You know how crucial sun protection is, but if you have sensitive skin, you might have a hard time finding a formula that does its job without making your skin freak out.
As Dr. Orit Markowitz, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin explains: "The biggest challenge for someone with sensitive skin is finding a sunscreen that is free from the synthetic ingredients and preservatives that are commonly found in sunscreens. For people with sensitive skin, any product with preservatives or synthetic ingredients can lead to irritation."
What ingredients should people with sensitive skin look for?
"I tell my sensitive skin patients to look for a sunscreen that is formulated with zinc oxide or titanium oxide as the the key ingredient," says Markowitz. "These are the active natural ingredients found in mineral and physical sunscreens that provide UV protection. Zinc oxide works by reflecting light off the surface of the skin and back into the environment wherever the sunscreen is applied and titanium oxide works by blocking absorption of the sun’s UV rays," she explains.
What ingredients should people with sensitive skin avoid?
"Chemical sunscreens contain carbon-containing molecules that absorb light, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, and these are things you will want to avoid if you have sensitive skin. Next, I advise my patients to select a sunscreen that has a limited amount of other ingredients. Studies have shown that ingredients like propylene glycol, lanolin, fragrance mix, and even aloe are ingredients that can cause hypersensitivity in sensitive skin patients so you will want to avoid these as well," adds Markowitz.
Are there any misleading terms to be aware of when reading sunscreen labels?
"This is something that everyone should be cognizant of when shopping for sunscreen, but I recommend avoiding anything labeled with a SPF greater than 70. SPF 70 and above is typically found in chemical sunscreens and provide less protection than mineral sunscreens and lower SPFs in the 30-70 range," says Markowitz.
Also important to note is the mode of application. As Markowitz explains: "You can reapply a SPF 100 aerosol every 15 minutes and will likely get less protection than if you were to apply a thick mineral sunscreen every two hours. This is because a lotion tends to stick to the skin and last longer than something that comes in a spray format."
Final takeaways when shopping for sunscreen when you have sensitive skin:
"My number one tip for people with sensitive skin is to stick to mineral sunscreens. These are traditionally made with more natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium and won't irritate your skin like many of the synthetic ingredients used in chemical formulas. I would then advise patients to take things a step further because not all mineral sunscreens are 100 percent safe for sensitive skin as some do contain other ingredients like propylene glycol, lanolin and fragrances that can be irritating. I think it's smart to always read the ingredients listed on the back to make sure," says Markowitz.
Shop some of the highest-rated sensitive-skin sunscreens (and Dr. Markowitz approved picks) ahead.
1. EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
Though it's at a higher price point than some drugstore options, this derm (and celeb) favorite is a "100 percent mineral formula that also includes other great skin restoring ingredients like squalane to keep skin smooth and target dark spots," says Markowitz. "It's also dye-free, fragrance-fee, oil-free, paraben-free and noncomedogenic, which makes it a great option for sensitive and eczema-prone skin.”
2. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen SPF 30+
Best Runner Up
"The Blue Lizard brand in general is one of my favorite mineral sunscreen lines and I find it to be at a great price point. This one is formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and contains no parabens or fragrance. It is also water-resistant which is another great thing to look out for when purchasing a sunscreen," says Markowitz.
3. Vanicream Broad Spectrum SPF 35
Best for activities
This creamy formula is free of all common irritants (like fragrance, dye and preservatives), is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and doesn't clog pores, which makes it a solid choice for sensitive skinned folks who are also active. As one reviewer shares: “I have very sensitive skin and have never been able to use any sun protection because they all made me break out. I have used Vanicream all summer and have not broken out or burned and the added bonus is velvety smooth skin. This is a very wonderful product that I highly recommend.”
4. Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Unscented Body
Unscented and vegan, this sunscreen is free of harsh chemicals, non-greasy and full of antioxidants. With organic ingredients like green tea extract, cucumber extract and pomegranate seed oil, it’s a formula your skin will appreciate.
5. Badger Unscented SPF 30 Active Mineral Sunscreen
Best for Kids
Badger's sunscreen is another favorite of Markowitz. "It's made with clear zinc oxide as the active ingredient. In addition to being non-comedogenic, it has no added scents or fragrance, which is ideal for sensitive skin," she adds. It’s also safe for kids, as proven by this glowing review: “I am not lying when I say my daughter has extremely sensitive skin...I have tried over 15 different kinds of sunscreen. This is FAR superior to all I have used.”
6. Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 30
OK, yes. This one is a splurge. But it contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which work together to protect the skin from the sun’s harsh rays, and it's tinted to give light coverage that's similar to a powder foundation. Plus, the super lightweight formula makes it easy to apply and reapply throughout the day.
7. SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield Broad Spectrum SPF 35
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
Another go-to for Markowitz, "this is a great mineral option formulated with zinc and titanium. It is paraben free, hypoallergenic, oil free, fragrance free and non-comedogenic, meaning it has been shown to not clog pores." (In short, it's a great choice if you're worried about breakouts.)
8. Isdin Eryfotona Ageless Tinted Ultralight Emulsion Broad Spectrum SPF 50
This lightweight sunscreen combines zinc oxide with a blend of antioxidants and peptides to tackle existing sun damage and improve skin tone, while protecting against UV damage. The texture is incredibly silky and thinner than most other formulas, which makes it easy to spread evenly over your skin. Bonus: There's a subtle tint to it that evens out any redness around your nose and cheeks.
Buy it ($66)
9. Cotz Face Prime & Protect Tinted Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40
Best for Oily Skin
If you're wary of a shiny T-zone, you'll want to check out this matte mineral sunscreen. It has a super sheer texture and is very lightly tinted so it tamps down shine and any redness without pilling on your skin. As its name implies, this formula also wears beautifully as a base underneath makeup.
10. Alba Botanica Sensitive Fragrance Free Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
At just under six bucks a tube, this soothing sunscreen has green tea, chamomile and aloe vera to hydrate and calm easily triggered skin. The lightweight formula also applies evenly, absorbs quickly and has a non-greasy finish.
11. NYDG Skincare Chem-Free Active Defense SPF 30
Formulated by a leading celebrity dermatologist Dr. David Colbert, this hydrating formula goes beyond just protecting your skin from the sun. It also has a slew of other ingredients—like squalane, argan, jojoba and peptides—to enhance protection against environmental damage, while also improving skin tone and texture over time.