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All experts in the realm of skin care will agree: SPF is the most important step in every beauty routine — no exceptions. Regardless of your skin type, tone, or texture, sunscreen is vital for preventing hyperpigmentation, fine lines and wrinkles, and even skin cancer. In fact, daily use of a facial sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 may reduce your risk of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, by a whopping 50 percent, according to a 2011 randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
That said, those with acne-prone skin often have to play a game of “which is worse” when it comes to SPF, typically debating whether a lack of sunscreen, and the resulting burn, is worse than the painful breakouts they’ll endure if they apply that sun protectant. If you’ve pondered this burn-versus-breakout dilemma before, you’re certainly not alone. But don’t forget: Regardless of your skin type, SPF is non-negotiable year-round. Going without it can have long-term damaging effects on your skin that are far worse than a breakout.
Ahead, we’re sharing the best sunscreens for acne-prone skin, approved by dermatologists. Plus, keep reading for expert tips, including what to look for in sunscreens for acne-skin and how to apply it.
Top Sunscreens for Acne-Prone Skin for 2023
- Mele Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
- Neutrogena Clear Face Breakout Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen
- Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen
- PanOxyl Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30
- EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum Facial Sunscreen SPF 46
- Isdin Mineral Brush Powder Sunscreen
- Chantecaille Ultra Sun Protection Sunscreen
- Black Girl Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion
- SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Sunscreen
- Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Body Shield SPF 50
- Supergoop Mineral Mattescreen SPF 40
- Mario Badescu Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
- Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF 30
- Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30
- CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
- Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick
The Best Foundations for Acne-Prone Skin
The Best Moisturizers for Acne-Prone Skin
The Best Concealers for Acne
The Best Face Masks for Acne-Prone Skin
The Best Acne Serums
The Best Pillowcases for Acne
The Best Skin Care Products for Hormonal Acne
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Melé Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
The Dew the Most Sheer Moisturizer SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen is so good, it was recommended by two of the dermatologists we interviewed for this article. “This is the best sheer moisturizer with SPF 30, which has no mineral oil and contains a type of willow bark extract that I find helpful for those with acne,” says New York City dermatologist, Dr. Rachel Nazarian. “It is an ultra light formula that rubs into the skin without leaving you feeling sticky or greasy,” confirms New York City dermatologist, Dr. Joshua Zeichner, adding that the product also delivers antioxidant effects with vitamin E and niacinamide to calm, soothe, and brighten the skin.
Neutrogena Clear Face Breakout Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen
One of Dr. Nazarian’s favorite sunscreens is the Neutrogena Clear Face Breakout Free Liquid Lotion. “It’s a good choice because it’s oil-free, but it’s also non-comedogenic and incredibly lightweight, so it won’t trap heat,” she explains. The liquid-lotion consistency leaves a matte finish on the skin so you won’t appear greasy post-application, and the formula is water-resistant for a full 80 minutes. It’s also fragrance-free, so sensitive skin types can rest assured they won’t experience any irritation.
Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen SPF 30
“Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen SPF 30 is an all mineral sunscreen with a universal tint to offer cosmetic coverage of any acne marks,” says Dr. Zeichner of this tinted sunscreen. “The gentle formula provides broad-spectrum UV protection and is loaded with antioxidants to help neutralize free radical damage.” To be specific, this pick houses a blend of antioxidants like blueberry, açaí, and green tea extracts, along with rosa canina fruit oil, which can help control excess oil and minimize the appearance of pores. It’s also cruelty-free and vegan.
PanOxyl Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30
Anyone with acne is likely familiar with PanOxyl’s talents for clearing up pimples. The popular drugstore brand has an all-in-one daily moisturizer for oily skin types that works wonders on breakouts and blemishes, no matter the severity. The PanOxyl Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30 is a winning option because it absorbs breakout-triggering excess oils while defending the skin against harmful UV rays. As a bonus, it also contains hyaluronic acid to help retain moisture within the skin. “I love sunscreens [with] hyaluronic acid because it’s calming and good at hydrating skin, which is useful for those on an acne regimen since those have a tendency to dry out the skin,” explains Dr. Nazarian.
