Back before any of us knew any better, we thought of sunscreen as something that you only needed to use when you were spending a lot of time in the sun. You know, like beach days and vacation. Thankfully, a lot of us have wisened up to the fact that we all need sunscreen 365 days a year, even on cloudy, gloomy days. (Another reason to wear it every day? There’s the possibility that the blue light from our various tech screens is causing damage.)
If you forget to wear the stuff, it’s not just an irritating sunburn that you have to worry about, but also wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots, not to mention, more detrimental effects like skin cancer. The thing is, not all sunscreens are the same, especially if you’re someone with sensitive, reactive, or even acne-prone skin. The wrong formula can cause rashes, dryness, irritation, and breakouts—which are annoying to deal with period, but especially when you’re trying to do a good thing and protect your skin from those harmful UV rays!
What to look for in sunscreen if you have sensitive skin
If you have sensitive skin, you're better off with a mineral sunscreen. According to Dr. Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare, people with sensitive skin should opt for mineral sunscreens that have zinc or titanium oxide as the photo protective ingredient. “These ingredients are safer for you as they stay on the surface of the skin and are not absorbed into the body, as chemical sunscreen ingredients are,” she explains. “Chemical sunscreens can be irritating to skin with an impaired barrier, such as in those with sensitive skin. They work by absorbing UV radiation, versus mineral blocks that deflect the light.”
What to avoid in a sunscreen if you have sensitive skin
When it comes to certain ingredients to watch out for, Patel says to specifically steer clear of four: oxybenzone and PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid, a once-common sunscreen ingredient. Both of these chemicals are known to cause allergic reactions and are potential hormone disruptors. You’ll also want to avoid sunscreens containing fragrance, as they have the potential to irritate sensitive skin as well.
Ahead, find the best sunscreens for sensitive skin. (Hot tip via Patel: Remember the shot glass rule when it comes to application. “Use two fingers for the face, a shot glass for the top half of the body and a shot glass for the lower body,” she says.)
The best sunscreens for sensitive skin
Patel recommends this as a daily sunscreen (in both tinted and non-tinted versions) because it contains iron oxides, which is a specific ingredient that may help protect against that blue light damage done during screentime. This particular sunscreen is oil-free, making it a great fit for anyone who is prone to clogged pores and breakouts.
This is a very popular, award-winning sunscreen that Patel (and many other derms, plus Hailey Bieber!) recommends. It contains niacinamide, which can help fight breakouts and free radicals, and is fragrance free, paraben-free, and non-comedogenic.
This easy-to-apply sunscreen goes on so smoothly, it almost acts like a primer underneath makeup. Not only does it contain zinc oxide as its main photo-protective ingredient, but it also has the antioxidant turmeric as well as the brand’s signature plant-based probiotic for even more protection. One thing to point out is that it does have a light vanilla scent (there’s a new rose version as well), so if your skin can handle light fragrances this is a fun choice.
If you’re looking for a sensitive skin option that won’t break the bank, look no further than this one from Blue Lizard. Not only is it water-resistant, so you can wear it in the pool without worry, but the bottle changes to blue when it’s exposed to the sun so you have a pretty cool reminder to apply it.
This luxe sunscreen is easy to apply, and is free from parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, homosalate, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and more. It also blurs pores, so it’s great underneath makeup or on a bare face.
Drunk Elephant’s beloved sunscreen contains no chemical screens or silicones. Instead, it uses zinc oxide to protect skin from UV damage, so it’s the perfect choice for anyone whose skin is prone to irritation.
Another great budget option, this Neutrogena sunscreen is formulated for sensitive skin types, so it’s made with nature-sourced ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and doesn’t contain fragrance or oils.
This is another affordable sunscreen option that was specifically designed for those with sensitive skin. It’s water and sweat-resistant, so whether you’re going for a swim or out on a hike, you’ll stay protected for up to 80 minutes. Irritation-free and formulated using naturally-sourced zinc oxide active ingredient, this sunscreen absorbs quickly, and stays put for up to 80 minutes. It’s also unscented.
CoTz stands for “contains only titanium and zinc,” and the brand uses no chemical filters. Dr. Audrey Kunin, a dermatologist and founder of DERMAdoctor, recommends this reef-friendly mineral sunscreen, especially for people with sensitive skin. It has no parabens, fragrances, oils, or preservatives and blends nicely into the skin.
One part of your face you may forget to put sunscreen on: the under-eye area. Dr. Kunin says this mineral based sunscreen is approved by both dermatologists and ophthalmologists and is even appropriate for contact lens wearers. It has broad spectrum SPF 30 and can also help smooth, hydrate, and brighten the delicate eye area.
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