No matter what kind of skin you have, putting on sunscreen should be as much of a part of your routine as putting on pants (or like, a dress if that's more your jam). As in, you shouldn't ever leave the house for the day before you do it... or else you risk some pretty serious (albeit very different) consequences. And yes—this rule applies no matter what type of skin you have—including acne-prone skin.
The best sunscreens for acne-prone skin at a glance
- Best overall: Supergoop Mattescreen Sunscreen SPF 40 ($38)
- Runner up: EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen SPF 46 ($37)
- Best splurge: Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($72)
- Best drugstore SPF: Cerave AM SPF 30 Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($12)
- Best facial stick: Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick ($25)
- Best spray: Blue Lizard Mineral Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 50+ ($20)
- Best for dark skin tones: Tizo AM Replenish Sunscreen ($50)
- Best water-resistant: Coola Mineral Organic Sunscreen Spray SPF 30 ($28)
- Best 2-in-1 SPF: Unsun Cosmetics Bronze Goddess Face & Body Highlighter ($34)
I know, I know: If you've got oily or sensitive skin, the concept of rubbing a greasy layer of product on top of it every morning is incredibly unappealing and can feel like you're causing one problem while preventing another. But like it or not, you need it. The good news? The right products will stave off sunburns without leaving pimples in their place.
"Everyone, regardless of skin type, needs to wear sunscreen every single day," says Supergoop founder Holly Thaggard, noting that it's arguably more important for someone with acne-prone skin to slather on SPF, because many ingredients found in topical acne products make your skin more sun sensitive. And if you’ve got old acne scars, studies have shown that UVB is enemy number one, so your best bet is to cover them up with something strong and protective. Plus, utilizing sunscreen is one of the key tools to fighting development of skin cancer (short of staying out of the rays all together) which is pretty much the definition of #skingoals.
How to choose an acne-friendly SPF, according to the experts
But with the whole "sunscreen is important" thing at top of mind, we'll admit that certain products are better for acne-prone skin than others. "Certain ingredients in skin-care products may clog pores and contribute to acne, I always advise our patients to check their skin-care products and use products labeled 'noncomedogenic,'" a.k.a. "non pore clogging," says David Lortscher, MD, a dermatologist and CEO of custom skin-care brand, Curology.
Cosmetic chemist Ginger King points to the inactive base ingredients of sunscreens—so, not the actual active sun-blocking ingredients—as the usual culprits for pore clogging. "Most likely the inactive ingredients used as film formers cause acne," she explains. "There are people who may have reactions to sunscreens due to the chemical sunscreen. To be an effective sunscreen, a lot of products can be made with heavy film formers. If you have acne and don't keep your face clean, the occlusive materials can make it worse. The safe bet is using zinc oxide or titanium dioxde-based products, and avoiding ingredients with wax, myristyl myristate, mineral oil, petrolatum, [and] lanolin as all these are heavy and can cause comedogens."
Okay—so what if you try everything and are still breaking out? The answer is obviously *not* to stop wearing sunscreen. Instead, according to Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon in New York City, all you've got to do is add an antioxidant-rich base layer before slathering on the SPF.
Since antioxidants help stave off skin-damaging free radicals from the environment, they're essential to ensure your sunscreen is actually working without damaging your complexion even further. “Antioxidants, like vitamin C, are a great addition to sunscreen, as they are known to prevent further UV damage by pairing with free radical scavengers in search of a missing electron, thus neutralizing the damage," Dr. Engelman previously told us. "This is especially important as we move into warmer, sunnier months, and expose our skin to the sun’s damaging rays."
The best sunscreens for acne-prone skin
Traditionally, oily skin + sunscreen = a shiny, breakout-inducing mess. Which is why we recommend this matte sunscreen by Supergoop, which ticks off all of our experts’ suggestions for an acne-friendly sunscreen.
It’s 100 percent mineral formulation swaps chemicals for the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide King suggests, and there’s no oils either, which means your pores are safe from clogging up. Last but not least are those antioxidants: Mattescreen is blended with bamboo extract and wild ginger, both which help protect the skin from free radicals. Nice.
EltaMD is another brand dermatologists can’t get enough of. This formulation is made specifically for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin, swapping any suspect ingredients for *only* the good stuff our experts listed above. Think: UVA/UVB-protecting zinc oxide, high-purity niacinamide, and oil-free ingredients that won’t clog you up.
You don’t have to break the bank to get a derm-approved sunscreen for sensitive skin. Cerave is beloved by derms and beauty buffs alike for its skin-supporting magical powers. Like all of the brand’s products, this sunscreen is blended with ceramides to support the skin’s barrier and restore it to its natural, glowy self. It’s oil-free, broad-spectrum, and lightweight—basically everything you could want in an everyday sunscreen.
When it comes to antioxidants, Dr. Engelman is a big fan of Elizabeth Arden products, especially its vitamin C formulations. If you want to layer your products for more protection, she recommended starting with the Elizabeth Arden Vitamin C Ceramide Capsules ($88), which she called the “perfect one dose at a time” to use under virtually any SPF. But since they are so powerful, you might want to go for a moisturizing sunscreen, like this sheer defender. Together, your skin is basically unstoppable (and breakout-free.)
Best facial stick
Want a stick that’s so gentle on skin, a baby could use it? This mineral stick from Sun Bum is technically designed for kids, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from adding it to your cart. Its kid-friendliness comes from its ultra-gentle formulation that glides over your cheeks, ears, and nose without causing breakouts. And at $25 for two, stocking up on a few for the summer won’t cause your wallet to breakout, either.
Derm-approved? Check. UVA/UVB mineral blockers? Check. Antioxidants for a little extra boost? Check, check, and check. This spray sunscreen from Australian sun-care brand Blue Lizard has all the makings of a sensive-skin-approved SPF. In addition to its gentle formulation, it comes in an easy spray bottle and goes on smooth and silky. Just rub it in and watch it disappear, no chalky trace left behind.
Best for dark skin tones
Speaking of chalky casts… if you have Black or Brown skin, finding a mineral sunscreen that doesn’t leave a pasty hue behind can feel like a Herculean feat. Adeline Kikam, DO, founder of @brownskinderm, previously told us that Tizo AM Replenish Sunscreen ($50) is her SPF of choice for its skin-matching formulation. “It feels really really great on the skin—it’s very light and soft,” she said. “I like the tinted one, though I’ve heard the non-tinted one is very good too.”
What good is a sunscreen if it melts off as soon as it gets wet? Coola’s organic spray is water-resistant up to 80 minutes, guaranteed to keep you safe while you splash and surf. Expect all the usual suspects an acne-prone sunscreen should have, including zinc oxide and a load of botanicals your skin will just slurp up while it’s on.
Best 2-in-1 SPF
If you’re looking for an SPF that doubles as makeup and is gentle enough to keep your skin healthy and happy, look no further than Unsun Cosmetic’s highlighters, which are pretty much the shiniest sunscreens ever. Between its zinc/titanium dioxide blend, goldmine of antioxidants, and its shimmery sheen, and there’s no wonder our beauty editors can’t get enough of it—regardless if they’re going in the sun or not. Protection never looked so pretty.
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