Does Sunscreen Cause Acne? How To Pick The Best Sunscreen For Acne-Prone Skin

Steer clear of the comedogenic ingredients in your sun-protection cream for acne-free skin.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Vindhya L Veerula, MD, FAAD Dr. Vindhya L Veerula Dr. Vindhya L VeerulaMD, FAAD facebook_icontwitter_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MA (English Literature) Ramona Sinha MA (English Literature) linkedin_icon Experience: 11 years
Edited by , BTech Anjali Sayee BTech linkedin_icon Experience: 7 years
Fact-checked by , MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach Shiboli Chakraborti MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach linkedin_icon Experience: 4 years
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Does sunscreen cause acne? Yes, some sunscreens can cause acne breakouts. But, that does not mean you should skip this important skin care step. On the contrary, it is critical to look after your skin by providing it with proper sun protection. While you should not go without sunscreen, you should be aware of the effects of certain types of sunscreen on your skin.

Although sunscreen can provide a protective shield against harmful UV rays, it can also clog pores and cause acne, depending on what’s in it. Therefore, you must be cautious and go through the ingredients list carefully when selecting a sunscreen. To learn more about the link between sunscreen and acne, keep reading!

Why Is Sunscreen Important?

Sunscreen is vital for protecting the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays, especially UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen works by absorbing or reflecting the sun’s rays, thus preventing them from penetrating the skin. Regular use of sunscreen not only reduces the risk of developing skin cancer but may also help prevent the formation of dark spots and other signs of premature aging.

Does Sunscreen Prevent Wrinkles?

Prolonged exposure to UVA and UVB rays may lead to severe consequences such as premature aging, sunburn, and an increased risk of skin cancer. Hence, using sunscreen is the best way to prevent the formation of wrinkles (1). It protects the skin from UV radiation, which is a major cause of premature aging and wrinkles. Consistent use of sunscreen is essential for maintaining youthful, healthy skin.

However, there is also a downside to using sunscreens. Read on to learn more about it.

Does Sunscreen Cause Acne?

You may think the active ingredients in the sunscreen are to blame for breakouts and acne.But this is far from the truth.

Your skin is not sensitive to the active ingredients in the sunscreen. These ingredients do not really make your skin break out.

Then, which ones do?

The breakouts are mainly due to other ingredients in the sunscreen, such as preservatives, fragrances, and emollients.

Moreover, improper storage of sunscreen can also break down the chemicals and ingredients and cause acne breakouts.

For instance, if you leave your bottle or tube of sunscreen inside a hot car or under the sun by the beach or poolside, the heat makes the ingredients in the sunscreen ineffective and breaks them down. When you apply it the next time, you will get breakouts.

Joan, a blogger and skin care enthusiast, faced an unexpected consequence of applying sunscreen: acne breakouts. Reflecting on the experience, she writes on her blog, “Wearing sunscreen or makeup into a 105-degree Fahrenheit [environment] would definitely turn my normally acne-free face into clog city (i).” Swift action, including an anti-acne skin care routine and switching to a physical sunscreen, visibly improved her skin within days. She adds, “The sprouts have shrunk, and by day 3, they were virtually gone.”

Certain chemical UV filters used in sunscreen can also cause skin allergies and breakouts. Let’s take a look at the ingredients that might cause acne.

What Ingredients In The Sunscreen May Cause Acne?

Certain pore-clogging ingredients in the sunscreen may cause acne. However, remember that excess build-up of dirt, oil, sebum, and dead skin cells, along with bacterial growth, causes pimples and acne. Applying products with pore-clogging ingredients that cause further congestion can worsen the situation. Hence, before buying sunscreen, make sure that it does not contain these ingredients:

1. Comedogenic Oils And Butters

Coconut oil in sunscreen may cause acne
Image: Shutterstock

A lot of sunscreens contain ingredients like cocoa butter, wheat germ oil, soybean oil, and coconut oil. Although they are natural ingredients, they tend to clog skin pores. If you have acne-prone skin, these ingredients can aggravate your breakouts. Hence, avoid them. Instead, you can pick sunscreens that contain sunflower, jojoba, sea buckthorn, rosehip seed, and grapeseed oils.

