How can I avoid acne breakouts from using sunscreen?

Dr. Doris Day, MD
It's a myth that sunscreens cause acne. For people who feel that they breakout after using sunscreens, it may be that they are having an irritant reaction to the sunscreen or the sun, which can look like acne. These types of rashes can have the red bumps that look just like acne but don’t typically improve with acne medications.

The best treatment is to avoid the irritant, whether it is the sun or the products with which you have reacted. If the rash persists, allergy testing can be done; this sometimes helps to identify the offending agent. This is done by using patch testing of common offending agents to the skin. Sometimes specific tests can be done if a particular agent is thought to be the culprit.

Finally, it may be that the vehicle of the sunscreen preparation, not the active ingredient of the sunscreen itself, may be too greasy or occlusive, and therefore, a different choice of sunscreen should be made. If you are using a cream, switch to a lotion. If you are using a lotion, try a gel. Sunscreens are also available in oil-free preparations for those with especially oily or acne-prone skin.

For my younger patients with oilier skin, I usually recommend a sunscreen in a gel formulation. I find that the gel dries more quickly and does not run into the eyes in those who are more physically active and may be sweating more. I also find that gels, because they are more drying, are less likely to be a problem for those with acne.

There are wonderful SPF-tinted moisturizers that help to conceal the acne while protecting from the sun. Products are available that combine acne treatments with sun protection, which can also be useful. Many new combination sunscreen/treatments are available in nearly every type of vehicle, and thus, there most likely is something for everyone.
100 Questions & Answers About Acne

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100 Questions & Answers About Acne

100 Questions and Answers About Acne provides you with all the information you need to manage your complexion problems. Written by Dr. Doris J. Day, a world-class expert in the field, this clearly...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.