Whether you're embarking on a Mediterranean cruise or a winter getaway to the Adirondacks, it is important to keep your skin protected with SPF. However, finding the perfect sunscreen can be a daunting task as many contain ingredients that can get into your eyes and cause a burning sensation.
We spoke to board-certified dermatologists and had our Shop TODAY team test out sunscreens to find options that are easy to apply (and won't run into your eyes to cause stinging).
Why do certain sunscreens burn your eyes? | It's all in the ingredients | How to find a sunscreen that won’t burn your eyes | Does physical sunscreen work as well as traditional chemical sunscreen? | Best sunscreens that won't irritate your eyes | How we chose | Meet the experts
Why do certain sunscreens burn your eyes?
Have you ever been sitting out by the pool applying sunscreen on your face, only to have to run inside because your eyes are burning? According to Dr. Lauren Penzi, MD, FAAD, an experienced dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology, "The skin around the eyes is very thin, delicate, and sensitive compared to the remainder of the facial skin, so getting sunscreen on/near the eyes can sometimes cause an irritation and/or burning sensation."
"The burning is likely from a number of ingredients that make up sunscreens, including the chemical filters themselves, as well as the additives including preservatives, alcohols, fragrances, other botanical ingredients, etc.," shares Penzi.
Board-certified dermatologist and founder of AziMD Skincare, Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD, reiterates how delicate the eyes and eyelid skin are, making them more sensitive to chemicals. "Many of the chemical UV filters (avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone) used in sunscreens need to be stabilized with preservatives that cause irritation and allergic reactions," Shirazi explains. "When you sweat or rub your eyes it makes it even more likely for it to run into your eyes," she says.
It's all in the ingredients
When it comes to finding a solid sunscreen that won't irritate your eyes, it's no secret that the ingredients play a pivotal role in deciding which to choose.
Shirazi recommends avoiding sunscreens with chemical UV filters such as avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. "Look for a fragrance-free product designed for sensitive skin. I recommend mineral-based SPF products formulated with zinc or titanium," Shirazi says.
Penzi also agrees that you should be mindful of ingredients when selecting a sunscreen. "Avoid ingredients like fragrances, alcohol essential oils, harsh chemicals (parabens, sulfates, etc.), as these carry a higher risk or irritating the skin and especially the eyes," she suggests.
How to find a sunscreen that won’t burn your eyes
"When trying to find a sunscreen that doesn’t burn your eyes, look for a physical blocker that contains pure minerals like zinc and/or titanium oxide. The physical blockers sit on top of the skin, making it less likely to migrate into the eyes and cause irritation," Penzi says.
"In general look for labels that say hypoallergenic, fragrance free, and water resistant," continues Penzi.
"I also favor SPF products specifically formulated for the delicate eye area with minimal ingredients that are fragrance free," says Shirazi." "Many lip sunscreens may also be a good option for eyelids. Look for ones without fragrance or dyes," she recommends.
Does physical sunscreen work as well as traditional chemical sunscreen?
Physical sunscreens sit on the surface of your skin and act as a shield from the sun, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb directly into the skin.
"Physical sunscreens do work as well as traditional chemical ones, although it of course depends on various factors, including the specific active ingredients, the concentration of those ingredients, and how well the product is applied and reapplied," says Penzi.
"Given they have the same SPF level, broad spectrum (UVA+UVB) coverage, and are applied and reapplied the same, then they should be equally effective in protecting your skin from the sun," she explains.
Best sunscreens that won't irritate your eyes
Size: 1.0 fluid ounce | Other key ingredients: Zinc, vitamin E
Editorial assistant Sierra Hoeger can't get enough of this water-resistant lotion that doesn't hurt your eyes. "I’ve been using Sun Bum products for as long as I can remember, from their hair lightening products to their shampoos and sunscreens. Their face lotion with SPF 50 provides the perfect amount of protection without leaving a white cast or burning my eyes," Hoeger says.
Size: 1.7 fluid ounces | Other key ingredients: Zinc oxide, vitamin E
This chemical-free, SPF-50 sunscreen is designed to nourish sensitive skin without feeling greasy. "I also have dry, sensitive, fair skin and this blends in beautifully. It works fairly well as a primer, and doesn’t irritate my skin or eyes at all," said one verified five-star reviewer on Amazon.
Size: 5.0 fluid ounces | Other key ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide
This mineral lotion is the perfect choice for sensitive skin and provides up to 80 minutes of water-resistance. This sunscreen is fragrance free and has over 13,000 verified five-star reviews on Amazon.
"This works great as a sunscreen. I like how it’s a mineral sunscreen since I was finding my skin irritated with most other sunscreens. This one goes on smoothly and isn’t overly thick," said one verified five-star reviewer on Amazon.
Size: 3.0 fluid ounces | Other key ingredients: Jojoba, cacao, avocado
This Shop TODAY Beauty Awards winner for best sunscreen protects the skin against harmful effects of UV rays, while also keeping your eyes free from irritation. This sunscreen doubles as a moisturizing lotion and has a sheer formula that is designed to leave no residue behind.
Shop TODAY associate editor Kamari Stewart swears by this sunscreen. "I live and die by BGS. I’ve been using it for two years and have used other sunscreens but this one never, ever fails me," she says. "I have naturally oily skin and it doesn’t leave me feeling greasy at all. I love how moisturized it makes my skin feel as well. And the bottle lasts so long," Stewart explains.
Size: 3.04 fluid ounces | Other key ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide
This face and body sunscreen from La Roche-Posay is designed to leave your skin feeling soft and protected with SPF 50. This gentle lotion is 100% mineral-based and has been tested on sensitive skin, according to the brand. Many satisfied Amazon customers speak to the overall quality of the product and offer reassurance that the sunscreen does not irritate their eyes.
Size: 1.7 fluid ounces | Other key ingredients: Zinc oxide, octinoxate
Not only is this lightweight sunscreen meant to hydrate the skin, but it also is designed to absorb into the skin quickly, avoiding any unwanted run-ins with your eyes. If you're not convinced, just take a look at the 14,000+ verified five-star reviews on Amazon.
"My dermatologist recommended this product and it’s a game changer. Works so well. Does not irritate skin or eyes," said one verified five-star reviewer on Amazon.
Size: 1.7 fluid ounces | Other key ingredients: Ectoin, hyaluronic acid.
Shop TODAY production coordinator Camryn Privette recommends this Supergoop! sunscreen for multiple skin types. "This is perfect for those who forget to wear sunscreen everyday (aka me). It’s a moisturizer and SPF all in one that’s super hydrating for those with normal to oily skin types. I really love the formula for winter skin and I can’t recommend it enough," Privette says.
How we chose the best non-irritating sunscreens
We selected the best sunscreens that contain pure minerals like zinc or titanium. We followed expert advice from board-certified dermatologists, conducted market research and chose some editor-approved picks.
Meet the experts
- Dr. Lauren Penzi, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist with MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery.
- Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of AziMD Skincare.