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Five Great Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin

Five Great Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

Got an old-school skin product question for you! I took accutane in high school and had very clear skin after that . . . until my son was born. Postpartum and nursing hormones took their toll and I have a real problem with red bumpy skin on the left side of my face, from my hairline to my jaw. I saw a dermatologist who diagnosed me with keratosis pilaris. I have it mostly under control via special lotion and the oil cleansing method. The hormonal stuff means that it gets worse around ovulation but I know how to deal with it for the most part.

But, sunscreen. Sunscreen makes it much much worse. And now that summer is approaching, we will be at the pool pretty much every day. I have a hat to wear but I really do want to have some sunscreen (more than just my foundation) on my face. I know you have sensitive skin, so do you have any product recommendations for face sunscreen?

Thank you!

Yes, yes. Perfect timing for this question. Summer is here and once again I’ve got to deal with our long family histories of skin cancer and a brood of super-pale kiddos with various skin weirdness/sensitivities. And also my own need to protect my skin AND my vanity, because SPF products tend to make me break out on my face and irritate my eczema on my arms. From what I’ve read about KP as well, sunscreen is an absolute MUST, and regular use should — in time, with the right product — actually help prevent future flare-ups. We just gotta get you set up with something that works.

After a LOT of trial and error and testing and buying and slathering, here are my personal top sunscreen recommendations for sensitive/breakout-prone skin:

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive formula: Once upon a time I heard EVERYBODY talking about this magically wonderful sunscreen…that was damn near impossible to actually find in stores. It’s now typically available at CVS and Walgreen’s, and also on Amazon and Drugstore.com. It is indeed a great choice for people who have issues with most other commercially-available sunscreens. My only quibble with it, however, is that is goes on CRAZY THICK. Hard to get it to fully absorb, so I tend to use it primarily when we’re at the pool or beach, rather than as an everyday sort of product.  (Update as of July 2016: this sunscreen is NOT water-resistant.  Please take care when using it or use a different version if you will be sweating or swimming)

California Baby, Pretty Much Take Your Pick: California Baby is just a great all-around brand for anyone with sensitive skin or super-picky about what ingredients you’re comfortable slathering on your skin. Their Super Sensitive sunscreen is great, as are the little sunblock sticks you can use for regular touch-ups on little cheeks and noses. (Or your own!) The big con here is price. We go through SO MUCH sunscreen around here that I can’t really afford to buy CB products exclusively. But if I had your skin I could totally justify buying it for my own damn self and using a cheaper alternative for less-sensitive family members.

Aveeno Active Naturals: Your mileage may vary given your KP diagnosis, but I’ve had terrific experiences with most of Aveeno’s sun protection products. I especially like their “Protect + Hydrate” broad spectrum sunscreen since my skin (though oily and zit-prone) tends to get dried out in the sun/using other sunscreens. This then makes it freak out, overcompensate and produce even more oil. A moisturizing sunscreen on my face (or using one of their regular moisturizers with SPF 30 protection built in), has really helped with that problem. (Not to mention my skin just generally looks better/younger when it’s thoroughly properly moisturized.)

L’Oreal Sublime Sunscreen Oil Spray: As you’ve learned via the oil cleansing method, there’s no reason to be scared of any and all oil products when you’re trying to avoid breakouts or clogged pores. My husband picked this stuff up last summer and it immediately became his all-time favorite. It’s SUPER easy to apply (no yucky white residue), absorbs quickly, and feels simply lovely and moisturizing on your skin. Can’t really think of another sunscreen that I’d describe that way. Con, of course: There’s no fragrance-free/unscented version that I know of. But weirdly enough, my husband is usually the MOST crazy sensitive to fragrance/perfumes in skin products, but he has absolutely zero issues with this stuff and doesn’t want to use anything else. So…I dunno. I give up.

Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF: Oh, how I love this product. I don’t use it as my sole layer of SPF, but instead swap out my regular pressed powder with this on days I know I’m going to get sun exposure. (I also have SPF in my foundation, and will  use the Aveeno SPF underneath that on days when I need SERIOUS protection, like if we’re going to be outside all day.) It absorbs shine, too, and is handy for brushing on your hair’s part/exposed scalp, as it goes on kinda like a dry shampoo. If you have good luck with mineral foundations in general, this is a must-have for your purse/diaper bag. If the mineral makeups bug you though, check the ingredient list. (I’m allergic to bismuth, which is in many mineral makeups, but thankfully NOT in this.) It’s fragrance- and paraben-free, and really great for oily skin.

So those are my personal faves. Now let’s open up the comments and make everything confusing/contradictory all over again, yay!

***********

Other Alpha Mom posts on sunscreen:
UVB, UVA, UV: RU Confused By Sunscreen?
Sunscreen Guide for Kids 2016 Edition

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Blue Lizard also has a “face” formula, which I think spreads a little bit more easily (a little goes a long way) that I use every day in the summer on my sensitive, rosacea-impacted skin. I found it on Amazon but never in store. 

    • Thanks for chiming in with the info on the face formulation. We love Blue Lizard.

  • Elf

    What are the active ingredients in those?  I have super sensitive skin and a notable sunscreen allergy (hives that look and feel like poison ivy and last for weeks, yay!) and have had this reaction even to some sunscreens labelled “hypoallergenic baby.” I react to every active ingredient other than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Also: redhead.

    I mostly use sun-protective clothing, but when I absolutely have to wear sunscreen, I use the Neutrogena baby sunscreen because at least I don’t react to it. I hate it though, because it sits on your skin and comes off with the least bit of sweat/water,and it makes me break out.

    I hesitate to test new sunscreens because of the epic suckiness of my reactions, so advice is appreciated. 

  • Amy

    My dermatologist recommends Vanicream, which comes in a plain formula that I use on my face, and an SPF 50 that I use all summer. It’s terrific and inexpensive. She also says that everyone should use original white plain Dove soap. Nothing else.

    Old school.

    My daughter has KP and we’re trailing her on a gluten free diet. Many have relieved their symptoms of KP that way. Poor kid is only 9, but it was her choice.

  • gemma

    Ultrasun face spf30 is pretty much the only suncream that doesn’t set my skin off

  • We used to love California baby sunscreen, until my eczema prone 18 month old broke out in a rash from it. Now we use Alba Botanica kids and it is nice because it’s not as thick as many of the other natural kinds.

  • Christina K.

    I’d recommend Ava Anderson sunscreen. Non-toxic and completely gentle on sensitive skin.
    https://extranet.securefreedom.com/Ava/Shopping/ShoppingCart.asp?Cat=avaSUN%20-%20sun%20protection%7CALL&ProductID=

  • Kari

    Yay, my question! Thank you, Amy, and commenters! Spring break was a sunscreen disaster, so I appreciate your help.

  • Suzy Q

    Honest Co. has sunscreen, too. I’ve never used it but you can get some of their products at Target now. So, if it doesn’t work for you, return it!

  • Sarah

    We use Badger baby sunscreen for our 4 year old twins and ourselves as well.  It’s slightly oily but it protects SO well and the ingredients are very skin-friendly and natural.  

  • Meri

    I have a bunch of contact allergies and Neutrogena Baby works the best for me.