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Why using sunscreen helps fight acne

22 Aug 2020
by M. Toledo

Summer isn’t over quite yet, so it’s still a good time to focus on the ever-important topic of sun protection. This time, I’m going to discuss sunscreen and acne, how crucial it is to use sunscreen when you’re suffering from acne, and how to choose the right sunscreen for your skin! 

We get lots of questions from our costumers about using sunscreen when suffering from acne. Some people mention their bad experiences with using sun cream on their oily skin. They notice that the product clogs their pores, worsens the acne and makes their skin even shinier than it already was. Those aren’t exactly the results you’re looking for when all you want is to clear up your skin. But, believe me, it’s a (very!) bad idea to skip sunscreen if you’re ‘blessed’ with oily, acne-prone skin. Read on if you want to find out why.

‘It will take years and years before UV will damage my skin. Skipping sunscreen works better for my acne. Sunscreen just breaks me out, so I won’t bother.’

Does this kind of thinking sound all too familiar to you? I used to think like this a long time ago. I have oily, sensitive skin that’s prone to visible pores and occasional pimples. For years now, I’ve used sunscreen daily. My skin looks healthier and clearer than ever before, and I feel fine about skipping foundation on most days.

I’ve done some research on how making the right choices can help you choosing the perfect sunscreen for your oily skin. So you can adequately protect your skin without getting the annoying aforementioned effects, like added shine and clogged pores. Lastly, I’ll explain how not using sunscreen could potentially increase your acne. Wait, wat? Read on to learn more.

Does sunscreen give you acne?

Many people think using sunscreen worsens acne. So it’s logical to conclude that the sun filters in your product are causing this. Or isn’t it? Did you know, that more often than not, it’s not the actual sun filters in the product that are causing break-outs in oily skin types? More often, it’s other common ingredients in sunscreen that cause excessive oiliness and aggravation of acne. 

Some sunscreens tend to have a very greasy, occlusive texture. Think of the sun cream your parents slathered all over your body when you were playing on the beach as a child. You wouldn’t want that on your face, right? If your skin is on the oily side, using thick, greasy creams can be problematic, because it makes your skin even oilier. If you suffer from acne, consider avoiding sunscreens with high concentrations of these ingredients.

  • Coconut oil (Oleum Cocos, Cocos Nucifera Oil) 
  • Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
  • Mineral oil (Paraffine, Paraffinum Liquidum, Parafin Oil)
  • Beeswax (Cera Alba)
  • Cocoa butter (Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter)

If your skin is dry, these ingredients can be great for moisturizing and protecting your skin. If your skin is oily, they can turn your face into an oil-fest, clog pores, and could potentially worsen your acne.

Best picks

Yadah Oh My Sun Protection Tone Up BaseMissha Essence Sun Milk 

Sensitizing ingredients in sunscreen

Another possibility is that your acne-prone skin has an increased sensitivity to some other ingredients in the sunscreen formula. If this is the case, it doesn’t necessarily cause new pimples, but the already inflamed skin can become even more inflamed and irritated. Oversensitivity can also cause red bumps, a rash or a stinging or an itching sensation in the affected areas.

One of the main culprits when it comes to hypersensitivity and irritation, is fragrance in the form of certain fragrant essential oils. Lots of skin care brands love adding essential oils to their products, because they smell lovely and they are ‘all natural’. Sunscreen (or any skin care product) scented with essential oils can market itself as ‘without artificial/synthetic fragrance’. But, these ‘natural’ fragrant oils have the potency to be irritating as hell, and they don’t add anything to the effectiveness of the product. Common essential oils or derivatives that are commonly used are:

  • Bergamot Fruit Oil / Citrus Aurantium Bergamia Fruit Oil
  • Citrus Limon Peel Oil (Or all citrus oils, for that matter.)
  • Lavender Essential Oil / Lavandula Angustifolia Oil
  • Peppermint Oil / Mentha Piperita Oil
  • Limonene or Linalool (The fragrant components of many essential oils, including lavender, peppermint, but also rosemary or lemongrass.)

These substances may smell nice, but you could wonder if it’s worth the risk to apply a sunscreen with these irritating fragrant oils on your skin. Especially when your suffer from inflamed skin and acne, which means that your skin barrier is compromised. Try going on the lookout for sunscreens that are marketed as fragrance free or unscented. There’s a good chance that it could help with calming down your skin. 

Best picks


Hyaluronic Acid Airy Sun Stick SPF50

Relief Sun : Rice + Probiotics SPF50+ PA++++


Also, keep in mind that your sunscreen doesn’t last forever. If your sunscreen is past the sell-by-date, or it’s been exposed to high temperatures for prolonged periods of time, the active ingredients in the formula could become inactive, degenerate, and potentially become irritating. 

Lipid oxidation, UV exposure and acne 

Hopefully, by now you’ve acquired some knowledge that helps you choose the perfect sunscreen that’s suitable for your oily, acne-prone skin. But why, you might ask, is it especially important to use sun protection when you’re suffering from acne-prone or oily skin? 

Of course, daily protection against UV is important for everyone, regardless if your skin is oily, dry, combination or normal. But for oily folks (like me), there’s another factor at play that makes sun protection extra important: lipid oxidation. Liah Yoo from Krave Beauty regularly discusses lipid oxidation on her YouTube channel. If you’re into skin care and you like staying informed about it, her videos are highly recommended. When I mention ‘oxidation’, it might remind you of a rusty bicycle or an apple that turns brown after slicing it. I’ll try and explain how lipid oxidation works for skin. 

Certain factors can cause the sebum (lipid) of your skin to oxidize. Causes of oxidation are environmental pollution, stress, diet, but UV exposure is a big contributing factor as well. When sebum oxidizes, the production of keratine in skin cells increases. Keratin is a protein that binds skin cells together. Normally, dead cells are pushed out of the pore, but when there’s an abundance of keratin, your skin cells are prevented from shedding naturally. In other words: your sebum becomes thicker, stickier and thus, more comedogenic. 

Too much keratine also causes the ‘walls’ of your pores to become more rigid. So, you’ve got a blocked pore that’s full of extra sticky sebum that can’t leave the pore properly, making it a lovely breeding spot for bacteria. After a while, inflammation kicks in, and you’ve got the perfect cocktail for a pimple. Because sun exposure is a significant cause of lipid oxidation, it’s really important to keep your skin protected against UV rays and use sunscreen. This prevents the lipid oxidation from happening, making your skin less prone to the formation of pimples. 

Lastly, most of the treatments aimed at treating acne make your skin more sensitive to the damaging effects of UV. This because they tend to speed up the turnover of skin cells, revealing the more sensitive, underlying layer of skin. Common anti-acne treatments that increase sensitivity to sunlight are:

  • Benzoylperoxide
  • Retinoids
  • AHA’s (like lactic acid, glycolic acid)
  • BHA’s (like salicylic acid, betaine salicylate)

If you’re suffering from acne, there’s a big chance that you’re using one or more products that increase your sensitivity to sunlight, so keep your skin well protected!

This post was a bit longer dan the average blog post, but at Little Wonderland we try to emphasize making well informed skin care choices. If you have any questions about certain products, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us! What is your holy grail sunscreen? Feel free to share your experiences below. :)

XXX, Marthe

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