How to Choose a Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin

You're afraid sunscreen will make your already temperamental skin break out even more. Besides, who wants to wear a thick, heavy cream on their face every day?

But you really do need to use sun protection, and there really is no wiggle room on this rule. And it's not just for keeping a sunburn away.

Skin cancer, premature aging, and hyperpigmentation are all caused by the sun. When you factor in use of photosensitizing acne medications, sunscreen becomes even more of a necessity.

Sunscreen products have come a long way. So make your skin (and your dermatologist) happy by wearing sunscreen daily. Choose one that you love, and you won't mind using it every day.

Woman with straw hat applying sunblock to face outdoors
OJO_Images / Getty Images

Look for Products Labeled Oil-Free and ​Noncomedogenic

First thing's first, for daily use you'll want an oil-free product. Oil-free products help keep your face from feeling like an oil slick.

Also, look for the word noncomedogenic. This means the product doesn't contain ingredients that are known to clog pores. This isn't a guarantee that the product will keep you breakout-free, but it's a good start.

Don't use a sunscreen meant for your body on your face. These are generally much too thick, heavy, and greasy, and may contribute to breakouts.

Fluids, Gels, and Sprays Are Good for Extra Oily Skin

Sunscreen lotions and creams are good for normal to dry skin types. But if oily skin is an issue, you'll be happier with a product that is absorbed quickly.

Sheer lotions and fluids are very lightweight and fit the bill nicely. Still, feel too heavy to your oily skin? A sunscreen gel will make you happier. These are aqueous and absorb fully into your skin without a trace.

Gels can also be used in areas where you wouldn't dream of using a lotion—your scalp, for example. (Yes, you can get burned on your scalp and it's not pleasant! Gels protect your head without leaving your hair looking greasy.)

Sunscreen gels also rub in more easily into body areas that have a lot of hair. Guys, these are great options for your legs and chest.

Sunscreen sprays are also popular, and very lightweight. One caveat though, make sure you're applying enough to actually protect your skin. A light misting won't do it. Spray enough so that the skin is glistening with the product. And "proofread" your application to ensure you haven't missed a spot.

Get Broad Spectrum Protection

For maximum protection, always use a product that is labeled "broad spectrum." This protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

UVB rays, or the "burn and tan" rays, account for much of the sun damage that occurs on the skin. Some sunscreens will protect only against this type of ultraviolet light.

UVA rays damage the skin as well, and it is these rays that cause aging of the skin. Overexposure can also cause skin cancer.

To completely protect your skin from the sun, you must have a product that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Choose SPF 30 or Higher

SPF, also known as Sun Protection Factor, is a way to measure protection from UVB rays. The higher the SFP, the more protection it gives you.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 or higher every day. This will block about 97% of UV rays.

Remember, sunscreen should be applied every day year-round for the best protection, even when it's cloudy or rainy.

Stay Away From Oxybenzone and PABA if Your Skin Is Sensitive

Got sensitive skin, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, or your skin is irritated because you're using drying acne treatment medications? Stay away from sunscreens that contain the active ingredients oxybenzone and PABA. These are more likely to irritate the skin.

If your skin is ultra-sensitive to products, you should consider a natural sunscreen. These products use titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as the active ingredient. These are less irritating to the skin than other sunscreen ingredients.

Consider a Facial Moisturizer Containing Sunscreen

These may be one of the best skincare products to have come out of the 20th century. The addition of sun protection into a moisturizer means no layering products, which is a real time and money saver.

One step and you're done. Try one; you'll love it.

You're already using a moisturizer, aren't you? If you said no, maybe you should! These don't have to be heavy or greasy either. And using a moisturizer every day will help you beat acne treatment dryness.

And yes, these moisturizer-sunscreen combos can give you just as much sun protection as a stand-alone sunscreen. You should still choose a product that gives at least SPF 30 and broad-spectrum protection.

Shop around. If one product isn't quite what you're looking for, try another.

While these are great for day-to-day use, they don't have enough oomph to save your skin during a day at the beach or poolside. For that, choose a water-resistant, sweat-resistant product and make sure to reapply every 2 hours or every 40 minutes when swimming or sweating.

Use Your Sunscreen Along With Your Acne Treatment Products

Using a topical acne treatment? You can (and should) use sunscreen, too.

Apply your acne treatment medication first, and then wait 20 minutes or until it's fully absorbed. You can then apply your sun protection over the top.

A Word From Verywell

Sunscreen is so important for all skin types, even if you don't typically burn. While the hundreds of options seem overwhelming, it's actually a good thing. You have so many choices there's definitely a sunscreen out there that is right for your skin.

So, think about what you need from a sunscreen. People who work in an office all day have vastly different sun protection needs than those who work outdoors. You'll need a different product for daily use than for spending a long afternoon out at the park or beach.

The longer you spend outdoors the better off you'll be with a water-resistant, sweat-resistant product. If you spend most of your time inside, a moisturizer containing SPF 30 will give you plenty of protection.

Whichever product you choose, make sure you're applying it right and not making any critical sun protection mistakes that will haunt you later on. Once you get into the habit, sun protection won't seem like a chore.

And, if you still need help choosing the right sun protection product for you, ask your dermatologist for help.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Latha MS, Martis J, Shobha V, et al. Sunscreening agents: a reviewJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013;6(1):16–26.

Additional Reading

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.