(Last Updated On: April 24, 2018)

If you think acne prevention and sun protection are a trade-off, think again.

Gone are the days when sunscreen was always a sticky goop that would suffocate your skin for sure.

Today you can find sunscreens that are noncomedogenic (if you don’t know what that is don’t worry; I’ll explain), cleansing and easily absorbed, which are critical to ensuring a worry-free sunscreen experience.

To help you choose the best one, we at Unsullyd reviewed 20 or so popular sunscreens to select the 5 that are best for acne prone skin.

At A Glance: The Best Sunscreens For Acne Prone Skin

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 yields a silky smooth finish and can soothe aggravated skin.

Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen For Acne-Prone Skin, Broad Spectrum Spf 55 is very light on the skin and very good at sun protection, protecting you from tan lines.

Elta MD UV shield SPF 45 feels silky on the skin and protects against pigmentation.

Replenix Sheer Physical Sunscreen Cream SPF 50+ has a creamy (heavier) texture and does not leave any white marks on the skin despite being a mineral sunscreen.

Paula’s Choice SKIN BALANCING Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30 has a light texture and gives a matte finish while keeping your skin supple.

01. EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 Review

You may be wondering why Zinc Oxide, a broad spectrum mineral sunblock, is combined with Octinoxate, a UVB chemical sunscreen.

To be honest, we’re not sure about this either.

Our best guess is that (Elta MD doesn’t specify this) the Octinoxate is ‘encapsulated’ within silica.

This helps it stick to the skin surface providing some degree of water resistance.

With its extremely light gel-like texture this offering from Elta MD is a pleasure to apply.

Our review indicates it calms down aggravated skin. You may even experience a pleasant cooling sensation.

Some users may experience some burning which, as we shall explain shortly, depends on their tolerance of Niacinamide.

One thing which was a delightful surprise was how it goes on absolutely sheer even though it includes Zinc Oxide.

It starts out as a white lotion but once you massage it in, you should not have any embarrassing white streaks or experience ‘flashback’ in photos.

And yes, that holds true even if your skin is quite dark.

It yields a silky smooth finish; depending on your skin you’ll be either classic matte or slightly dewy. However you can rule out any greasiness.

Coming to makeup, the verdict is a bit more mixed.

The sunscreen seems to go well with most makeup; in fact, it can double as a primer.

However it does start pilling under some makeup, especially some primers and foundations.

It does offer very good sun protection. You may get some tan but no question of burns or spots.

Niacinamide has been proven to be of considerable use in hydrating skin, resisting acne and slowing aging of the skin.

On the other hand, Niacinamide can also trigger two kinds of unwanted reactions:

  • A purging, an initial period of breakouts, which should stop within a week or two.
  • If you have sensitive skin, you may experience an unwanted reaction.

So, if you have sensitive skin, better start out with a patch test before deciding whether this is your go-to sunscreen.

The main ingredients are listed below.

Active Ingredients – 9.0% Zinc Oxide and 7.5% Octinoxate.

SolventPurified Water
EmollientCyclopentasiloxane, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate
AntioxidantNiacinamide, Vitamin E*
Skin smoothingNiacinamide
EmulsifierHydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer, PEG-7 Trimethylolpropane Coconut Ether, Oleth-3 Phosphate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane
Viscosity controllingHydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Polyisobutene, Butylene Glycol
OpacifyingHydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer
Film formingPolyisobutene
HumectantSodium Hyaluronate, Lactic Acid, Butylene Glycol
Skin conditioningVitamin E*
ExfoliantLactic Acid
BufferLactic Acid
PreservativePhenoxyethanol, Iodopropynyl Butyl-carbamate

* As Tocopheryl Acetate.

Directions

  • Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Reapply every 2 hours.
  • One pump each should suffice for the face, the neck and your hands.

What I Liked

Suitable for users with dark skin; does not leave any white marks once you massage it in.

Soothing on the skin.

Silky smooth finish.

Good sun protection.

Includes a dedicated exfoliant (which is good for acne prone skin).

