Which sunscreens are good for acne and how can I tell if a product is causing a breakout?

Dear Dr. Irwin, Thanks for taking the time to do this sight! I look at your sight often and it has a lot of great information. I have a question about sunscreen use. How do you make sure it is removed completely? I have very acne/clog prone skin. Is it true that if it's not completely removed it will cause breakouts? What if it's water resistant? I use a 2% salicylic cleanser to wash and remove makeup at night so would that be enough? One more thing...when trying new products, how long does it usually take(days, weeks)to know if the breakout is from the new product or just a coincidence? Again, thank you for your time...it is greatly appreciated!!

Thank you! And thank you for the good questions.

Sunscreen for Acne: On the first one, try to find sunscreens that say noncomedogenic (won’t make any worse) on the label somewhere or are marketed for those with acne. Sometimes they will say acne or “clear” on the label. I often recommend sunscreens with 5-20% zinc. Elta MD UV Clear is great sunscreen with 9% zinc oxide. They are more expensive but may be worth it especially for high sun events. One strategy is to use the less expensive drugstore product when you’re mostly indoors and save the more expensive one when you truly need it.


Cleansing: You might try adding the Clarisonic Mia (the smaller one). You can put your salicylic acid cleanser right on it.


Product Related Breakouts: This is a tough one, especially for girls/women, because our hormones vary month to month. Generally, it’s wise to give a product 8-10 weeks to really know if it’s working unless, you are irritated or allergic to it. A little peeling or pinkness for a few days or a week might be normal for an acne product, especially retinoids, but if it’s more than that, stop the product and/or call your dermatologist. 


Hope this helps,  


Dr. I


Learn more about Sunscreens and Sun Protection.  


Take a look at Acne in Depth.  


Read more information about Cleansers and which products I recommend.  


Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin, and I believe that consumers need and deserve a medically trained and unbiased skincare advocate.

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