Five Great Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin
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?
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 . 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!
***********Published June 10, 2015. Last updated July 27, 2016.