What I Didn’t Like

If you have sensitive skin start out with patch tests to see if your skin can handle this sunscreen.

Not suitable if you’re swimming or sweating extensively.

May pill under certain makeup.

02. Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen For Acne-Prone Skin, Broad Spectrum Spf 55 Review

First things first, this is a chemical sunscreen and doesn’t leave white marks on your skin or clothes.

It starts out as a white lotion but once you massage it into the skin it sinks in fairly quickly and absorbs clear.

Even people with brown or black skin should not face the horror of a white cast or ghostly ‘flashback’ photos.

Fully absorbed, it should yield a silky matte finish.

Texture-wise it is on the lighter side among lotions, in our opinion. Forget feeling greasy or sticky, it’s quite runny and may even leak out from your hands during application.

We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that despite being so light this sunscreen is quite water resistant and should not melt under a light drizzle or sweat.

However in our opinion it is not waterproof and will not suffice for physical activity involving heavy perspiration.

Talking of sweat, if the sunscreen does melt off and leak into your eyes, you may be in for some stinging and pain.

To avoid this we’d recommend using a mineral sunscreen (with Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide as active ingredient(s)) around the eyes.

Talking of stinging, this sunscreen is mild on the skin. Unless your skin is quite sensitive, we expect you to be able to enjoy a sting-free sunscreen experience.

It lives up to its ‘breakout-free’ name and does not worsen issues like acne or rosacea.

As far as sun protection is concerned this gets full marks. Forget sunburns, you aren’t even likely to get bikini tan lines.

In addition to the active ingredients, sarcosine also has an ability to limit the action of ultraviolet radiation, thus acting as a kind of sunblock.

Cinnamon (Cinnamon zeylanicum) has been recognized as a powerful inhibitor of acne growth.

The main ingredients are listed below.

Active Ingredients – 2.7% Avobenzone, 4.0% Homosalate, 4.5% Octisalate, 6.0% Octocrylene and 4.5% Oxybenzone.

SolventWater
AbsorbentSilica, Sodium Polyacrylate
OpacifyingSilica
Viscosity controllingSilica, Sodium Polyacrylate, Polyester-7, Propylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Xanthan Gum
Skin conditioningCetyl Dimethicone, Ethylhexylglycerin, Caprylyl Glycol, Polyester-7, Bisabolol, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Xanthan Gum, Sarcosine, Cedrus atlantica bark extract
Film formingStyrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Sodium Polyacrylate, Polyester-7, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Mannan
EmollientC12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Sodium Polyacrylate, Dimethicone, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Diethylhexyl 2,6-Naphthalate
AntimicrobialC12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Chlorphenesin, Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark extract
PreservativeEthylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Chlorphenesin, BHT
CleansingSteareth-100, Capryloyl Glycine
EmulsifierSodium Polyacrylate, Steareth-2, Xanthan Gum, Trideceth-6
Skin protectantDimethicone, Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark extract
HumectantPropylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark extract
Chelating agentDisodium EDTA
Skin soothingBisabolol, Portulaca oleracea extract
UV absorberDiethylhexyl 2,6-Naphthalate
FragranceCedrus atlantica bark extract, Cinnamomum zeylanicum bark extract
AntioxidantCinnamomum zeylanicum bark extract, Portulaca oleracea extract

Directions

  • Apply liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Reapply
    • Every 80 minutes if you’re swimming or perspiring heavily.
    • Immediately after towel drying.
    • Every 2 hours otherwise.

What I Liked

 Absorbs clear; does not leave white marks on your skin.

 Silky matte finish.

 Extremely light on the skin.

 Reasonably water resistant.

 Does not trigger/aggravate breakouts.

 Will not allow tan lines or sunburn.

What I Didn’t Like

In our opinion (this is explained below) SPF 55 is overkill.

Not waterproof.

May sting if you have sensitive skin.

03. Elta MD UV shield SPF 45 Review

If you’re a sunscreen aficionado you may well wonder why Zinc Oxide, a broad spectrum mineral sunblock, is combined with Octinoxate, a UVB chemical sunscreen.

