Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/11/2022
If you live with acne or have acne-prone skin, you’ve probably heard your fair share of ‘don’ts’ when it comes to managing your condition. Keep your fingers to yourself and pop your acne breakouts.
It doesn’t matter if you spent three hours, or five minutes on your make-up, don’t sleep in it! For acne care, absolutely do not use multiple products at the same time. You’d be risking inflammation, clogged pores and dry skin.
When it comes to 'do’s', however, high up on the list is that you apply a suitable amount of sunscreen daily. This can help with managing your acne and any acne scarring. But while this is correct, not just any sunscreen should go on your face.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that your choice of sunscreen should offer protection with a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher (bonus points if it’s also water-resistant!) Beyond that, care has to be taken that your sunscreen is made of ingredients that help in managing your acne.
To make sure you’re selecting the best sunscreen for acne, we’ve put together seven of the best ingredient options for sunscreen. But first, let’s see just how sunscreen can affect your acne.
TL;DR: sunscreen can help with acne. Sunscreen’s ability to block harmful UV rays has shown to have many positive effects, such as limiting oil production, preventing blocked pores, and even working against signs of aging.
But to truly appreciate it, you need to understand how bad the sun can be for your skin — especially where acne is concerned.
A study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology found that ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB rays) produced by the sun has been reported to cause the enlargement of the sebaceous gland, and an increase in sebum (oil) secretion (which can lead to oily skin). They have also been linked to an increase in the number of comedones on the skin.
Ever the supervillains, these UV rays also target skin cells, while suppressing the body's ability to fight them off. By doing this, acne-causing bacteria — p.acnes may overrun the skin, causing blemishes.
And if that isn’t bad enough, exposure to sunlight can lead to solar acne, otherwise known as acne solaris, according to an article published in the journal, Medicina Cutanea Ibero-Latino-Americana. This form of acne is typically found in the chest and around the shoulders.
But there’s good news. According to an article published in the journal, Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin, you have the benefits of a tube of broad-spectrum sunscreen to stand up for you. Broad-spectrum sunscreen gives protection against the sun’s dangerous rays.
This type of sunscreen is also helpful in preventing signs of aging and sunburns. It reduces sun damage such as blotchy skin tones and reduces your chances of developing skin cancer.
If you're all set to deflect UV rays, delay aging and keep acne away from your face, here are sunscreen ingredients to look for:
If you have better-looking skin than everyone thanks to prolonged sunscreen use (good for you!), you're probably no stranger to this sunscreen ingredient.
Zinc oxide has been used for decades as an inorganic sun blocker. It has UVA blocking features that are necessary for skin protection against aging and hyperpigmentation, according to an article published by StatPearls. It is however less effective for UVB blockage.
An article published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology explains that this ingredient is believed to have moderate antioxidant properties, but is also known for its antibacterial and antimicrobial features. These features can combat acne on your face, back, or shoulders; acne won’t stand a chance.
Zinc oxide was previously notorious for leaving a spooky white cast after use, but with the adoption of nanoparticles, it now applies clearly for use as a sun blocker, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Titanium dioxide is another potent inorganic sun blocker. Now, if you were wondering, this is actually a good thing. According to a study published in the journal, Nanotechnology Science and Applications, inorganic sun blockers are a preferred option because they cause less skin irritation, lending themselves to use on sensitive skin. They are also known to offer broad-spectrum protection.
Titanium dioxide nanoparticles have been proven to remain on the skin surface, according to an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. They do not penetrate into the skin, which is why this sun blocker is widely believed to be non-comedogenic i.e, it will not clog pores. Another win for acne-prone skin looking for sun protection.
Known benefits for acne-prone skin to the side, this B-Vitamin is close to giving other ingredients a bad name, thanks to its potential abilities in keeping the skin healthy.
According to an article published in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology the topical application of niacinamide is great for anti-aging: it smoothes out wrinkles and may play a role in preventing skin cancer. It also improves moisture content in the skin and is useful for the production of ceramides.
However, its anti-inflammatory properties make niacinamide an inactive ingredient to look out for when selecting daily sunscreen for acne-prone skin. Niacinamide alone is not a sun protection product, so be sure to look for it as an ingredient in a product with other SPF qualities.
A review published in the International Journal of Biological Macromolecules says that because inflammation is a leading cause of acne, the anti-inflammatory properties of this acid make it a great active ingredient for sunscreen and any skincare products truly invested in your good looks.
Hyaluronic acid is also effective in reducing acne scarring due to its cell regenerating abilities, according to an article published by the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. However, like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid is not sun protection on its own. To stay protected against the sun, look for it as an inactive ingredient in a product with SPF 30 or higher.
Besides causing you to rue your teenage years, acne may be responsible for other damaging effects to your well-being, like the impairment of your skin barrier, says an article published in the journal, BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. And, according to The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, acne can affect its normal functioning, and also increase your chances of developing more acne.
An article published in The American Journal of Clinical Dermatology says that ceramides may help to manage this impairment by regulating skin barrier function. In addition to this, ceramides are also great for hydrating the skin, according to a comparative study published in the International Journal of Dermatology.
As great as ceramides are at hydrating your skin, they too, like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, are not standalone sun protection. If you want the most out of your ceramides, make sure you look for products containing an SPF 30 or more.
This vitamin is always a good option when it comes to skincare ingredients. As a part of your lotion, creams, and of course sunscreen — vitamin E may play an important role in acne treatment and prevention, this is thanks to its impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, according to the NIH.
Similar to other ingredients on this list, vitamin E will not protect your skin from harmful UV rays on its lonesome. Stay on the lookout for sun protection products that contain vitamin E as an inactive ingredient that also have an SPF of 30 or higher.
Here's what you need to know about vitamin C, acne and you. According to an article published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, with antioxidant properties, this vitamin may be able to fight off the free radicals that cause acne.
Should you already have acne, its anti-inflammatory properties can help to reduce the redness and swelling that can accompany an outbreak. If you deal with acne scarring, vitamin C is an important part of the production process of collagen, a protein that may cause significant scarring when reduced, according to an article published in the journal, Dermatology Research and Practice.
As a part of sunscreen which helps to prevent UV rays that can worsen acne, vitamin C is an easy ingredient choice, but it will not protect against the sun on its own. Look for sunscreen products that contain vitamin C as an inactive ingredient for the best results.
Whether you are searching for a mineral sunscreen that will have your skin generally protected against the sun, or a more makeup-friendly option, such as sunscreen with a tint or a matte finish, there are a few things to watch for when shopping for anti-acne sun-protection products. In addition to the previously listed ingredients, you'll want to look for facial sunscreens that:
are non-greasy/oil free (in order to avoid clogging pores)
are considered a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30+ (higher rates, like SPF 50 or SPF 60 are even better)
Should you have acne or acne-prone skin, these sunscreen favors may be quadrupled by the inclusion of choice ingredients like zinc oxide, ceramides, vitamin C and other listed ingredients, which offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and scar lightening benefits for your skin.
You will be doing your skin multiple favors by including sunscreen into your daily skincare routine for acne. If you're still not finding the perfect match for you, ask your dermatologist or healthcare provider what sunscreen they recommend for your skin type.
You can also check out our list of sunscreen and moisturizer recommendations here.