Sunscreens, like moisturizers, are a product that many people dealing with acne are hesitant to use.
This is understandable, as sunscreens are often too heavy and greasy, don’t sit well under makeup, leave a white cast, and frequently cause more breakouts for those with acne-prone skin.
However, although this is the case with many sunscreens on the market, that doesn’t change the fact that sunscreens are the most important product everyone should be using on their face, acne or not.
Sunscreens protect the skin from cellular damage caused by UV rays and prevent issues like premature wrinkles, sun spots, and acne scarring.
But before you give up on these benefits, you need to know that sunscreens are not all bad and that only certain ingredients in sunscreens are what could be causing your skin woes.
Therefore, in this article, we are going to discuss what ingredients in sunscreens you should avoid if you have acne-prone skin so that you can reap the benefits of sun protection without any added skin issues.
Stearates are commonly used in sunscreens as texture enhancers to give the formula a soft and creamy feel and make it spread easily on the skin.
They are also beneficial for dry and cracked skin as they create an occlusive layer on the skin’s surface that helps prevent moisture from evaporating.
However, they can be a major culprit in acne-prone skin, as stearates are fatty acids with a waxy consistency, which can easily clog pores and lead to breakouts.
Stearates are also one of my least favorite ingredients in skincare and makeup products, and I always steer clear of products that contain them as my skin reacts to them the most.
You can easily spot stearates in skincare products because their name ends with “stearate” or “state” or has “stearic” or some variation of “stearyl/steareth” in it.
However, one thing to mention is stearates are found in many sunscreens, so avoiding them completely is incredibly challenging.
Therefore, if you can’t entirely avoid them, try to at least opt for sunscreens that don’t contain many of them.
Some common stearates found in sunscreens include:
Emollients are softening ingredients that keep the skin feeling soft, hydrated, and smooth.
These ingredients are often used in sunscreens to solubilize solid UV filters and render them efficient and for their soothing and protective properties, which are beneficial to those with dry, itchy, or scaly skin and conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and ichthyosis.
And while they can definitely benefit certain conditions, they can sometimes be problematic for acne-prone skin, as their heavy texture can lead to clogged pores and breakouts.
It’s important to note that emollients aren’t always the problem, and some acne-prone skin can tolerate them while others can’t.
So, when it comes to emollients, you really have to determine whether some of these are causing you issues on an ingredient-to-ingredient basis.
The best way to do this is to list the emollients found in your skincare products and experiment by cutting some products out and reintroducing them back into your skincare routine after some time to see how your skin reacts.
Some common emollients found in sunscreens include:
Now, the first thing I will say about silicones in sunscreens is that it’s damn near impossible to avoid them in this particular product.
Silicones play an important role in sunscreens to aid the texture and make the formula glide on the skin easily.
Sunscreens can be incredibly messy, mainly due to containing UV-protecting agents, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are super thick and leave a white cast, so silicones are the cheapest and easiest ingredients to formulate with, and they help make the product feel a tad bit lighter and silky on the skin.
However, all that doesn’t change the fact that silicones can be pore-clogging and can lead to the dreaded acne.
So, if you can’t find a sunscreen without silicones, try to at least find one that doesn’t contain many of them.
Additionally, if your sunscreen contains silicones, you definitely have to have an excellent skincare routine that addresses your skin concerns, keeps your acne under control, and mitigates the potential of breakouts.
Particularly focus on having an excellent cleanser, as silicones are hydrophobic components, which means they repel water.
For this reason, products containing many silicones don’t rinse away easily and can remain on your skin, creating an environment conducive to breakouts.
A cleanser specifically formulated to remove silicones, oils, and other occlusive ingredients from the skin is essential, as this will help ensure your sunscreen is thoroughly removed and won’t cause acne.
All that being said, here are some of the most commonly found silicones in skincare products:
Oils in skincare products are basically the same thing as emollients, and they serve the same purpose of keeping the skin soft and smooth.
They are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids that help nourish and protect the skin, aiding in healing skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
And while oils are beneficial in many ways, they can be a bit of a double-edged sword for those dealing with acne.
For example, acne is often the result of a compromised skin barrier that’s not functioning properly, and thus the process of natural lubrication through our sebum and shedding of skin cells is hindered, resulting in a high level of sebum production and clogged pores.
So, applying certain oils can sometimes help acne-prone skin as it can help normalize this process, repair the skin barrier, and help it retain moisture, thus reducing the amount of sebum produced.
However, these same oils that are beneficial for some individuals dealing with acne can be disastrous for others.
So, it’s important to be aware of the oils and their comedogenic potential before making any decisions since some oils are more likely to clog the pores than others.
Common oils with a high comedogenic potential that you should avoid if you’re dealing with acne are:
On the other hand, you have oils like squalane, jojoba, tea tree, and rosehip oil which are generally approved by many professionals and are even found in products created specifically for acne.
However, with that being said, these oils still have the potential to clog the pores for some people, so it’s important to keep that in mind before buying products that contain them simply because, according to someone, they are “non-comedogenic.”
Therefore, if you are dealing with acne, no matter how “non-comedogenic” you think the oil may be, stay away from all oils in skincare products, particularly in moisturizers and sunscreens, as these are often combined with other emollients, silicones, and stearates, so you are only doubling and tripling your chances of having a breakout.
Fragrance in sunscreens may not be as big of an issue as it would be if found in some products intended to absorb into the skin, like toners and serums; however, they can still trigger sensitive and reactive skin and cause issues like redness and irritation.
Fragrance isn’t comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores and make you break out; however, since acne is already an inflammatory condition, using products containing fragrance can make the issue worse for some people.
Additionally, fragrance in small quantities isn’t usually an issue for those who aren’t sensitive to it, but it’s still best to avoid it if you can.
That said, if you already have sunscreen containing a tiny bit of fragrance, but your skin doesn’t seem to mind, you can continue using it.
However, if your skin is acting up and becomes red, irritated, and sensitive after applying sunscreen, or it feels uncomfortable and itchy throughout the day, giving fragrance-free sunscreens a shot may be worth it.
Is Alcohol in Sunscreens Bad?
Alcohol can be problematic if found in products meant to absorb into the skin to deliver results, like toners and serums; however, it’s not an issue in sunscreens and can actually be beneficial for acne-prone skin.
Alcohol is the ingredient that will make the sunscreen less greasy. It’s something like adding paint thinner to paint to make it less dense and able to spread more easily on the surface.
Alcohol also acts as a preservative, which makes the sunscreen last longer on the shelf.
Therefore, don’t be afraid of alcohol in sunscreens unless your skin is particularly sensitive to it and it’s the ingredient that’s causing the irritation.
Are Chemical Sunscreens Bad for Acne-Prone Skin?
Chemical sunscreens contain several “controversial” ingredients, according to clean websites and ingredient-decoding apps like “Think Dirty”; however, they aren’t necessarily bad for acne-prone skin.
Some ingredients, like avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate, can cause skin irritation in sensitive individuals; however, if you aren’t sensitive to them and your skin isn’t acting up after applying the sunscreen that contains them, these ingredients shouldn’t be a problem.
If you are particularly sensitive to these ingredients or want to play it safe and avoid them altogether, sticking to mineral sunscreens containing ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide would be the best course of action.
However, chemical sunscreens are definitely more cosmetically elegant and have a better feel on the skin without leaving a white cast, so if you find one that works for your skin type and doesn’t cause any irritation, it’s perfectly fine to use it on acne-prone skin.
My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.
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