2. Mineral Oils And Silicones

Mineral oil in sunscreen may cause acne
Image: Shutterstock

These are the two most common ingredients you will find in sunscreens. Mineral oils and silicones do not let sweat escape through your skin pores. As a result, sweat and dirt are trapped inside the pores, ultimately causing skin irritation and breakouts.

3. Benzophenones

These are UV filters that you will find in a lot of sunscreen creams and lotions. The most common ones are oxybenzone and avobenzone. A study found that oxybenzone might induce erythematous papulovesicular eruptioni  A rash with an abrupt outbreak with many vesicles (fluid-filled skin elevations) and papules (solid skin elevations). and cause photoallergyi  Increased skin sensitivity or an allergic reaction experienced due to prolonged exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. . It concluded that benzophenones could induce such skin responses (2).

4. PABA And Other Chemicals

A few ingredients, such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and methoxycinnamate (commonly found in waterproof sunscreen), can cause acne and breakouts if you have sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Try to avoid sunscreens containing:

  • Butyl stearate
  • Decyl oleate
  • Isopropyl myristate
  • Isopropyl isostearate
  • Isopropyl neopentanoate
  • Myristyl myristate
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Octyl palmitate
  • Myristyl propionate
  • Octyl stearate
  • Peppermint oil or propylene glycol-2 (PPG-2)

All these chemicals can irritate acne-prone skin and cause breakouts (3).

5. Beeswax And Other Plant Waxes

Beeswax in sunscreen may cause acne
Image: Shutterstock

Plant waxes and beeswax are extremely beneficial for skin, and most skin types can tolerate them. However, if you have sensitive and acne-prone skin, these waxes may clog your skin further. These ingredients can clog the already clogged pores, making it difficult for the skin to breathe.

Remember, all of these ingredients may or may not suit your skin. Some skin types can easily tolerate these ingredients, and others may not. Hence, it is important to pick your sunscreen wisely. Here are a few tips to keep in mind while picking a sunscreen.

Tips To Choose The Right Sunscreen For Your Skin

1. Check For Sunscreen That Says “Non-Comedogenic” And “Oil-free”

Non-comedogenic is the word you should focus on if you have acne-prone skin. It means the sunscreen doesn’t contain any ingredients that can clog your skin pores and cause breakouts. Oil-free sunscreens help to keep away excess oil from the skin.

2. Avoid Oxybenzone And PABA

If you have acne-prone, sensitive, or rosaceai  A skin condition that leads to visible blood vessels, redness, and pimples (small, often pus-filled) bumps on the face. and eczema-prone skini  A type of skin that is more likely to contract eczema, a chronic condition that causes dry, itchy skin and impairs the skin barrier function. , stay away from these two ingredients. If you have ultra-sensitive and acne-prone skin, it is best to stick to mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or/and titanium dioxide, which do not irritate the skin. Go for dermatologist-recommended sunscreen products to be on the safe side.

3. Pick A Day Cream With SPF

Woman applied day cream with SPF on her face
Image: Shutterstock

Moisturizing is crucial for all skin types, and if the day cream contains SPF, your skin is going to love it. Instead of layering your skin with a moisturizer and an SPF, pick a product that offers both. There are a lot of moisturizer-sunscreen combos available on the market that have SPF 30 or higher along with broad-spectrum protection. Check them out.


protip_icon Quick Tip
As an alternative to moisturizers with sunscreen, you can choose sunscreens that have a thick and creamy consistency. These often can double up as a moisturizer, especially for those who have oily or combination skin. Simply cleanse and tone your face before layering on your sunscreen.

4. Choose A Tinted Sunscreen

Woman applying tinted sunscreen
Image: Shutterstock

This is for those who have oily skin and use makeup. Instead of layering your skin with foundation and sunscreen cream, pick a tinted sunscreen and finish it off with loose powder with sunscreen ingredients.