EltaMd UV Clear Broad Spectrum Facial Sunscreen SPF 46
Nanuet, NY dermatologist, Dr. Heidi Waldorf, recommends that those with acne-prone skin try the EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen. “This is a perennial favorite for acne-prone skin,” she says. “Designed for people with acne and rosacea, this oil-free formula rubs in quickly, feels light, and contains niacinamide which is an anti-inflammatory that may even reduce sebum production.” What makes this formula extra special is its inclusion of lactic acid to reduce shine and clear pores, making it feel like more of a skin treatment than a sun protectant (it can be both!). EltaMd also offers this option as a tinted moisturizer with SPF, for those who like a little coverage.
Isdin Isdinceutics Mineral Brush Powder Sunscreen
News flash: Sunscreen isn’t a one-and-done beauty step. You need to reapply your SPF multiple times a day — especially if you’re outdoors or you work near a window. This Isdin Isdinceutics Mineral Brush Powder Sunscreen makes reapplication easier than ever. “This is great for my patients with acne who are concerned about flaring with reapplication of sunscreen over sweaty skin and makeup,” says Dr. Waldorf. “It’s a translucent powder with a matte finish that can be applied over makeup or on bare skin.” Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica, and iron oxides within the formula protect against the big three aggressors: free radical damage from pollution, blue light, and infrared radiation. To use, simply sweep the brush in circular motions along your entire face to ensure the powder is evenly distributed.
Chantecaille Ultra Sun Protection Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45 Primer
Yes, this product pick is pricey, but it’s more than just sunscreen. In addition to protecting you from the sun’s harmful rays, this Chantecaille Ultra Sun Protection Sunscreen is oil-free, delivers a matte finish, extends the wear time of makeup, and even offers anti-aging benefits. Cherry blossom, lemon balm, and white tea extract provide antioxidant effects to prevent discoloration, while carnosine helps to soften the look of wrinkles and firm the skin. It can be used either alone over moisturizer or under foundation as a sun-shielding primer. I’ve worn it before a day out, and I can attest to how it grips my makeup in place like no other.
Black Girl Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
One of the biggest battles people face when it comes to sunscreen is the chalkiness and ashy finish that it can leave on deeper skin tones. This non-comedogenic option solves for all those concerns. Black Girl Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 dries completely clear, and it checks off the boxes for the eco-conscious shoppers: In addition to protecting your skin from the sun, this pick is also natural (ingredient call-outs include jojoba, avocado, and carrot juice), cruelty-free, vegan, and reef-safe.
SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50
SkinCeuticals is a dermatologist-favorite skin care brand. After all, their products tend to deliver on results time and time again — and the SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50 is no different. This all-mineral SPF protects and decreases shine on the skin with every use. In fact, the aerated silica technology is able to absorb up to 15 times its weight in oil, providing you with a matte finish, even in the most hot and humid climates. The translucent color spheres also even out your skin tone and and blur the look of any texture once you apply it.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Sunscreen
A great option for everyday protection, the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Sunscreen will keep your skin shine-free all day long. It contains both silica and perlite to absorb excess oil and reduce shine long-term. In fact, a clinical study performed by the brand found that this pick reduced shine and oil by 46%, even in extreme heat and humidity (specifically in 98.6 °F and 80% humidity). And if you’re extra active during the day (or simply live in a hot climate), you can rest assured you won’t sweat this formula off — it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Body Shield SPF 50 Sunscreen
The Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Body Shield SPF 50 Sunscreen is oil-free, non-comedogenic, and hypoallergenic, so it can be used from head to toe for full coverage without the risk of breakouts. It also uses iron oxides to protect against your screens’ blue light, an antioxidant called lipochroman to fend off environmental aggressors, and hydrating agents like glycerin and jojoba esters. While this formula is colorless, deeper skin tones may like the bronze option.
