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What to look for — and what to avoid — in sunscreens for acne-prone skin, according to derms

Sick of breakouts popping up every time summer rolls around? Try one of these sunscreens.
Black Girl Sunscreen / Amazon
/ Source: TODAY

Sunscreen is a nonnegotiable part of a stellar skin care routine, but when you have acne-prone skin, it can cause some unpleasant side effects like irritation and breakouts.

With summer on its way, the Shop TODAY team decided it was time to kick this seasonal beauty conundrum to the curb, so we consulted a few dermatologists to find out what you should be looking for while shopping for an SPF. We also got them to name some of their favorite sunscreens for acne-prone skin!

Ingredients to avoid | What to look for | Expert picks | Meet the pros

Ingredients to avoid in sunscreen for acne-prone skin

Acne-prone skin is already inherently sensitive, and American Academy of Dermatology fellow Dr. Robert Anolik encourages his patients to avoid ingredients that could cause irritation since acne often follows.

Based on the guidance from each of the experts we spoke to, here's a list of ingredients you should avoid:

  • Fragrance
  • Silicones
  • Oils
  • Beeswax, shea butter or jojoba (which can be too occlusive for acne-prone skin, says dermatologist Dr. Leah Ansell)

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Angela Lamb says, "Just that one extra product on your skin can also clog the pores." So you want to make sure you're taking the time to select the right sunscreen for your acne-prone skin.

What to look for in sunscreen for acne-prone skin

Now that we know what to avoid, what are some green flags in sunscreens for acne-prone skin?

The experts agree that mineral sunscreens that are oil-free, non-comedogenic or water-resistant are ideal for acne-prone skin. "Any product that you put on across the majority of the face, especially sunscreen, should be non-comedogenic, which is just language for saying it won’t clog pores. Clogged pores will generally lead to acne, so you may want to look for that language on the sunscreen," Anolik explains.

"Some sunscreens, in addition to being oil-free and non-comedogenic, also contain specific acne-fighting ingredients such as salicylic acid/lactic acid or mattifying ingredients to help combat oily skin," Ansell tells us in an email.

"Physical or mineral sunscreens that use titanium or zinc are generally better tolerated and are recommended for those with sensitive skin," Dr. Brendan Camp of MDCS Dermatology adds.

Best sunscreen for acne-prone skin, according to experts

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Lotion

Anolik is a fan of this sheer SPF that absorbs quickly and also harnesses the power of Helioplex, a broad-spectrum technology that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Plus, at less than $10, the price is right!

Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Sunscreen Lotion

Neutrogena's Clear Face Liquid Sunscreen fits the bill and checks all the boxes for Ansell and Dr. Debra Jaliman. "It's oil-free and non-comedogenic so it will not clog pores. There are also no added fragrances, which can be irritating for some," says the latter.

Eucerin Oil-Control Face Sunscreen SPF 50

This broad-spectrum sunscreen in Ansell's pick for its matte finish and the fact that it contains vitamins C and E "to help protect and soothe sensitive acne-prone skin." According to the brand, it's also hypoallergenic and suitable for daily use under makeup.

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen

Dr. Liia Ramachandra, a former pharma executive and skin care expert, has a soft spot for this budget-friendly mineral sunscreen and it's easy to see why.

"I love it since it is a truly mineral/natural sunscreen with natural active ingredients and does not contain chemical oxybenzone or octinoxate," she tells us. "It is great for acne-prone skin and sensitive skin and does not contain any fragrances or parabens."

As an added bonus, the brand says this sunscreen is reef-friendly and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Sun Bum Face Lotion

Anolik enjoys this affordable fragrance-free find from Sun Bum that's available in SPF 50 and 70. Its lightweight moisturizing formula offers broad-spectrum protection and absorbs quickly without leaving behind any greasiness.

Cetaphil Pro Dermacontrol Oil Absorbing Face Moisturizer

Camp recommends this daily moisturizer from Cetaphil and cites its light formula and matte finish as major selling points. The SPF 30 moisturizer is fragrance-free, hypoallergenic and works overtime to absorb oil, reduce shine and shield your skin from the sun's dangerous rays, according to its description.