To be honest, we’re not sure about this either.

Our best guess is that (Elta MD doesn’t specify this) the Octinoxate is ‘encapsulated’ within silica.

This helps it stick to the skin surface providing some degree of water resistance.

With its lotion-like consistency this sunscreen spreads over the skin easily enough.

It goes on white but should become clear as you massage it into your skin.

A trace white cast may persist but it shouldn’t be a problem except for users with very dark skin.

It isn’t light and has a definite (silky) feel on the skin but not sticky or greasy.

This sunscreen does not pill up or react with makeup. You can apply it before or after makeup; it should be fine either way.

It’s reasonably moisturizing.

For people with oily skin this can double as a moisturizer but if you have normal to dry skin we’d recommend using a light moisturizer in tandem with it.

It works best in humid climates. In drier regions it may prove a little drying for the skin.

In terms of sun protection this definitely does the trick, including protection against pigmentation.

It does not irritate the skin or trigger acne/rosacea breakouts.

We’d have liked it even more had it included an exfoliant or at least a cleansing agent.

You should also be careful if you sweat heavily since that could melt the sunscreen, sending some into your eyes. That may sting your eyes a bit.

The main ingredients are listed below.

Active Ingredients – 9.0% Zinc Oxide and 7.5% Octinoxate.

SolventPurified Water
EmollientIsopropyl Palmitate, Octyl Stearate
Texture enhancerOctyl Stearate , Cetearyl Alcohol
EmulsifierCetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate-60, Oleth-3 Phosphate, Cetearyl Glucoside, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer, PEG-7 Trimethylolpropane Coconut Ether, Triethoxycaprylylsilane
PreservativePhenoxyethanol, Iodopropynyl Butyl-carbamate
OpacifyingHydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer
Viscosity controllingHydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Polyisobutene, Polyether-1, Butylene Glycol
Film formingPolyisobutene
HumectantButylene Glycol
AntioxidantVitamin E*
Skin conditioningVitamin E*
BufferCitric Acid

* As Tocopheryl Acetate.

Directions

  • Apply to face, neck and on backs of your hands 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Re-apply every 2 hours.

What I Liked

 Lotion-like consistency.

 Easily applied and spread over the skin.

 No significant white cast.

 Not sticky or greasy on the skin.

 Does not pill up or react with makeup.

 Reasonably moisturizing.

 Protects well against sunburns and pigmentation.

What I Didn’t Like

 Does not include a dedicated exfoliant or cleansing agent.

Lacks water resistance. So it won’t suffice if you swim or perspire heavily.

May sting a bit if it leaks into your eyes.

04. Replenix Sheer Physical Sunscreen Cream SPF 50+ Review

What we liked best about this sunscreen is that despite being a mineral sunscreen (Zinc Oxide is the active ingredient) it goes on clear and does not leave any noticeable white marks on your skin or clothes.

As the name itself suggests this is a cream with an appropriately heavy texture.

Many users prefer sunscreens with a heavier texture.

Even those who normally prefer the light options feel the need for a heavier sunscreen if they’re on a hike or swimming (extensive exposure to water or sweat).

However creamy does not mean greasy.

Sure, it’ll start out sticky (being a cream) but it absorbs and dries quickly, giving a matte finish.

Coming to makeup, it mostly works well with most makeup. However it may ball up under certain products so watch out for that when you’re starting out with this sunscreen.

It does not irritate the skin or cause breakouts. In fact you may feel a soothing sensation on sensitive skin.

It can be applied at sensitive areas like around the eyes and won’t sting or burn.

Sun protection is up to the mark but it’s not waterproof.

Antioxidants are a dime a dozen but Green Tea Polyphenols are specifically known to resist UV-induced oxidative stress.

The main ingredients are listed below.

Active Ingredients – 13.75% Zinc Oxide.

