Now the weather is getting warmer and the sun is shining brighter, I wanted to look at the best natural sunscreens for acne prone skin and which sun cream ingredients people with acne need to avoid to prevent pimples and clogged pores.
After coming off the pill, my acne flared up right in the middle of summer and I was absolutely terrified of putting sun cream on my face. So many sun lotions – natural or not – are greasy, thick and horribly sticky…I couldn’t think of anything worse to put on my sore, inflamed skin!
the best natural sunscreens for acne prone skin
Thankfully, over the past few years I’ve tried and tested some great sun care products which don’t clog pores or aggravate acne. Not only are these sun lotions a staple in my summer arsenal of beauty products, I also use a daily SPF all year round to protect my skin from hyper-pigmentation and scarring.
the low down on sun protection
Before we get down to my favourite natural sunscreens for acne, I wanted to talk about SPF as there are a lot of common misconceptions about what is the best SPF and what SPF actually protects you against!
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it measures the protection against the UVB rays which cause sunburn – the SPF rating doesn’t actually measure the protection against the more harmful, skin damaging UVA rays!
think UVB for burning and UVA for ageing
When it comes to natural sun care, you can get your UV protection via two different methods:
The first method of UV protection is via a physical filter which works by reflecting the UV light away from the skin. Earth minerals such as Titanium dioxide and Zinc oxide are the favourite choices here as they literally create an invisible barrier between the skin and light.
The second method of UV protection are chemical filters. These are little more complicated as the protection comes from a chemical reaction that takes place in the presence of UV light. This method of sun protection starts to loose its protective properties once the chemical reaction begins which is why it’s important to reapply your sun lotion every 2-3 hours to maintain full protection. Although ‘chemical filter’ sounds nasty – you can find some amazing chemical filters in nature including an extract from the cinnamon leaf, edelweiss and red raspberry!
why spf50+ isn’t recommended
Because the SPF rating of a sun lotions doesn’t indicate the protection against skin damaging UVA light, it’s not recommended to just seek out the highest possible SPF you can find because:
the higher you go, the more cr*p your sunscreen will contain
It’s hard enough to find a clean, safe sun lotion as it is. The higher the SPF, the more harmful ingredients and preservatives are needed to meet the SPF advertised on the bottle.
there’s actually only 2% difference between spf25 and spf50
Many people assume that an SPF50 is double the protection of an SPF25 but this isn’t the case! SPF25 actually protects you from a reasonable 96% of UVB rays and SPF50 protects you from 98% of UVB rays.
you need to let SOME UV light through to get your vitamin D
Vitamin D is SO important for anyone suffering with blemishes and plays a key role in healing and preventing acne by cooling inflammation, soothing the skin, improving mood, boosting your immune system and helping to control insulin response. Vitamin D cannot be produced by our bodies without sun light so it’s important to let a little bit of UV light through by using an SPF15-SPF30.
you’ll reapply less frequently and stay in the sun longer
There is a tendency for people to think that if they apply a higher factor sunscreen, they can stay out for longer. This isn’t the case – a higher SPF just blocks out more UVB rays, it still needs to be reapplied every 2-3 hours to maintain the same protection from UVB and UVA rays.
why should you choose a clean or natural sunscreen?
Clean and natural sunscreens are the best choice for everyone, not just those with acne! Apart from caring for your skin, natural sunscreens also:
- Contain higher amounts of antioxidants and skin vitamins that protect against cell damage which causes premature ageing.
- Don’t contain the hormone disrupting toxins which have been shown to have a dramatic ‘gender bending’ effect on aquatic life.
- Don’t contain the UV filters and preservatives that are found mainstream sunscreens (particularly oxybenzone, butylparaben and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor) which have been shown to cause devastating viral infections and bleaching in coral reefs.
is your sun cream causing acne?
Now we’ve covered the basics of sun protection, it’s time to talk about the ingredients found in sun lotions that could be aggravating our acne.
what acne causing sun cream ingredients do I need to avoid?