Black Girl Sunscreen Make It Matte Sunscreen

Dr. Ranella Hirsch is a fan of this matte sunscreen gel. The brand says this formula is reef-friendly, formulated without parabens, ideal for anyone with a darker skin tone and even boasts water resistance up to 80 minutes.

Hero Force Shield Superlight Sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens are a go-to for Jaliman, especially for anyone who breaks out a lot, and this formula from Hero Cosmetics is one of her favorites.

"The lightweight texture absorbs quickly without being greasy," she said.

The broad-spectrum, reef-safe sunscreen offers SPF 30 protection with the help of zinc oxide and it has a hydrating gel-cream texture that looks great under makeup.

Eucerin Sun Advanced Hydration SPF 30 Sunscreen

Hyaluronic acid joined forces with vitamins C and E to create this hypoallergenic, non-greasy sunscreen that Ramachandra swears by.

"It's great for sensitive skin and acne-prone skin and for people with allergies. It is not only protecting but also moisturizing due to the hyaluronic acid in there," the expert says.

Paula's Choice Extra Care Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 50

Ramachandra is fond of this lightweight, oil-free find from Paula's choice.

"It's really great for anyone with acne-prone and sensitive skin. It has no parabens or fragrances and is great for the face and body," she says.

The SPF 50 offers water-resistant coverage and has a silky texture that feels luxurious on oily and combination skin. It's also formulated with several antioxidants and hydrating aloe.

Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen

It's always nice when your sunscreen acts as a multitasker, and this is one of Lamb's go-tos.

"It has an antioxidant blend, which is great for acne and oil absorption," the New York City board-certified dermatologist says.

The mineral sunscreen has a sheer, silky finish and works its magic with the help of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and a range of antioxidants like blueberry acai and green tea extract. It's also formulated without parabens, phthalates and fragrance.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Light Fluid Face Sunscreen SPF 60

"This is a thin, lightweight facial sunscreen that comes in a travel-ready bottle. It is oil-free, noncomedogenic and spreads easily," Camp says.

The strong SPF 60 formula in this La Roche-Posay sunscreen provides plenty of protection from the sun and also has built-in Cell-Ox Shield technology, an antioxidant complex that protects skin from free radicals.

Ansell is also a fan of this sunscreen as well as its dry touch counterpart for her acne-prone patients because, she says, it helps absorb excess oil from the skin and will leave you with a matte finish.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

Camp raves about this popular sunscreen from EltaMD, saying the built-in niacinamide is great for rosacea-prone skin. Ansell also calls out the lactic acid in this formula, adding that it "gently exfoliates skin and can help prevent breakouts."

Neostrata Sheer Physical Protection SPF 50

Lamb appreciates this powerful, yet gentle formula that offers SPF 50 broad spectrum protection with the help of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The impressive formula also features antioxidants to keep skin happy and it has a light, matte finish.

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

Dermatologist Dr. Dhaval G. Bhanusali recommends this popular Supergoop! SPF to his clients for its oil-free formula. He specifically calls out its ability to blend into the skin well while remaining lightweight.

The water-resistant SPF 40 formula offers broad-spectrum protection, filters out blue light and serves as a nice makeup primer.

Meet the experts

  • Dr. Robert Anolik, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. He specializes in cosmetic dermatology and laser skin surgery.
  • Dr. Leah Ansell, MD, FAAD, is a New York-based board-certified dermatologist practicing at Treiber Dermatology Associates.
  • Dr. Brendan Camp, MD, is a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York. He is double board-certified in dermatology and dermatopathology.
  • Dr. Debra Jaliman, MD, is board-certified NYC dermatologist, assistant pofessor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and author of the book, “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist.
  • Dr. Liia Ramachandra, Pharm.D., Ph.D, is a former pharma executive and skin care expert based in Canoga Park, California. She is the CEO and founder of skin care brand Epilynx.
  • Dr. Ranella Hirsch, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Boston. Her specialties include laser surgery and cosmetic dermatology, often lecturing physicians on those topics.
  • Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Hudson Dermatology in New York City.