Does Sunscreen Cause Acne? Here’s What The Research Says


Is acne a potential side effect of using sunscreen? This concern is widespread, particularly among those grappling with skin issues. The apprehension of breakouts often leads people to omit this crucial step in their skincare routine.

However, it’s important to note that not all sunscreens are culprits in causing acne; rather, breakouts or irritation may stem from specific sunscreen formulations, potentially due to blocked pores or allergic reactions.

Research underscores the positive impact of sunscreen use in preventing photoaging, encompassing wrinkles and age spots, while also serving as a crucial defense against skin cancer.

In the forthcoming discussion, we will delve into the nuances of how certain sunscreens may contribute to acne and provide insights on what steps to take if your sunscreen is triggering breakouts.

As we mentioned earlier, not all sunscreens contribute to acne; however, some sunscreens may actually be linked to the development of acne.

Here are a few reasons why this connection may exist:

1. Mechanism of Action in Sunscreen

Sunscreens generally fall into two categories, physical and chemical.

  • Physical Sunscreens: Also known as mineral sunscreens, these work by creating a physical barrier on the surface of the skin to block UV rays. They typically use minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are less likely to clog skin pores.
  • Chemical Sunscreens: These sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat, causing the skin to sweat more. Consequently, the ingredients in chemical sunscreens can combine with excess sweat and sebum to clog skin pores, leading to the subsequent formation of comedones.

2. Some Sunscreen Ingredients:

Whether in physical or chemical form, some sunscreens contain ingredients and chemicals that can irritate the skin, increasing the likelihood of acne breakouts. Additionally, certain sunscreens may include occlusive ingredients capable of clogging pores, with the known consequences of pore blocking.

How Can You Determine If Your Sunscreen Is The Culprit Behind Your Acne?

Acne can be triggered by various factors, including hormones, genetics, stress, diet, and skincare products. Pinpointing the exact cause of your breakouts is challenging due to these multiple influences. However, there are methods to determine if your sunscreen is a culprit or exacerbating your acne.

Firstly, observe if you notice an increase in comedones or pustules when applying your sunscreen; this could indicate a contribution to your acne.

Secondly, be aware that sunscreen allergies may manifest similarly to sun allergies. If you experience redness, itching, or a rash after using sunscreen, it suggests that your sunscreen is a factor in causing your acne.

Thirdly, try discontinuing the use of your sunscreen for a few days and monitor the condition of your skin. If you observe a return to normalcy, especially if you already had acne, after ceasing the use of sunscreen, it implies that the sunscreen was responsible for the acne.

If Sunscreen Is Triggering Acne, Should You Discontinue Its Use?

You should never stop using sunscreen; it’s a crucial component of your skincare routine that shields you from the sun’s harmful effects.

Additionally, certain acne treatments can heighten your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so forgoing sunscreen can exacerbate your condition. Regular sunscreen use has been shown to prevent the development of solar keratoses, according to a study.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to persist with a sunscreen product that’s causing issues. Consider switching to a different type of sunscreen more suitable for your skin type and needs. For instance:

  • If you have oily or acne-prone skin, opt for a non-comedogenic sunscreen that won’t clog your pores. You might also prefer a lightweight gel or lotion formula that doesn’t leave a greasy residue on your skin.
  • If you have sensitive or allergic skin, choose a hypoallergenic sunscreen free from fragrances, preservatives, or other potentially irritating ingredients. A physical sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide may be preferable, as these ingredients are less likely to cause allergic reactions than chemicals.
  • If you have dry or mature skin, select a moisturizing sunscreen with hydrating ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or ceramide. A cream or ointment formula can offer enhanced protection and nourishment for your skin.

Regardless of your skin type, the ingredients in any skincare product play a significant role. If you’ve identified that your sunscreen is causing acne, and you wish to switch to a new one, understanding the ingredients is crucial.

Without knowledge of the ingredients, the information provided above may not yield successful results.

Whether the product is comedogenic or non-comedogenic, whether it has a light or heavy density, and whether it’s suitable for you all hinge on the specific ingredients within the product.

However, here are some sunscreen ingredients that people with acne-prone skin are often advised to avoid:

  • Benzophenones (such as oxybenzone)
  • Cinnamon
  • Octocrylene
  • Some preservatives like Quatrium
  • Balsam of Peru
  • Lanolin
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Mineral oil
  • Myristyl myristate
  • Ethylhexyl palmitate

These ingredients are commonly found in many sunscreens and can potentially clog pores, leading to acne breakouts.

Being aware of these components allows you to make informed choices, steering clear of formulations that might not be the best fit for your skin.

How To Treat Acne Caused By Sunscreen

Treating acne caused by sunscreen can be tricky, as it involves addressing both acne concerns and ensuring ongoing sun protection.

If your sunscreen has led to acne breakouts, you can utilize products containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid to address the issue.

To provide some clarity for those unfamiliar with these ingredients, benzoyl peroxide is a topically applied antibacterial substance used to treat acne. It effectively removes excess oil and dead skin cells from the skin and serves as a mild exfoliant, aiding in the clearance of clogged pores. Benzoyl peroxide is available in over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription medications.

On the other hand, salicylic acid is widely known for its exfoliating and anti-inflammatory properties. It acts as a chemical exfoliator, reducing excess oil production, unclogging skin pores, and eliminating acne-causing bacteria. Salicylic acid is readily available in various skincare products.

It’s important to note that when using these ingredients, they may cause your skin to become dry and more sensitive to the sun. Consequently, it’s advisable to incorporate a moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid into your skincare routine to counteract these potential effects.

In case you observe no improvement in your skin condition despite these efforts, it is crucial to consult with a dermatologist for further guidance.

Abhijit Sarkar

Abhijit Sarkar

Abhijit Sarkar is a passionate automobile engineer and part-time content writer. With his deep interest in skincare and hair care, he brings a unique perspective to the world of beauty. Abhijit's expertise lies in dissecting the science behind various hair and skin problems, providing effective solutions, and sharing practical tips for a healthy and radiant appearance. As a meticulous researcher, he delves into the intricacies of beneficial and harmful ingredients, empowering readers to make informed choices. Through his engaging articles, Abhijit aims to simplify the complexities of hair and skincare, helping readers unlock their true beauty potential.

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