There’s a misconception that using sunscreen can block pores and lead to acne breakouts. We take a look at the relationship between sunscreen and its effect on acne-prone skin.
Does sunscreen cause acne?
"Yes, sunscreen can clog pores, which then leads to blemishes”, says dermatologist Dr. Nina Roos.
She explains that, these breakouts can happen under certain conditions, or a combination of all three:
1. If the sunscreen has a rich texture – meaning that it is usually oilier on the skin
2. If your skin is exposed to pollution and dust
3. If you are in a tropical area, where humidity, sweat and pollution are combined
Recent scientific research also supports Dr. Roos' explanation about certain sunscreens' link to acne breakouts.
Studies say that acne and rosacea (a skin condition that results in redness and swelling) can also occur with the use of sunscreen agents that contain physical blockers (which reflect or scatter light) that are greasy and have large particle sizes, thereby blocking skin pores. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens absorb high-energy UV rays(1).
Yes, sunscreen can clog pores, which then leads to blemishes
Dr. Nina Roos, Dermatologist
Don't skip sun protection
That being said, it's not recommended to avoid using sunscreen for fear of acne. With UV rays directly responsible for signs of aging such as age spots and wrinkles and more profound damage to skin cells, UV protection is essential. Sunscreens should not only protect the skin from the sun, but also minimize the cumulative health hazards (such as pigmentation and dark spots) from sun damage that are caused over time. By applying sunscreen regularly, our lifetime exposure to damaging UV rays is significantly reduced(2).
Why daily suncare is essential
The keyword here is regularly. Another misconception is that sunscreen only needs to be applied when directly exposed to the sun. But it isn't just when on holiday that your skin needs protection from UV rays. Altitude (the higher you are, the stronger the UV), latitude (UV intensity increases closer to the equator) and surface reflection (UV rays reflect off snow, water and sand) are the major factors in UV intensity. While cloud cover does reduce the amount of UV exposure by approximately 50%(3), research(4) has shown that even on a cloudy day your skin is still exposed. The conclusion is that we should be applying a high UVA protection everyday, regardless of the weather. But how can we stay protected while also preventing acne breakouts?
Different skin types, different suncare
It’s recommended that you use the right suncare products for your skin type. For those who are acne-prone, using a sunscreen that is not formulated for oily and/or sensitive skin may clog pores and result in breakouts. Choosing the right formula, however, will reduce this risk.
Apply sunscreen about 15-20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply at least every 3 hours
Dr. Nina Roos, Dermatologist
The most important aspect is the ingredients in the sunscreen. Dr. Roos suggests that, when looking for sunscreen, those with oily (and in some cases normal) skin types should opt for short, simple formulae. "Look for sunscreen that is very light in texture (especially if you have oily skin). For acne-prone skin, look for sunscreen that contains ingredients that treat acne or sebum and ingredients such as zinc or zinc oxide." Lastly, Dr. Roos suggests: “Apply sunscreen about 15-20 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply at least every 3 hours for protected skin that won't break out”.
1. Latha, M.S. et al, ‘Sunscreening Agents: A Review’ in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology 6.1 (2013) pp. 16-26 [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543289/]
2. Diffey, B.L. ‘The impact of topical photo protectants intended for daily use on lifetime ultraviolet exposure’ in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology 10 (2011), pp. 245-250, [Accessible at: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21896139]
3. Andersen, P.A. et al, 'Environmental Cues to Ultraviolet Radiation and Personal Sun Protection In Outdoor Winter Recreation' in Archives of Dermatology 146.11 (2016) pp. 1241-1247 [Accessible at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3364536/]
4. Calbó, J. et al, ‘Empirical studies of cloud effects on UV radiation: A review’ in The Review of Geophysics 43 (2005) [Accessible at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2004RG000155/full]