If You Have Acne-Prone Skin, Read This Before You Apply Sunscreen

Know what sunscreen ingredients to watch out for so you can avoid breakouts while protecting your skin from the sun.

Rido/ShutterstockDo you know what your body’s largest organ is? Yep—it’s your skin, and you have to protect it from life’s offenders, starting with the sun. With skin cancer cases on the rise, the Skin Cancer Foundation and other experts stress the need for spreading sunscreen over all exposed areas, especially your face. But, you might be hesitant because you’re prone to acne. We’ve got good news: You can avoid breakouts and still protect your skin.

Your skin most likely isn’t sensitive to the ingredients in sunscreen, according to NYC dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD. “Most people think they are breaking out because of the actual active sunscreen ingredients when in fact, those ingredients rarely cause anyone to break out,” she says. “When people break out from sunscreen, it’s usually a result of the other emollients, fragrances, or preservatives in the sunscreen.”

Ingredients to avoid if you’re acne-prone include benzophenones (like oxybenzone), cinnamates, octocrylene, certain preservatives like quaternium 15, and the fragrance Balsam of Peru. These all come under the heading of chemical UV filters—they’re absorbed through the skin where they bond with UV light to prevent it from causing burns. This is the most common type; some studies have found that certain chemical UV filters, like oxybenzone, can cause skin allergies.

There is another class of sunscreen that relies on minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block sunlight. Rather than penetrate the skin to provide protection, these sun-blocking ingredients reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light. They’re much less likely to cause a skin reaction, but they’re also thick and more difficult to apply.

Another potential reason for breaking out is because you’re using sunscreen that’s past its “use by” date, says Dr. Bowe. “Sometimes the sunscreen has expired or the ingredients have gone bad,” Dr. Bowe says. “Or someone left the bottle in their hot car or on their beach towel, in direct sunlight.” According to Bowe, the heat and sun can break down the chemicals in the bottle rendering them ineffective and potentially irritating to skin. She suggests keeping sunscreens out of the heat and sun, out of your hot car, and making sure to buy a new bottle every season.

Your best bet? Dr. Bowe advises scanning the label for words like “non-comedogenic,” “clear skin,” or “for acne-prone skin” to ensure the formulation will keep your pores unclogged.

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

how we use your e-mail
We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.