It’s easy to question every product when you have acne-prone skin—which is why we ask, can sunscreen cause acne?
Well, it’s complicated.
Technically, sunscreen can’t cause acne. But it can affect one of the factors that causes acne: clogged pores.
For us to understand, we’re gonna need to ask and answer some more questions.
Let’s find out if sunscreen can cause acne and what you can do about it.
Can sunscreen cause acne depending on its ingredients?
Before we look at how sunscreen might cause acne, what’s in sunscreen, anyway?
Sunscreens are very complicated products. Looking at the ingredient list alone won’t tell us the entire story. But in a nutshell, sunscreens contain:
- Active ingredients: the UV filters that give sunscreen the ability to protect us from the sun.
- Inactive ingredients: moisturizing, skin-soothing ingredients that help spread the UV filters evenly on skin.
Inactive ingredients can differ a lot depending on the sunscreen. On the other hand, we can categorize active ingredients into two:
- Inorganic filters: the main filters in “physical” sunscreens, which are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
- Organic filters: the main filters in “chemical” sunscreens, which the commonly known ones are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate; newer filters include Tinosorb S and M, and Uvinul A Plus.
You can also have combo sunscreens that combine these two filters.
Just from that info, we can’t tell yet how sunscreen can cause acne, which leads us to the question:
How can sunscreen cause your acne?
When your sunscreen contains pore-clogging ingredients, that’s when your sun protection may cause your acne.
Clogged pores are one factor that cause acne. Once your pores become clogged, acne bacteria can multiply in your pores and cause inflamed blemishes we call pimples.
So, it’s best to avoid ingredients like comedogenic oils, butters, and waxes in your sunscreen.
Also, some sunscreens contain ingredients that can irritate skin. While the irritation doesn’t cause acne, they can leave the irritated skin looking red and swollen.
Ingredients like denatured alcohol, fragrance (both synthetic and from plants), and some chemical UV filters can cause irritation. That’s why physical sunscreens are often recommended to people with sensitive skin (both acne-prone or not).
Confused about what a physical sunscreen is? Read this post from Laroche Posay.
What should you look for in a sunscreen for acne-prone skin?
Having acne-skin means being a lot more meticulous when choosing your sunscreen. That way, you can avoid any possibility of your sunscreen causing acne.
Here’s a list of what to look for in your sunscreen:
- Look for sunscreen labeled or marketed as light-weight, oil-free, non-comedogenic. Fortunately, we’re past the time when every sunscreen was just a big goopy mess. You can easily find sunscreen that will sink into your skin easily, even when applying lots of layers.
- If you have acne-prone dry skin, still go with a light-weight sunscreen. Choose to moisturize-well under your sunscreen instead of looking for a sunscreen that also functions as a moisturizer. More often than not, very moisturizing sunscreens contain ingredients that might clog pores.
- If you are prone to allergies or have overly sensitive skin, opt for physical over chemical sunscreen. Though chemical UV filters are very effective in protecting us under the sun, they tend to trigger allergies and skin sensitivities more often compared to physical sunscreen.
How can you avoid breaking out from sunscreen?
Even when you’ve found the best sunscreen for your acne-prone skin, it’s still possible to break out if you neglect some key things.
First, apply sunscreen to a clean face. Keeping your skin clean is a must for acne-prone skin. That’s why you need to make sure your face is clean before applying sunscreen.
Yes, even when re-applying.
If you’re going to be out and about in the heat for a long time, you need to re-apply more often. But you can’t just plop on some sunscreen—you need to wipe or wash off the previous layer first.
This way, you won’t be just rubbing around the sunscreen, dirt, and oil on your skin. To do this more conveniently, use face wipes or micellar water before re-applying sunscreen.
Second, apply your sunscreen in layers. What I mean by this is to not coat your face with sunscreen. Start with a thin, even layer. Gently pat it into your skin.
Then go to the next layer until you’ve covered every inch of your face with a substantial amount of sun protection. The amount used in sunscreen studies recommend about ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen for your face.
Remember: don’t skip out on sunscreen.
Yes, it's tedious to find a sunscreen that works for your acne-prone skin. But getting rid of sunscreen altogether will do more harm than good for your skin.
For starters, without sunscreen, you run a significant risk of getting sun damage. That will affect your chances of healing acne.
Apart from that, there’s lots more that sunscreen does for your skin. That’s why sunscreen is a must in a basic acne routine.
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