SPF seems like a skin-care product that should be considered one-size-fits-all. Because no matter what skin type you have, everyone needs to protect their faces, and that’s kind of that. But sensitive skin—the kind that's more prone to allergic reactions, dryness, or eczema—has certain requirements from a sunscreen's ingredient label for the sake of being properly protected. The most important things when picking out sunscreen for sensitive skin? Wear it...365.
"Sunscreen doesn’t just protect you from sunburns, it also reduces the appearance of sun damage like hyperpigmentation, red spots, dry skin, and evens out the tone of your skin," says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a Boston-based board-certified dermatopathologist. "Not wearing sunscreen if you have sensitive skin is just not smart. You are only going to aggravate your skin, worsening the problem." So not only is it important to wear sunscreen for sensitive skin, but it's also crucial that you're using the right stuff.
How to choose the best sunscreen for sensitive skin
1. Look for formulas with either zinc or titanium dioxide
"When looking for a sunscreen, people with sensitive skin should look for formulas containing physical blockers only with either zinc or titanium dioxide, as these active ingredients are less likely to cause a reaction," says Rita Linkner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. In fact, zinc oxide is a key ingredient in many diaper rash creams, meant to soothe babies' irritated skin, making it a great ingredient for those with sensitive skin looking for sunscreen.
While chemical filters such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, and octocrylene, could potentially cause irritation, Dr. Frieling points out that chemical sunscreens are tested on sensitive skin, so they're usually pretty safe, too.
2. Don't forget to do a spot test
"My advice is to test a small amount of the product on your skin and see if it causes irritation," she says. When on the hunt for any SPF, you'll also want to watch out for one other thing: Fragrance, which can be irritating to sensitive skin types.
3. Opt for a sunscreen that's SPF 50
While everyone should be slathering at least an SPF 30 on their faces every morning (even when it's cloudy!), people with sensitive skin may want to opt for something with even more protection. "Overall, the ideal SPF for someone with sensitive skin is close to 50, because that's the number where you're maximizing your UVB protection," says Dr. Linkner. "As SPF levels increase beyond 50, the formulations tend to be thicker and leave a chalkier appearance, and most people will under-compensate that white chalkiness by not utilizing the right amount of sunscreen with each application."
How to properly apply sunscreen
One of the most common sunscreen debates is how much and how often you should apply it for optimal protection. Sunscreen should be the last step of your face skin-care routine, and you should apply two fingers worth (use your index and pointer fingers to measure) to your face, gently rubbing it in until it's no longer visible. Your initial application should happen 15 minutes before going outside and you should reapply every approximately every two hours, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
For the rest of your body, you should apply at least one ounce—or enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass—covering all of your skin that is exposed. Don't forget areas like the tops of your feet, neck, ears, and your head. You should also reapply sunscreen on your body approximately every two hours.
Looking for the best sunscreen options that will keep your sensitive skin happy—and protected—all summer (and all year) long? Here's what the pros recommend.
Shop the best sunscreens for sensitive skin
Dr. Linkner calls this product her “favorite sunscreen for sensitive skin,” because “it’s like magic dust with just the right SPF.” It comes in varying shades so can be used by different skin tones, and because it brushes on it’s a whole lot easier to apply than your usual lotions or creams, which, as we all know, will make you more likely to actually wear it on the reg.
“I also like EltaMD UV Clear for its SPF 46, which is the sweet spot for UVB protection as it filters out over 98 percent of UV light,” says Dr. Linkner, echoing the sentiments of a number of other dermatologists who have called out this particular ‘screen as one of their favorites. It does have a touch of avobenzone to complement the zinc oxide, so if you’re sensitive to that ingredient, do a patch test first.
For a drugstore-priced option, look no further than Neutrogena. “The key is going with a mineral sunscreen if you have sensitive skin because those are always better tolerated,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, MD. “This one is amazing and an SPF 60.” And at $9 a pop, you can’t go wrong slathering it all over your entire body.
Dr. Bhanusali also loves this light mineral sunscreen from Aveeno. “It’s calming so great for sensitive skin but again, has broad coverage so the derm in me is super happy,” he says.
This ultra-light sunscreen was created with sensitive skin in mind. It’s a 100-percent mineral formula and will protect your skin from UVA/UVB rays. It’s also great for layering under makeup.
This mineral sunscreen contains three essential ceramides to lock in moisture, along with niacinamide. It’s non-greasy, lightweight, Hawaii compliant, and gentle on skin.
This is a new formulation of the beloved Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion with WetForce by Shiseido created specifically for sensitive skin. It’s fragrance-free, lightweight, and can be used on both your face and body.
Protect your sensitive skin with this weightless, waterproof mineral sunscreen.
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