It's time to get down to the truth about sunscreen and acne. Many people believe that using an SPF product will make the condition worse when, in fact, it's quite the opposite.

There are a few reasons to wear sunscreen on your body and face daily. The most widely known benefit—and the one that the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says benefits people of all genders, races, and ages—is that sunscreen is our best defense against skin cancer. But one benefit that isn't discussed as often is how it helps those dealing with acne and its after-effects. Yes, you read that correctly: sunscreen can help with acne. Read on for more.

The Root of Acne

Before diving into how sunscreen can help with acne, it's important to explore why acne happens in the first place. The AAD says that acne develops when pores get clogged by excess oil, dead skin cells, or bacteria. The resulting inflammation is what causes the visible blemishes that people are so eager to be rid of. Exacerbating factors include lack of sleep, excess stress, and any oily makeup, skin care, or hair products you use.

Treatment depends on what type of acne you have, but in general, it involves regularly using skin care products with specific ingredients to help treat and prevent future breakouts, giving you clear and smooth skin. That's why choosing the right products, especially the right sunscreen, is essential.

A Tan Can Hide the Problem

The first benefit of sunscreen for acne might be a bit surprising. According to Dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., many people believe their skin improves when exposed to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, but what really happens is that the redness and inflammation caused by acne simply become less noticeable as the skin tans.

By applying sunscreen and keeping your tan in check, you'll be better able to see and address the issue rather than just sweeping a potential problem under the rug.

Sun Exposure Can Damage the Skin

Dr. Garshick also explains that UV exposure from the sun's rays damages the skin's natural barrier and causes acne to dry up, leading, in turn, to an increase in oil production. This extra oil can result in more breakouts down the line. UV exposure also triggers more breakouts in the already vulnerable skin of those with conditions like rosacea, worsening existing redness.

In preserving the health of your skin barrier with an SPF product, you'll prevent your body from responding in a way that's ultimately even more detrimental to your condition.

Sunscreen Helps Prevent Scarring and Discoloration

Discoloration and acne scars, also known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, are common after-effects for those with acne-prone skin. Garshick says it's especially important to use sunscreen daily so that these skin concerns don't worsen.

Be especially careful with your sun exposure when on an acne treatment regimen. These medications are filled with ingredients like retinoids and salicylic acid that can make the skin more vulnerable to sunburn and damage. Some physical procedures, too, can leave your skin barrier thinner and more vulnerable. Garshick says this will also worsen discoloration in acne scars and blemishes.

As if you needed another reason beyond cancer and acne prevention, the sun is a contributor to dark spots appearing over time, notes Dermatologist Robert Finney, M.D. Wearing SPF will help prevent those spots from developing.

Nourishing, Non-Comedogenic Formulas Are Key

So remember, sunscreen and acne aren't actually at odds. If you have acne-prone skin, just make sure to select a sunscreen that's lightweight and non-greasy. For that reason, Dermatologists suggest looking for formulations that are oil-free and non-comedogenic, a term used to describe products that don't clog pores. This applies to products for both the face and the body.

They also recommend looking for sunscreens with active ingredients that can be soothing and calming. Studies have shown that ingredients like zinc oxide have anti-inflammatory properties and are known to help reduce redness and treat acne. Sunscreens that are non-comedogenic also commonly contain ingredients like niacinamide, which is known to be anti-inflammatory.

Dr. Finney recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, preferring formulas that are lightweight, mineral-based, and go on clear. Ultimately, sunscreen is an essential part of a healthy skin care routine. Stay on top of it, and your skin will thank you in more ways than one.


  • Audrey Noble

    Audrey Noble is a New York City-based reporter specializing in features, celebrity profiles, and beauty topics. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, Vanity Fair, Refinery29, and more. She is a University of Southern California alumna with bachelor's degrees in print journalism and creative writing.

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