EmulsifierAcrylates Crosspolymer-4, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Dicetyl Phosphate, Lauryl PEG/PPG-18/18 Methicone, Xanthan Gum
Viscosity controllingAcrylates Crosspolymer-4, Neopentyl Glycol Dipheptanoate, Xanthan Gum
AntioxidantVitamin C*, Ascorbyl Palmitate (also a form of Vitamin C), Green Tea Polyphenols, Vitamin A***, Resveratrol, Vitamin E****, Ubiquinone
Skin conditioningVitamin C*, Vitamin H**, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Indian Gooseberry (Emblica officinalis) Fruit Extract, Vitamin A***, Vitamin E****, Ubiquinone, Xanthan Gum
AntiseborrhoeicVitamin H**
EmollientCetearyl Alcohol, Cyclopentasiloxane, Lauryl PEG/PPG-18/18 Methicone, Neopentyl Glycol Dipheptanoate, Phospholipids
Texture enhancerCetearyl Alcohol
CleansingCeteth-10 Phosphate, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate
SolventCyclopentasiloxane, Purified Water
Chelating agentDisodium EDTA
PreservativePhenoxyethanol
Suspending agentPolyhydroxystearic Acid
BufferPotassium Hydroxide
Skin protectantResveratrol

* As Ascorbic Acid.

** As Biotin.

*** As Retinyl Palmitate.

**** As Tocopheryl Acetate.

Directions

  • Apply liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Reapply after swimming, towel drying and if you sweat heavily.

What I Liked

Easy to apply.

Goes on clear; no white marks on skin or clothes.

Creamy texture.

Dries quickly with a matte finish.

Should not irritate or sting your skin.

No added scent.

What I Didn’t Like

May ball/pill up under certain products.

The price is on the higher side.

Not waterproof.

05. Paula’s Choice SKIN BALANCING Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30 Review

Well, to be honest, this more an SPF moisturizer than a sunscreen but it’s so good at what it does we decided to include this as a sunscreen.

With its very light consistency, this one from Paula’s Choice is a delight to put on. It glides onto skin easily and absorbs quickly.

You may find yourself comparing it with Asian sunscreens.

Some users may find it difficult to apply; being runny it may slip out of your hand leading to some of it being wasted each time you apply.

In that case we would suggest taking some of it in your palm, rubbing your hands together and then dabbing it onto your face.

You’ll have to dab quickly though else it will dry out.

Now, you should know while acne may be much more common in people with oily skin, you may get acne if you have dry skin as well.

If you have dry skin, you should consider using a toner, preferably one with Vitamin E and/or glycolic acid along with this. Or you could use a skin booster (a.k.a. ‘oil booster’).

Some users may experience a little stinging around the eyes, but that’s not very likely.

It has a matte finish and sans makeup should give you a supple, youthful look.

On the other hand it works well with makeup as well.

It protects well against acne, including hormonal acne. Some of the ingredients may be slightly comedogenic but overall it does not clog pores.

As far as sun protection is concerned, it gets the job done.

Older users may find an additional use in this – Adenosine is known for anti-wrinkle property, especially issues like crow’s feet.

Bisabolol soothes the skin and can deal with various skin issues like redness and eczema which is good news for you if your skin is prone to acne breakouts.

The main ingredients are listed below.

Active Ingredients – 3.0% Avobenzone, 7.0% Homosalate, 2.0% Octocrylene and 4.0% Oxybenzone.

SolventWater (Aqua)
HumectantButylene Glycol, Camellia sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Panthenol***
Viscosity controllingSilica, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate
Skin conditioningCetyl Dimethicone, Aloe (barbadensis) Vera Leaf Juice Powder, Superoxide Dismutase, Adenosine, Vitamin E**, Bisabolol, Boerhavia diffusa root extract, Ginkgo biloba Leaf Extract, White Willow (Salix alba) Bark Extract
AntioxidantCamellia sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Aloe (barbadensis) Vera Leaf Juice Powder, Vitamin C*, Superoxide Dismutase, Vitamin E**, Boerhavia diffusa root extract, Ginkgo biloba Leaf Extract
Skin protectantCamellia sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Boerhavia diffusa root extract
EmollientPhospholipids
Texture enhancerAcrylates/C10-30Alkyl Acrylates Crosspolymer, Steareth-21, Steareth-2
Coloring/pigmentTitanium Dioxide
BufferSodium Hydroxide
CleanserSteareth-21
EmulsifierSteareth-2, Polysorbate 20
ChelatingDisodium EDTA
PreservativePhenoxyethanol, Sorbic Acid

* As Ascorbyl Palmitate.