The main ingredients that need to be avoided in your sun creams are anything that could potentially clog up your pores. One of the main reasons we get a pimple is because of an excess build up of dead skin cells and sebum that lead to bacteria growth and inflammation. By avoiding any ingredients that could potentially cause further congestion, we are reducing the risk of build up within our pores.
petrochemicals & mineral oils
Many mainstream sunscreen products will contain ingredients than can be problematic for acne prone skin. These petroleum-based ingredients are basically like wrapping your skin up in cling film! This reduces the amount of sweat that can escape through your pores and traps it under the surface of your skin which can lead to irritation and inflammation.
heavy comedogenic oils and butters
Ingredients such as cocoa butter, coconut, wheatgerm and soybean oil are commonly found in natural sun protection. However, despite being natural these ingredients can sometimes be too rich for acne prone skin and clog pores and cause breakouts. Look for sunscreens that contain light, skin-friendly oils such as squalane, jojoba, sunflower, rosehip, sea buckthorn and grapeseed that are light, non-greasy and won’t cause acne!
titanium dioxide – don’t believe the rumours!
You’ll often see bloggers and experts giving shade to titanium dioxide, claiming it’s highly reactive and can cause irritation to sensitive skin – not to mention the bad rep titanium dioxide nano-particles get for being a cancerous, dangerous ingredient that should be avoided at all costs (more on the in a minute). Titanium dioxide is a totally safe ingredient and is found in many organic and natural sunscreens as well as many mineral foundations. In today’s society, people love to jump on a bandwagon of hate towards without knowing the facts. You name it – there will always be some poor ingredient that gets the raw end of the deal. The problem with titanium dioxide is that you get two types of titanium dioxide – rutile and anatase and the form that is used in cosmetics (rutile) is a completely inert substance – meaning that it’s highly unlikely to cause a reaction and therefore safe for your skin.
are nano-particles a cause for concern?
When it comes to toxic ingredients in beauty products there’s no shortage of scaremongering on the internet! One of the most controversial ingredients are titanium dioxide nano-particles, which some people claim can enter the bloodstream and cause damage to living tissue. This claim has actually never been proven, in fact – it’s been DISPROVEN by every single scientific study on this subject.
On the flip side, studies have proved that when nano-particles are combined with creams or lotions which contain emulsifiers or binding agents, they clump together which mean they’d be way to big to penetrate the skin. Also, most brands now coat their nano-particles in a thin coating of silicates which makes them completely non-reactive and totally safe.
is your sunscreen toxic to marine-life?
Zinc oxide has been shown in some toxicology reports to be extremely toxic to aquatic life – even at really low concentrations. Some will argue that these toxicology reports only apply to nano-Zinc Oxide, but the truth is we just don’t know! To be sure you’re protecting your skin AND the planet, I recommend looking for a marine-friendly sun lotion that avoids the use of Zinc Oxide if you’re swimming in lakes, rivers or seas. I do use different sunscreen on my face during the day that isn’t necessarily 100% reef safe, but if I’m swimming in nature I will use a Titanium Dioxide based sun lotion. My all-time favourite has to be Green People’s organic sun lotions – they’re made with a blend of effective, non-toxic UV filters that protect you from UV damage, whilst still being ultra gentle on your skin – and on the environment!
the best sunscreens for acne – for the face
Below are my favourite acne friendly sunscreens that don’t clog pores, cause irritation or inflammation.
This is currently my favourite SPF for every day use – it’s a similar texture to the Dr Sam’s Flawless SPF (creamy yet sinks in like a dream). It’s also once of the very few facial SPFs that I’ve come across that is safe for fungal acne or Malassezia. It’s easily available in the USA but if you are anywhere else, you can usually pick it up here (Strawberry Net will also refund any customs charges too!)
NB. This isn’t a natural sunscreen though and does contain Octinoxate so if you are concerned about this ingredient then you may wish to look for an alternative sunscreen.
Dr Sam’s Flawless SPF – £29
Until I discovered the Elta MD UV Clear – this was my go-to SPF for every day use. It contains 5% Niacinamide, so it brightens and boosts skin texture and Hyaluronic Acid to improve skin hydration – all whilst protecting from UVB and UVA rays too.
NB. This isn’t a natural sunscreen though and does contain Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate so if you are concerned about this ingredient then you may wish to look for an alternative sunscreen.
This is a zinc and titanium based SPF for the face and is probably the best alternative if you are looking for a sunscreens that are reef safe! Like Elta MD and Dr Sam’s formulations, this one also contains Niacinimide and Hyaluronic Acid to help calm, repair and protect the skin! Unfortunately this one contains PEG-100 and Glyceryl Stearate so not suitable if you suffer with Malasezzia. To order from the UK site, you can create an account with the code: 0FEC011F
Juice Beauty SPF30 Oil-Free Moisturiser – $45/£33
This is my new favourite sun lotion! Since seriously cutting back on using oils in 2017, I was looking for a oil-free, non toxic sun lotion that was also free from acne-aggravating ingredients! This one from Juice Beauty is a zinc based with SPF30 protection along with certified organic aloe vera, apple and grape juice – along with some lovely vitamin C too! This has a really matte finish and smells pretty good too, definitely a firm fave for summer 2018! You can pick it up in the UK from Naturisimo.
