Finding products that work well with sensitive skin can be tricky, especially when you’re aiming for reliable sun protection. You probably know that there are certain sunscreens you need to avoid — fragrance-laden lotions, creams with irritating active ingredients, and moisture-sapping sprays — but the good news is that there are still plenty of options out there. We talked to board-certified dermatologists about what makes sunscreen good for sensitive skin and which products are worth trying.
What should you look for in a sunscreen suitable for sensitive skin?
It’s not uncommon for people with sensitive skin to struggle to find a sunscreen that’s both effective and non-irritating, Divya Shokeen, MDboard-certified medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatologist and founder of Ocean Skin and Veins Institute in Manhattan Beach, Calif., says SELF. Paying close attention to a product’s ingredient list and formula can make your search easier.
Chemical sunscreens (which work by absorbing and dissipating heat from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays) contain active ingredients, such as oxybenzone or octinoxate, that can be harsh on the skin, says Dr. Shokeen. They can cause stinging, redness, and other signs of an allergic reaction, especially in people with certain skin conditions, including rosacea and eczema.
Alternatively, there are mineral sunscreens, which Dr. Shokeen recommends for sensitive skin. Also known as physical sunscreens, these products actually block UV rays from penetrating the skin when applied correctly, as SELF has previously reported. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the two most common active ingredients in mineral sunscreens and they are considered non-irritating.
That said, you don’t have to count all the chemical options, if that’s your preferred type. Dr. Shokeen says it’s worth looking for products containing the active ingredient avobenzone, which is generally milder and less likely to irritate sensitive skin than oxybenzone or octinoxate.
Finally, pay attention to the added fragrance, Blair Murphy Rose, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY in New York, tells SELF. Ingredients under the « fragrance » umbrella are common allergens or irritants that can cause or exacerbate a bad reaction to a new product, and they go by many names. Although you can search for « fragrance-free » products, this labeling can sometimes be misleading. A « fragrance-free » product can get away with ingredients like certain essential oils if they aren’t defined as a fragrance, so be sure to scan the ingredient label carefully for potential irritants.
The formulation of sunscreen can also contribute to how it affects your skin, Dr. Rose says. Specifically, she notes that sprays typically contain more alcohol than heavier products like lotions, which can make them more drying and, in turn, potentially more irritating. According to Dr. Rose, creams, especially those with added moisturizing ingredients like oils, will be gentler and more soothing to sensitive skin.
Even once you’ve found a sunscreen that ticks those boxes and appeals to your personal preferences, it’s still a good idea to test it out, Shari Sperling, DO, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Sperling Dermatology in Florham Park, New Jersey, tells SELF. Simply rub a thin, quarter-size layer on the inside of your forearm, reapply at least once (follow product label reapplication instructions), and watch for reactions like itching, swelling, inflammation, or a rash, which may indicate this isn’t the right formula for you.
The best sunscreen for sensitive skin
With all that advice in mind, we’ve picked the best sunscreens for sensitive skin, based on recommendations from dermatologists and rave reviews from SELF’s Healthy Beauty Award testers.