10 Sunscreens that Won’t Break You Out

8 minute read

What you need to know about sunscreen

Sunscreen is essential year-round, but finding the right one isn’t always easy — especially when you’ve got acne to deal with. But protecting your skin from the sun is an essential step in preventing acne, as well as preventing dark spots, red post-acne scars, premature aging, and of course, skin cancer! To make it easier on you, we’ve decoded the technical language and researched some of the best sunscreens for each skin type. (Reminder: we aren’t associated with any brands. Our product recommendations are based on the safety of the ingredients and how well they actually work!)

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, a quick crash-course in the need-to-know basics.

What is SPF?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a number that measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin. The number is based on how quickly redness forms on sunscreen-protected skin compared to unprotected skin. Although sunscreens with an SPF of 15 protect fairly well against UVB, we recommend choosing a broad-spectrum (protecting from both UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. For extended outdoor activity, choose a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

What exactly are UVA and UVB? 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.

UVA

  • 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!)

UVB

  • Main cause of redness and sunburn
  • Contributes to the development of skin cancer
  • Penetrates through glass, but less than UVA

Physical vs. Chemical

Sunscreens can be classified as physical, chemical, or both, depending on their ingredients.

TIP: If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, remember to apply half an hour before going outside.

Physical sunscreen

  • Contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which helps with acne and soothes irritation
  • Physically reflects or “bounce” sunlight away from the skin
  • Can leave a white cast on the skin unless rubbed in well, micronized, or tinted
  • Starts protecting immediately upon application

Chemical sunscreen

  • Contains ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone
  • Absorbs UV light so that it can’t penetrate the skin
  • May irritate or cause an allergic reaction in certain people’s skin
  • Must be applied 20–30 minutes before sun exposure to get full protection

How to know if a sunscreen will make you break out

Use CosDNA.com to find out whether a sunscreen has any acne-triggering or skin-irritating ingredients.

How to choose the right one for your skin type

Acne-prone

Look for products labeled non-comedogenic, and follow the steps above to vet any product on CosDNA.com. As a rule of thumb, avoid pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, octyl stearate, and isopropyl palmitate. Also, physical sunscreens may work better than chemical sunscreens, as they’re less likely to irritate your skin—and irritated skin leads to acne.

Normal to Oily

A lightweight gel or lotion base works well without leaving your face feeling greasy. Instead of reapplying the gel or lotion throughout the day, you can try adding a powder sunscreen on top that both adds protection and absorbs oil. Don’t use powder instead of your regular sunscreen, but on top of it — it won’t provide enough protection on its own.

Sensitive and/or Dry

If your skin is pretty dry, try applying moisturizer before your sunscreen. Look for heavier lotions, cream-based sunscreens, or moisturizers with SPF. And definitely avoid any product with alcohol on the ingredient list!

Combination or In-Between

You can switch it up depending on the season and however your skin is feeling—if you’re oilier, try a lightweight sunscreen under the Normal to Oily list above; if you’re on the dry side, try a richer formula designed to lock moisture into your skin, from the above list of sunscreens for Sensitive and/or Dry.

Black and Brown Skin

Dark skin has some natural protection from the sun, but it’s not 100%. If you’re going to spend time outdoors, you’ll want to put sunscreen on! The following are all good options—or, choose one from the above lists based on your skin type (oily, dry, combination, sensitive, or acne-prone).

Think you may be allergic to sunscreen?

Some people have allergies to chemical sunscreens and end up with an itchy rash. If this happens to you, ditch the chemical sunscreen and try one labeled physical-only.

Physical-only sunscreens

If for some reason you still have a reaction, we advise visiting a dermatologist in-person, as there may be other factors contributing to your skin irritation.

For sports, swimming, and sweaty activities

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)

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. Instead, sunscreens can be labeled “water resistant” for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes, depending on test results.

Slather it on and reapply!

When in doubt, apply more! Most of us don’t use enough sunscreen, and re-applying throughout the day is essential to staying protected.

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.

Layering sunscreen under makeup

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 underneath your sunscreen. Then give it a few minutes to dry before putting on your makeup.

More ways to protect your skin

Of course, sunscreen is just one weapon in your arsenal against sun damage. Don’t forget about hats, (UV protective) sunglasses, clothing, and shade!

If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may want to consider a dietary supplement called Heliocare. Heliocare capsules contain Polypodium leucotomos, an extract of a fern found in Central and South America that has been used for centuries to treat skin disorders. These powerful antioxidants help to combat the free radicals produced during sun exposure, decreasing sunburn response and possibly helping to combat long-term sun damage.

Got questions? Curology’s got you covered

Got any questions you’d like answered, or products you’d like reviewed from a professional skincare expert’s perspective? We’re always just an email away (hello@curology.com).

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Curology
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