** As Tocopherol.

*** a.k.a. pro-Vitamin B5.

Directions

  • Best applied after all other makeup.
  • Apply at least 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Re-apply every 2 hours as long as you’re exposed to the sun.
  • To minimize wastage
    • Take some moisturizer in your palm.
    • Rub your palms together.
    • Dab it onto your face quickly.
    • Repeat 2-3 times, working on different areas of the face each time for optimum coverage.

What I Liked

 Reasonably easy to apply.

 Goes on clear.

 Very light texture.

 It gives a matte finish and imparts a supple look.

 Works well with makeup.

 Good sun protection.

 Resists acne including hormonal acne.

 No added fragrance.

What I Didn’t Like

 If you have dry skin, use a good toner or skin/oil booster alongwith this SPF moisturizer.

 You may need to use a separate moisturizer during winter.

 It is a little runny so be careful while applying it.

 It’s a bit pricey.

What should you look for when picking a sunscreen for acne prone skin?

As you may know, acne is caused by bacterial growth in clogged pores. Pores are clogged with dirt, oil and sebum.

It’s thus clear dealing with acne will require

Cleansers to clean out the skin and prevent dirt and oil from building up .

Exfoliants to slough off dead skin cells that contribute to clogging and acne.

Antimicrobials and antioxidants to deal with acne-causing bacteria and make your skin hostile for bacterial growth.

Now we’ll define some of the properties of the ingredients and explain why they’re useful.

Skin conditioning, emollient and humectants ingredients keep skin lubricated and soft.

Antioxidants are typically used to resist phtotaging, wrinkling and environmental damage.

Film forming agents keep skin supple and can prevent roughness.

Skin protectants protect the skin from irritations.

Astringents keep pores within check.

Chelating agents bond with metallic ions to keep them from degrading products.

Emulsifiers force immiscible products to mix together similar to a solution.

Can you measure sun protection?

Indeed you can.

As you know, there are two kinds of sunrays we need protection from – UVA and UVB rays (classified by wavelength).

Globally, sunscreens are expected to disclose their SPF – Sun Protection Factor – which measures protection against UVB rays.

SPF Count% of UVB rays it protects you from
1593%
3097%
5098%

As you can see SPF 50 offers a lot of protection.

It doesn’t make much sense to go beyond SPF 50.

 

Coming to UVA rays, federal law just says sunscreens have to be ‘broad spectrum’ which means they must offer protection against UVA rays as well.

The EU has a directive saying that sunscreens must offer 1/3rd as much UVA protection as they do against UVB rays. But there is no metric of this protection.

Now we come to which sunscreen we feel is the absolute top pick for acne prone skin.

We’ll be honest; it was a real toss-up between EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 and Paula’s Choice SKIN BALANCING Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30.

 

But finally we zeroed in on the former – EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46.

One, it is a mineral sunscreen. When you have acne issues we feel a mineral sunscreen (that sits on the skin surface and physically reflects back harmful radiation) is a better choice.

Two, it has a light texture but is not runny and offers adequate sun protection.

Three it is mild on the skin and can even be soothing which is important as acne sufferers can attest.

Four it includes a dedicated exfoliant.

Five it’s not too drying on the skin.

 

IF however you face burning/stinging due to the Niacinamide (as we explained in the review) you can opt for Paula’s Choice SKIN BALANCING Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense SPF 30 which has many of the same advantages.

Right, that’s it for the Unsullyd Acne Sunscreen Review.

If you know a sunscreen that’s better for acne prone skin than the ones we’ve suggested, drop a comment.

Good suggestions may get a shout-out on Twitter and/or Facebook!

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