Face sunscreen for acne-prone skin

The best face sunscreens that won’t clog pores

8 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Table of Contents

The importance of wearing sunscreen year-round

If there’s one step you never want to skip in your morning routine, it’s sunscreen application. Sunscreen is like a personal bodyguard that fends off the sun’s rays, protects your skin from damage and the signs of aging, and reduces your risk for 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—if you haven’t been wearing sunscreen everyday, now’s a good time to start. The sun’s damaging rays can still damage your skin on a cloudy day!

Make sunscreen a non-negotiable part of getting ready to go outside, and you’ll be thanking yourself later. 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 ingredients and how well they actually work!)

What you need to know about sunscreen

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.

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 may help soothe irritation.

  • Physically reflects or “bounce” sunlight away from the skin

  • Certain kinds of physical sunscreen may 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 choose the right sunscreen for your skin type

Physical sunscreen is the best bet for acne-prone and/or sensitive skin. Certain physical sunscreen ingredients such as zinc oxide can even help against acne! Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, can irritate sensitive skin (and irritation can lead to breakouts). As always, look for products labeled “non-comedogenic” (translation: won’t clog pores). We’ll delve deeper into which ingredients to avoid a little later on in this guide—but, as a rule of thumb, avoid alcohol in skincare products (alcohol denat., aka denatured alcohol—other versions, such as coconut alcohol and cetearyl alcohol, are actually fine to use). And be on the lookout for pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, octyl stearate, and isopropyl palmitate.

Best face sunscreen for acne-prone skin

Sunscreen is essential, 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, age spots or sun spots, post-acne spots, redness, premature aging, and of course, skin cancer!

If you get breakouts, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients in any product you use on your skin. We know it’s a lot to remember what all those hard-to-pronounce ingredients really are, though. Here are some products whose ingredients we’ve reviewed to make sure they’re non-comedogenic.

Drunk Elephant Umbra™ Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

  • Ultra-gentle

  • Lightly hydrating

TATCHA Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35

  • Lightweight creamy formula

  • Combination of physical and chemical sunscreen (zinc oxide 15%, octisalate 5%)

  • Protects without clogging pores

  • Gives skin a smoother appearance

  • Doubles as a primer, perfect for wearing under makeup!

Olay Complete Lotion Moisturizer with SPF 30, Sensitive

  • Gentle and lightweight; features vitamin E and aloe, plus SPF 30

  • Combination of physical and chemical sunscreen (zinc oxide 7.0%, octinoxate 7.5%, octisalate 2.5%, octocrylene 2.5%)

  • Long-lasting hydration without irritating

Jack Black Double-Duty Face Moisturizer SPF 20

  • Long-lasting hydration without oiliness or heaviness

  • Blue algae extract keeps skin supple and fights inflammation

  • Naturally occurring vitamins A and C to improve skin’s appearance and provide antioxidant protection

  • SPF 20 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen like, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.

Best tinted sunscreen for acne-prone skin

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: it 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.

Supergoop! CC Cream Daily Correct Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sunscreen

  • 100% mineral-based SPF 35

  • Corrects 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

Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte™ Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30

  • Ultra-gentle

  • Lightly hydrating

  • Subtle tint for light-to-medium skin tones (unfortunately, this doesn’t come in different color options)

IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream SPF 50+

  • Color-correcting formula visibly evens skin tone

  • SPF 50+ physical sunscreen

  • Anti-aging benefits with collagen, peptides, hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and vitamins

  • Diffuses the look of wrinkles and minimizes the appearance of pores

  • Luminous, flawless finish

Yves Saint Laurent Beauty Touche Éclat All-in-One Glow Tinted Moisturizer

  • SPF 23 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen like

     

    , which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.

  • Gives complexion an even-toned, brightened, smooth finish

  • Oil-free, talc-free

  • Hydrates, nourishes, and protects the skin with hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and antioxidants

Physicians Formula The Healthy Foundation SPF 20

  • Buildable, breathable foundation

  • Lightweight feel

  • Medium coverage

  • Natural, satiny finish

  • Hyaluronic acid to hydrate and vitamins A, C, and E for antioxidant protection

  • SPF 20 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen like, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.

Dermablend Smooth Liquid Camo Foundation SPF 25

  • Hydrating formula with long-lasting wear

  • Smooth finish with buildable, medium-to-full coverage

  • SPF 25 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen like, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.

Clinique Even Better Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 15

  • Long-lasting wear

  • Creamy texture

  • Natural finish

  • Medium coverage

  • Brightens and evens complexion

  • SPF 15 is okay, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen like, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.

IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation Full-Coverage Moisturizer™ SPF 50+

  • Designed to help cover and improve the 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

  • Natural finish

  • Suitable for all skin types

Looking for the best foundations with sunscreen for acne-prone skin? Check out our guide to foundations for acne-prone skin for our list of products we’ve reviewed to make sure they don’t contain pore-clogging ingredients.

Sunscreen 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 hour or so, especially if you’re entering water, sweating, or wiping your face.

How to layer 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 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!

How to reapply sunscreen over makeup

Powder sunscreens like ILIA Radiant Translucent Powder SPF 20 are a great, easy way to re-up 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.

How to check any product for pore-clogging ingredients with CosDNA.com

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”). Luckily there’s a (free!) tool that makes it easy to check any product for ingredients that can clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s called CosDNA.com, and it’s a must-have for your Bookmarks. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

Ingredients to avoid

Some ingredients found in moisturizers can irritate the skin or clog pores, so here are the key ones to avoid.

Avoid…

Products not labeled with terms "non-comedogenic", "non-acnegenic", "does not clog pores", or "won’t cause breakouts." The label "non-comedogenic" (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

Coconut oil Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredients lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely for some, so you might not notice right away, but take it from the experts: it gets in those pores and clogs up the works!

Alcohol If you’ve got 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 alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it—in that case, it may not irritate the skin as much. But it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.

When in doubt, custom skincare is what it’s about

If you’re struggling with acne-prone skin, we’re here to help—treating acne is kind of our thing. Sign up for a free trial of Curology to get your very own custom acne-fighting cream (subject to medical consultation), plus our must-have moisturizer and gentle cleanser when you sign up for the full set (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling, FYI). Check out our other Guides for more skincare tips, and remember: we’ve got your back!

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