Acne and sunscreen

Updated March 23, 2017

For many acne sufferers, foregoing sunscreen may seem like a sound idea, given the advice dispensed by family doctors and dermatologists: Avoid oil-based products, touch your face as little as possible and avoid heavily scented creams. Acne sufferers may hesitate to apply greasy sunscreen to already irritated skin, but all skin needs protection from the sun's damaging rays, regardless of its condition. Thankfully, there are products that shield skin from the sun without clogging pores.

Acne and sun exposure

Some people believe sun exposure improves acne, and use this factoid to justify skimping on sunscreen. In fact there is no proof sunlight can reduce the appearance of acne, and advises against excess sun exposure as a form of acne treatment. To avoid skin cancer and premature ageing, people with acne-prone skin need to use sunscreen. WebMD recommends applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher, at least 20 minutes prior to sun exposure.

Acne drugs and sun sensitivity

Acne sufferers using certain drugs and topical treatments have skin that's extra sensitive to sunlight, and need to be extra vigilant with sunscreen application to protect themselves. Doctors prescribe a form of vitamin A to some patients (retinoic acid) to prevent breakouts, and may also prescribe antibiotics like erythromycin to help control deep infections caused by acne bacteria. If you're on either of these medications, avoid direct sunlight and slather on sunscreen every few hours. Other prescription medications for acne may also increase sun sensitivity. Ask your doctor for additional guidance and advice.

Synthetic chemicals

Acne-prone skin best tolerates sunscreen with fewer chemical compounds. Some sunscreens contain a compound called Helioplex, which uses a chemical reaction to deflect the sun's rays from the surface of your skin. According to WebMD, this reaction can create heat bumps on sensitive skin, and is particularly problematic for people with acne. Avoid Helioplex if your skin is prone to breakouts, and look for sun protection that includes fewer chemicals in its formulation, such as zinc oxide. Heavily scented products can also irritate acne-prone skin, so look for a fragrance-free sunscreen to avoid additional skin problems.

Noncomedogenic sunscreens

Many sunscreens are oil-based and can induce breakouts, but there are formulations made especially for people with oily and acne-prone skin. Look for certain key words when shopping for skin care products, including sunscreen. Since excess oil on the skin's surface contributes to acne, look for sunscreens that are water-based instead of oil-based. If you're prone to acne, look for sunscreens labelled "noncomedogenic." These formulations are specially designed not to block pores.


If you have trouble finding sunscreen that works with your sensitive, acne-prone skin, WebMD has a few suggestions. BareMinerals SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen is a powder sunscreen that you brush onto your skin where you need protection. Retailing at £18 per 0.397 g (0.14 oz), this sunscreen rests on the surface of your skin and covers blemishes without blocking pores. If you want to treat your acne while you protect your skin, try Neutrogena Visibly Even Moisturizer SPF 15 at £7.70 per 50.3 ml (1.7 oz). This moisturiser contains salicylic acid to help clear pores and slough off dead skin cells.

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About the Author

A professional writer since 2006, Colleen Reinhart has held positions in technical writing and marketing. She also writes lifestyle, health and business articles. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Business degree from the University of Waterloo, and a Master's degree in speech-language pathology from the University of Toronto.