If you are confused about what type of sunscreen you should pick for your skin, the American Academy of Dermatology Association has a few tips (4):

  • If you have dry skin, pick sunscreen creams for your face.
  • For other parts of the body, gel-based sunscreens work best.
  • For the sensitive area around the eyes, sunscreen sticks work best.

The American Academy of Dermatology also has guidelines on how much sunscreen you need to apply and the frequency of application.

  • Adults usually need about 30 mL of sunscreen to cover every part of their body.
  • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before stepping out in the sun and reapply every two hours or as per the directions on the bottle.
  • Do not forget your lips! Apply lip balm or lipstick with SPF while going out.

protip_icon Quick Tip
Besides choosing the right sunscreen for your skin type, you need to apply the right sunscreen removal method to prevent breakouts. Use an oil-based cleanser to thoroughly massage and remove any trace of the sunscreen and gently wipe off with a cleansing wipe or damp cotton cloth.

We hope that you now have answers to all of your doubts. If you have any more questions, post them in the comments section below, and we will get back to you.

Infographic: Ingredients To Avoid In A Sunscreen

Yes, sunscreen is always a must, especially when outdoors. However, certain ingredients in the sunscreen may clog pores, cause breakouts, and irritate sensitive skin. Check out the infographic to learn more about the ingredients you must avoid when buying sunscreen. Scroll down.

ingredients to avoid in a sunscreen (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

If you have experienced breakouts after using a particular sunscreen, take a closer look at the ingredients. Sunscreen does not cause acne. However, common skin irritants like fragrances, artificial preservatives, dyes, and other chemicals present in sunscreen may cause acne and trigger breakouts. Some products may also contain emollients, which may decongest the pores if not washed out properly at the end of the day. While you cannot skip sunscreen when going out, checking the ingredients list will help you make an informed decision and avoid skin issues. You may also consult a dermatologist and use the recommended sunscreen.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does sunscreen make pimples worse?

No, sunscreen will not worsen your pimples if you wear the right one. Also, not wearing it may make pimples worse. Follow the buying guide above and choose the best sunscreen for your skin.

Should I wear sunscreen every day?

Yes, sunscreen is an essential part of your skin care routine. Wear it whenever you go out into the sun and reapply every 2 hours. You can also wear it even if you are indoors.

Can sunscreen remove acne scars?

No. While sunscreen won’t actually get rid of acne scars, it can help stop further harm that might make them look worse.

Can I put pimple cream on sunscreen?

No. It is generally not advised to combine pimple creams and sunscreen, because they are meant for different purposes and may interact in unexpected ways. Combining the two products may decrease their efficacy while also raising the possibility of skin irritation or other negative reactions.

Can certain skin types be more prone to acne caused by sunscreen?

Yes, certain skin types are more prone to acne from sunscreen. People with oily or combination skin may be more prone to acne caused by sunscreen, as the extra oil on the skin can mix with sunscreen and cause clogged pores. Also, those with sensitive skin may be more prone to acne induced by sunscreen because their skin is more likely to react to particular components in the sunscreen.

Key Takeaways

  • Sunscreens that contain cocoa butter, wheat germ oil, soybean oil, and coconut oil may clog skin your skin pores.
  • Mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the best options if you have sensitive and acne-prone skin.
  • Choose a tinted sunscreen if you have oily skin and use makeup.
does sunscreen cause acne

Image: Dall·E/StyleCraze Design Team

Curious about the connection between sunscreen and acne breakouts? This video explores their potential link and offers insights for healthier, protected skin. Tune in now!

Personal Experience: Source

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7759112/
  2. Photoallergic contact dermatitis to oxybenzone
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2133.1994.tb08469.x?sid=nlm%3Apubmed
  3. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products cosmetics and ingredients in the rabbit ear
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6229554/
  4. SUNSCREEN FAQS
    https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs
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Dr. Veerula (Dr. V) is a diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and American Society of Dermatologic Surgeons. She is an energetic, proactive, and compassionate medical practitioner with 5 years of experience and a thorough understanding of overall mind-body-spiritual wellness. Dr.V is on a mission to inspire and teach people to...read full bio

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