This is a zinc based tinted moisturiser for the face with SPF30 protection along with certified organic aloe vera, jojoba, sunflower, pomegranate, cucumber, and my favourite green tea extract for added acne fighting awesomeness. Vegan formula and comes in 5 shades from ‘fair’ to ‘deep bronze’ for a bit of extra coverage if your acne or scars are more prominent.
This formula is pretty much exactly the same as the one above but without the tint.
The formula for this is great if you suffer from Malasezzia or fungal acne and is made up of a combination of zinc and titanium dioxide so is also reef safe! Unfortunately, this SPF is also quite high in various silicones which will give the appearance of a soft smooth finish but some people do prefer to avoid silicone in their skincare.
I haven’t managed to try this one yet, but it’s one that I would really like to get my hands on. Any friends traveling to the States soon?! This SPF is 100% mineral based, a big tick for the environment! It comes in 4 tinted shades so works brilliantly at concealing pigmentation and evening out skin texture whilst protecting your skin from UV rays.
A zinc oxide based, broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sun lotion and prevent hyperpigmentation. Algae Extract and nourishing, hydrating Kukui and Macadamia oils blend to restore moisture balance and reduce visible lines.
Lots of delicate non-pore clogging actives are found in this formula in a base of acne-fighting Neem oil making this sunscreen effective against skin damage but also calming on inflamed skin. (US only)
Vegan and cruelty-free, this powder sunscreen is pretty much pure zinc oxide. Earth Wise Beauty recommend blending the powder with a couple of drops of your favourite facial oil or serum and applying to your skin. A good everyday option to wear under make-up but if you’re sunning yourself on a beach then things could get a little complicated and messy. As it is pretty much one ingredient – this is also a safe option for Malasezzia or fungal acne.
A lightly tinted, 100% mineral sun screen for maximum UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection. This silky, sheer formula blends weightlessly and seamlessly, matching your skin tone, giving skin a fresh, healthy glow. Contains Bentonite Clay to absorb excess oil and impurities from pores.
A light, non-greasy zinc oxide based sunscreen combined with the ultimate acne fighting ingredient Green Tea. This sun lotion comes in 3 different shades and like all other Marie Veronique products this is packed full of acne fighting goodness.
the best natural sunscreens for acne – for the body
Green People SPF15 / Green People SPF30 £21/$32 (200ml)
These two sun lotions are my all-time favourite and I think they’re the best natural sunscreens for acne on the body. I sometimes find the SPF30 can be a little heavy so I always go for the SPF15 – I LOVE IT! They both offer broad spectrum protection with Titanium Dioxide which bounces away harmful rays and chemical filters derived from Cinnamon leaf and Edelweiss for complete UVA & UVB protection.
Natural sun lotion was the second green beauty product I ever switched to (1st was mineral foundation) as I started to suffer really really badly with prickly heat around the age of 19! Since switching to natural sun lotions I’ve been free from prickly heat for over 7 years! These lotions from Green People don’t leave a sticky residue or white film on your skin and despite trying a few different brands, I’ve not been able to find any other natural sun lotion that beat these! If you’re based outside the UK you can get them with free worldwide delivery from Naturisimo.
should I wear an SPF everyday if I have acne scarring?
Any amount of sun exposure can make red marks and acne scarring worse. The red marks that you get after a breakout are the result of abnormally high levels or over stimulated melanocytes which produce melanin – the substance that gives skin its colour. Sun exposure further stimulates the production of melanin so these factors combined can result in darker acne scars and prolonged healing time. To avoid your post inflammatory hyperpigmentation from getting darker and lasting for longer, I recommend using a daily SPF which provides broad spectrum protection. Luckily, many mineral make-up brands contain the same earth minerals found in sun lotions such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide so can provide extra UV protection without the need to overload your skin with products.
To view my acne-friendly make-up recommendations, view this post here.
Have you discovered any natural sunscreens for acne prone skin that aren’t listed in the post? I had so much trouble trying to find ones that offered great protection while still being totally acne-friendly so I’d love to hear your suggestions below so I can add them into this post!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin