreen in your bag so you can easily apply it. It contains soothing aloe as well as vitamin E, which helps fight oxidative stress and may even help combat damage from sun exposure.

Get Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Stick for $10.99.
8
Colleen Rothschild Beauty Triple Defense Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40
Colleen Rothschild
Boasting an oil-controlling, noncomedogenic formula, this mineral sunscreen won’t clog your pores. It also contains chia seed, which helps reduce inflammation while calming the skin.

Get the Colleen Rothschild Beauty Triple Defense Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 for $48.
9
Renée Rouleau Weightless Protection SPF 30
Renée Rouleau
Rouleau’s own sunscreen is a lightweight, two-in-one moisturizer that works well for oily and sensitive skin types and won’t leave a white cast.

Get Renée Rouleau Weightless Protection SPF 30 for $57.50.
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