Supergoop! Mineral Mattescreen SPF 40
After testing out this sunscreen option, I’m almost convinced that this Supergoop! Mineral Mattescreen SPF 40 is my most effective pore-filling primer in addition to being a skin-saving SPF. The formula has makeup-gripping abilities that keeps my favorite foundation in place, no matter how long I’m wearing it or what the forecast is. To minimize the potential for a white cast from UV-fighting titanium oxide and zinc oxide, this formula boasts a sheer, neutral tint that complements most skin tones. It also contains wild butterfly ginger to protect against blue light, as well as bamboo extract to fend off free radical damage.
Mario Badescu Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
FYI, just because you have acne-prone skin, doesn’t mean you should skimp on hydration — especially those who are on Accutane. “A patient on Accutane or isotretinoin may have baseline oily skin, but while on it they will need a more moisturizing formula and not a drying one,” Dr. Waldorf explains. This Mario Badescu Mineral Sunscreen provides broad-spectrum sun protection while moisturizing the skin with proven hydrators like hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF 30
Consider this pick a triple threat: Dermalogica’s Oil Free Matte SPF 30 acts as a sun protectant, while also improving skin health and providing a beautiful, airbrush-like finish on the skin. Complete with a skin-boosting blend of niacinamide, biotin, and caffeine, your complexion will be both protected and nourished at the same time. Reviewers of this product admit to being repeat customers due to the fact that it “feels great” on the skin and “isn’t greasy like most sunscreens.”
Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30
Those on a budget will likely be drawn to the Cetaphil Dermacontrol Oil Absorbing Moisturizer. This lightweight option uses micropearl technology to reduce shine while also providing a full 24 hours of hydration. It’s also paraben-free, phthalate-free, unscented, sulfate-free, and dye-free, so sensitive skin types can use this without the fear of a reaction.
CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30
Wearing sunscreen is especially important if you’re using acne treatments regularly, but those on acne medications often need extra hydration in their sunscreen formulas. Not only is the CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion oil-free so you won’t break out, but it also contains three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide to keep the skin moisturized without appearing greasy or sticky.
Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick
Sunscreen reapplication is a breeze with the Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick. Providing both UVA and UVB protection, this option is ideal for on-the-go touch ups. It also contains vitamin E and aloe vera to soothe the skin after every use. While that’s all great news, my favorite aspect of this product has to be the summery scent that comes with it. It truly smells like the beach in a stick.
Can Sunscreen Cause Acne?
Yes, the wrong sunscreen can lead to acne breakouts, confirms New York City dermatologist, Dr. Joshua Zeichner. But it’s time to realize that those thick, greasy sunscreens that your parents made you use years ago aren’t the same as the options available today.
“It’s all about the ingredients,” explains New York City dermatologist, Dr. Rachel Nazarian. “Certainly some sunscreens may have a higher likelihood of causing acne, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful options available for people who have acne-prone skin.” Dr. Nazarian adds that the key to using SPF without risking breakouts is to make sure you’re choosing your products thoughtfully and always inspecting the ingredient label before purchasing.
Always look for formulas that are non-comedogenic and oil-free, which is typically listed on the product’s packaging. If you’re experiencing an active breakout, choose a formula that contains acne-fighting ingredients — you can find sunscreens that contain ingredients that are on par with what’s inside some of the best acne serums.
Those who deal with acne on the regular should also be using specifically formulated products to soothe blemishes. Beyond cycling in the best spot treatments and pimple patches, you can manage your breakouts with acne-prone skin moisturizers, great foundations for covering breakouts, and concealers that can cover any blemish. But all of these products play second fiddle to the most important formula in your routine: Sunscreen.
