Sunscreen for Acne Prone Skin

Sunscreen for Acne Prone Skin

July 22, 2021

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Since I tend to get breakouts so easily, I’m nervous about wearing sunscreen on my face.  What can I do to protect my skin from UV without making my acne worse?


The question of best sunscreens for acne-prone skin is one that I face in my practice as well as with my 3 teenagers.  The reality is that many sunscreens can feel thick and pasty or oily and greasy and leave those with acne struggling to figure out what role sunscreen could be playing in their flares.  



I have found that the best way to approach determining the right option for your skin is by understanding the active ingredients in sunscreen.  Gaining a better understanding of the role each ingredient can play in either flaring acne, helping acne, or not affecting it at all can influence your choices. 

 

 



Can’t I just choose a brand name to trust for my breakouts?



It is important to remember the ingredients and not the name brands.  This is simply because I have found that when I recommend a particular product, many people only remember the main brand name and not the specific product in the line and assume everything in the line may be just fine to use.  This may not be the case as there is a wide range of sunscreen options under each brand umbrella and not all are always available at your local store.  Under each ingredient, I will list the precise name to make it clearer which option is best.




ZINC



There have been studies to see if zinc can play a role in the treatment of acne.  There is evidence that suggests that it may have antibacterial properties, reduce inflammation, and potentially reduce the amount of oil or sebum produced by the skin. All 3 of these factors play a role in acne.  There are inconsistent findings when it comes to the practical use of zinc as an acne treatment, however, we do know it as regarded as safe and effective for preventing sunburns.  


For these reasons, I find that it is a good ingredient to seek in facial sunscreens for acne-prone skin by being less likely to trigger acne, potentially helping prevent acne or acne-related skin changes, and preventing sunburn. The challenge with zinc is that it is not always cosmetically elegant to apply.  It tends to leave a whitish cast and can be difficult to rub into the skin. I have found a couple of products that are pure zinc, facial sunscreens that actually do apply nicely.







Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Face Gel Lotion SPF 30.  This particular product is only zinc - no titanium or other chemical sunscreen ingredients.  This brand is a nice brand overall for those seeking mineral-based sunscreens. It is oil-free and relatively lightweight compared to many zinc sunscreens.

 

 

 

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50. This particular product by Neutrogena uses only Zinc as its active sunscreen ingredient, is oil-free, lightweight, and hypoallergenic.  It is also water and sweat resistant for putout 80 minutes.  This is important to note as it may make it easier on acne-prone skin simply because you may not have to reapply it as frequently running the risk of product accumulation on the skin. 









TITANIUM



There must be a number of blogs and sites that raise concerns about titanium and/or micronized mineral sunscreens and acne. Micronized zinc and titanium mineral sunscreens are extremely common because they are applied easily and leave much less of a white cast on the skin.  Several patients have commented to me about their concerns about these products being of such a small particle size they worry they could accumulate in their pores. There was a large published review in the medical literature that did not seem to show much evidence that these products penetrate beyond the stratum corneum which is the outermost level of the epidermis. More studies would need to be done to elaborate on the risks of acne but this does not appear to be of significant concern at this time.



The reason this is important is simply that most mineral sunscreens I have come across, including the one that I have in my skincare line are often a combination of titanium and zinc.  This is very reasonable to use and should not pose a significant risk of flaring acne.




 



The facial sunscreen I tend to recommend most routinely is Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream.  Interestingly, this one has only Titanium as its active sunscreen ingredient.  I have not come across many titanium only sunscreens. 




TITANIUM + ZINC





 


La Roche Posay Mineral Anthelios Sunscreen Gentle Lotion SPF 50 for Face and Body.  The texture of this product allows it to apply easily.  It is oil-free and suitable for sensitive skin.  With both Titanium and Zinc as active ingredients, it is considered a safe and effective mineral sunscreen.  I also tend to recommend this in particular for those with acne-prone skin that is not limited to just the face but also includes the body - upper back, shoulders, and chest.  This allows for one product in all of these areas.

 

 

Mineral Sunscreen Lotion by AmberSkinCare by AmberNoon.  I spent years finding the right combination of mineral sunscreen ingredients in a lotion vehicle to apply easily without being as prone to pilling or leaving a harsh white cast.  I highly recommend this for acne-prone skin.  (Available on Amazon and Walmart marketplace as well as www.ambernoon.com)







 

CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS FOR ACNE PRONE SKIN



When we discuss sunscreen safety and sunscreen absorption concerns, we are primarily focused on chemical sunscreen ingredients.  These are basically all of the sunscreens that are not zinc or titanium.  The safety concerns are based on widespread application - exposed areas from head to toe sparing the areas covered by a swimsuit.  The studies seem to indicate that by applying these sunscreens all over and reapplying as well, there can be a significant measurable amount of these sunscreen ingredients in our bloodstream.  Some studies suggest 4 x the level deemed safe with unclear and unknown consequences with regards to endocrine disruption or other health issues.  



When it comes to considering facial sunscreens, especially in acne prone skin, if we are focused on only the face and a chemical sunscreen is the only option a patient will consider simply because they apply easier, then it is not unreasonable to say that if the chemical sunscreen is limited to the face and a mineral sunscreen is used on the body, then the absorption concerns are less of an issue. I have not come across any studies that raise any concerns about chemical sunscreens triggering or worsening acne.  



Why should people with acne bother with sunscreen?



The most important thing to consider when it comes to using sunscreen for acne-prone skin is the need to integrate a sunscreen product into your morning routine for several reasons.  




The first is that acne has a high tendency to discolor or hyperpigment the skin, especially with sun and blue light exposure.  Using sunscreen daily can reduce or minimize the post inflammatory pigmentation.



The second is that many acne products work by exfoliating which leaves the lower layers of skin a bit more exposed to the damaging effects of UV.  Using sunscreen can reduce the impact of damage on the DNA of these cells.




Chemical Sunscreens to consider for acne-prone skin:





Olay Complete Daily Defense All Day Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 30.  When I was 16, my first dermatologist recommended this for me with my acne regimen and I ended up using it for over 20 straight years!  I still love this product and routinely recommend it.  It contains Zinc Oxide, Octinoxate, Octisalate, and Octocrylene.  Remember, if it is limited to facial use and not body, our concerns about sunscreen safety are reduced given the smaller body surface area it is applied to.  





Cerave AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion.
This product contains Zinc Oxide, Homosalate. Meradimate, Octinoxate, and Octocrylene. The nice thing about the CeraVe line is that it’s a simple one to recommend with the AM and PM formulations.  The AM is simple to use for acne-prone skin as it is noncomedogenic and provides sun protection while the PM provides much-needed hydration for dry sensitive skin that results from acne treatments and products. 














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