If there’s one step you never want to skip in your morning routine, it’s sunscreen application. It may feel like a drag to slow down to apply (or reapply) sunscreen when you’re ready and raring to go, but think of it this way: future you will be so thankful that you did! And with the products we recommend in this guide, your skincare routine can become a fun, feel-good activity. Some of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin (which we’ll list below) include ingredients that make your skin feel hydrated, comforted, and ready to face the day.
Sun exposure can cause redness and dryness. If your skin is sensitive, it’s extra important to apply and reapply your sunscreen daily. Consider sunscreen your skin’s personal bodyguard: it not only protects your skin from sun damage and signs of aging, it also reduces your risk of getting skin cancer—as long as you reapply as needed so it can do its job properly. No matter what the weather outside is like, no matter the season or temperature, the sun’s rays can still damage your skin, even on a cloudy day!
If your skin is sensitive, it’s important to choose the right type of sunscreen to avoid irritation. Don’t worry—we’ve got all the information you need right here to make choosing the best sunscreen for your face as easy as can be. In this guide, you’ll find recommendations for facial sunscreen for sensitive skin, from plain clear sunscreen to CC creams and tinted moisturizers with sunscreen. We’ll also school you on why chemical sunscreen may irritate the skin, why it’s often best to use physical sunscreen for sensitive skin, and more need-to-know info.
Read on to find out…
How to find out if any sunscreen will break out or irritate your skin
Product recommendations of the sunscreens that’ll work for your skin type
How to layer sunscreen under makeup (without it pilling or flaking off!)
What to do if you think you’re allergic to sunscreen
How to protect your skin while swimming or sweating
But first, here’s a quick crash-course in the need-to-know basics.
You know those numbers on bottles of sunscreen? If you’ve ever wondered what that’s all about, you’re not alone—and the SPF number you use really does matter. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number of any sunscreen is based on how quickly redness forms on sunscreen-protected skin compared to unprotected skin. It’s a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to prevent the sun’s UVB rays from damaging the skin. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is the minimum recommended by Curology’s dermatology providers. It's super important to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours and right away after swimming or sweating.
What exactly are UVA and UVB rays? The sun’s UV (ultraviolet) light rays are classified into UVA, which are a longer wavelength, and UVB, which are shorter. It’s important to protect your skin from both. Sunscreens that will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays are typically called broad-spectrum.
Main cause of aging and wrinkling — photoaging
Contributes to the development of skin cancer
Penetrates through clouds and glass — think of the sun exposure in your car!
Penetrates deeper into the skin compared to UVB
Major contributor to tanning (skin darkening is a response to sun damage and injury to the skin’s DNA — there is no such thing as a healthy tan!)
Main cause of redness and sunburn
Contributes to the development of skin cancer
Largely blocked by glass
The first thing you need to know is the difference between physical - aka mineral -sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. And yes, for you skeptics, there really is a difference, especially if you’ve got sensitive skin!
Sunscreens can be classified as physical, chemical, or both, depending on their ingredients. Physical sunscreen is often the best choice for sensitive skin—it tends to be more gentle than chemical sunscreen. The usual ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They actually bounce the sunlight away from the skin, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays.
We’ll delve deeper into ingredients to avoid for sensitive skin a little later on in this guide—but, as a rule of thumb, avoid any face sunscreens with alcohol in the ingredients. Typically, it’s listed as “alcohol denat.,” or “denatured alcohol.” (Other kinds of “alcohol” in skincare products such as coconut alcohol and cetearyl alcohol are actually fine to use.) And, as always, look for products labeled “non-comedogenic” (translation: won’t clog pores) and be on the lookout for pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, octyl stearate, and isopropyl palmitate.
There are plenty of options to choose from so you can find your new favorite face sunscreen. Don’t forget to wear it and reapply it. Every. Single. Day.
70%+ certified organic ingredients
Broad spectrum UVA/UVB mineral protection
Smooth finish, layers well under makeup
Oil-free and fragrance-free
Non-nano zinc oxide protection
Vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free, paraben-free, and reef-friendly
100% mineral sunscreen
Two-in-one product, also works as a primer
Translucent tinted formula gives skin a smooth, matte finish
Universal tint shade blends in to virtually any skin tone
Wear underneath makeup for more coverage, or on its own
Lightweight, non-sticky liquid lotion contains all mineral, non-chemical sunscreen ingredients
Hydrates the skin
No white cast
Water resistant for up to 80 minutes
Physical sunscreen ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide
Non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores)
Lightweight, gentle, non-greasy moisturizing formula
Helps soothe razor irritation and moisturizes dry skin
Lightweight, gentle formula
Care for a side of coverage with your sun protection? A tinted sunscreen or tinted moisturizer with SPF is a great two-in-one product for those of us always looking for products that go the extra mile. Tinted sunscreen does double-duty as a lightweight foundation. All you need for a fresh-faced, glowy, effortless daytime look (complete with sun protection) is a tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher. The tint evens out the appearance of your skin tone, and makes things like redness, acne, and pores a little less visible (just add some well-placed concealer, if needed). For more coverage, you can layer foundation makeup on top of tinted sunscreen, then follow it up with concealer on any spots you’d like to hide.