What To Look For In the Best Sunscreen For Acne-Prone Skin
Luckily, those with acne-prone skin don’t have to choose between clear skin or sun protection — as long as you know how to shop. To make it easier, we’ve outlined the best rules to follow while scanning the sunscreen aisles:
- Look for non-comedogenic products: “The term non-comedogenic is reserved for products that have been tested and shown not to cause acne or clog pores,” explains Dr. Nazarian. “Although, oftentimes this is done with internal testing, and not externally verified.” Additionally, many products will label themselves as non-comedogenic if they are using ingredients that have been shown individually to naturally have a low risk of triggering acne. Regardless, non-comedogenic is a term to eye out.
- Choose oil-free sunscreens: “Look for options without lanolin, cocoa butter, mineral oil, coconut oil [and others,]” adds Dr. Nazarian. Formulas without these ingredients tend to feel more lightweight and breathable on your skin.
- Search for formulas that contain acne-fighting ingredients: “Many sunscreens designed for oily or acne-prone skin actually contain ingredients that help absorb oil and minimize the appearance of pores,” says Dr. Zeichner. “These include ingredients like silica, certain silicon cross polymers, or other botanicals like clay or ash.”
- Don’t fret over choosing between mineral or chemical sunscreens: “Both mineral and chemical sunscreens are absolutely fine for acne-prone skin,” confirms Dr. Nazarian. “The mineral blockers tend to be a little bit more occlusive and heavy, and can often trap heat, so choose one that has a more cosmetically elegant feel and doesn’t feel too thick on your skin, such as the lotions or serums, rather than the creams or ointments.”
The Best Way to Apply Sunscreen to Acne-Prone Skin
As long as you’re applying sunscreen in the first place, you’re doing it right. That said, there are a few dermatologist-approved application tips that can help ensure your skin is safer than ever from sunscreen-caused breakouts:
- First, follow your normal skin care routine in the morning. “After patting dry, you should apply an oil-free antioxidant serum,” says Dr. Nazarian. These brightening serums will help fight damaging free radicals during the day, preventing the effects of future sun damage.
- “Then, you should apply your oil-free sunscreen,” adds Dr. Nazarian. This should be done at least 15 minutes before heading outside, as that’s how long it takes for your skin to absorb the product and be fully protected. After your SPF has absorbed, you can apply your makeup and start your day.
- Sunscreen should be applied every two hours, but if you’re sweating throughout the day, Dr. Waldorf has a tip: “The big problem for my patients with acne is applying sunscreen after sweating, especially if they wear foundation — the foundation pools around the pores and aggravates acne,” she explains. “So, I recommend carrying some pre-moistened makeup remover towelettes in a ziplock to cleanse the face after sweating, even if you’re not at home. By doing this, it’s easy to reapply sunblock with or without foundation, and reduce the chances of more breakouts from occurring.”
Meet the Experts
Dr. Joshua Zeichner: A leading dermatologist in the country, Dr. Zeichner is the Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Dr. Zeichner is also the medical advisor for the skincare brand Jori, which focuses on treating acne-prone skin.
Dr. Heidi Waldorf: After years of practicing all aspects of dermatology, Dr. Waldorf is an expert in aesthetic concerns ranging from skin rejuvenation to noninvasive fat reduction. With a steady stream of loyal patients in her local area, Dr. Waldorf also travels to speak at major aesthetic surgery meetings across the world, especially in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian: As one of the top dermatologists in New York City, Dr. Nazarian treats patients with a range of aesthetic concerns, from cosmetic procedures to skin cancer treatment. She also has written many published articles in medical journals and dermatology textbooks, making her a widely respected doctor among patients and fellow experts alike.
Meet the Author
Julie Ricevuto is a beauty and wellness journalist. She’s written for leading outlets like Allure Magazine, The Today Show, Glamour Magazine, and more. Julie brings the latest cosmetic news to the forefront, along with how-tos, scientific study breakdowns, and expert interviews. When she’s not working, you can find her training for her next marathon or restaurant-hopping in search of the best pasta dish in New York City.