100% mineral-based SPF 35
Helps correct uneven pigmentation and softens the look of fine lines and pores
Contains hyaluronic acid to maintain long-lasting hydration
Includes vitamins and minerals to protect skin from free radical damage
Provides lightweight color coverage and correction, while protecting against UVA and UVB rays
Subtle tint for light-to-medium skin tones (unfortunately, this doesn’t come in different color options)
Color-correcting formula visibly evens skin tone
SPF 50+ physical sunscreen
Anti-aging benefits with peptides, hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and vitamins
Diffuses the look of wrinkles and helps minimize the appearance of pores
Luminous, flawless finish
Designed to help cover and improve redness, pores, dark spots, breakouts, lines and wrinkles—all while protecting your skin with SPF 50+ broad-spectrum physical sunscreen
Smooth, flexible pure color pigments help hide fine lines and wrinkles without creasing
Suitable for all skin types
Moisturizes and blends easily for a natural finish
Natural light tint and matte finish
Primer formula wears well underneath makeup
100% mineral base, broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection
“Non-migrating formula” to prevent eye irritation
Sheer, universal tint suitable for all skin types
Use from the brow bone to the cheekbone, even on the eyelid
Physical sunscreen ingredients only
Non-greasy, non-oily formula
Reef safe, eco-friendly mineral formula
Sheer tinted, weightless liquid formula blends easily
100% mineral sunscreen
Mattefies skin with bentonite to absorb excess oil from pores
Works like a primer under foundation to create a smooth, matte finish
Oil-free and recommended for all skin types
Not-so-fun fact: there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen! In 2011, the FDA released a new set of rules regulating sunscreen in the United States which did away with “waterproof” and “sweatproof” labels on sunscreens because such claims are impossible. (Thank you, FDA, for getting real about beauty claims!) Instead, sunscreens can be labeled “water resistant” for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes, depending on test results.
That means you swimmers, surfers, athletes and boogie-boarders need to choose your sunscreen wisely, and remember to reapply. Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating, and reapply according to the label instructions, either after 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, immediately after towel drying, and every 2 hours at a minimum.
Solbar Zinc SPF 38 has an oil-free base that lasts for up to 80 minutes in the water, is more rub resistant than most, and is gentle on the eyes.
You and your skin deserve better than to be stingy with the sunscreen, so slather it on liberally and when in doubt, apply more! Most of us don’t use enough sunscreen—the sun’s rays don’t really get boundaries, so make sure any skin in the sun’s line of proverbial fire is fully covered. We know we sound like a broken record by now, but seriously, re-applying throughout the day is essential! Sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or sweating.
Use up to a half teaspoon for the face and neck, especially if you use your whole hands to rub in the sunscreen. Use 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons for the body. During a long day at the beach, one person should use around 1/4 to 1/2 of an 8 oz bottle.
No sunscreen, regardless of strength, stays effective longer than two hours. That being said, how often you reapply sunscreen depends on your activities. If you’re inside working all day, no need to reapply. If you’re in and out, reapply at least once midday. If you’re out for extended periods during the day, then reapply every 2 hours or so, especially if you’re entering water, sweating, or wiping your face.
Some ingredients found in skincare and cosmetics can irritate the skin or clog pores. We’ve rounded up 30 skincare and makeup ingredients not to put on your face— these may irritate sensitive skin, clog pores, or both.
sodium lauryl sulfate
sodium laureth sulfate
acetylated lanolin alcohol
D&C red no. 27
PEG 16 lanolin (solulan 16)
cetearyl alcohol + ceteareth 20
propylene glycol monostearate
If you’ve got sensitive skin or dry skin, take care to avoid ingredients that can dry it out even more! Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier. Watch out for “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.” on the ingredients list of your skincare or makeup. Not all alcohol-related ingredients are created equal, though: cetearyl alcohol and coconut alcohol, for two common examples, are totally fine to use.
Some common ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can clog pores or irritate sensitive skin (yes, even if the label says a product is “non-comedogenic” or “gentle”). You can check the acne-causing potential of the products you use by making sure it doesn’t contain the potentially pore-clogging ingredients mentioned.
Ever try to layer makeup on top of sunscreen, only to have it pill or flake off in annoying little white bits? Ugh! Try applying moisturizer before your sunscreen, then give it a few minutes to dry before putting on your makeup. This should give it enough grip so it won’t flake on you!
Powder sunscreens like ILIA Radiant Translucent Powder SPF 20 are a great, easy way to reapply your sun protection throughout the day without messing up your makeup. Bonus: a little powder will also get rid of any oiliness that’s accumulated on your skin, making your makeup look refreshed while you’re at it.
If you’ve got breakouts, fine lines, hyperpigmentation, redness, or just general questions or concerns about your skin—we’re here for you. Sign up for a free trial today and, if our dermatology providers deem you a good fit, you’ll get your very own custom face cream, plus our must-have moisturizer and gentle cleanser when you sign up for the full set (just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling). Check out our other Guides to learn more simple skincare tips, and always remember: we’ve got your back.
We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).