No matter your age, complexion, or skin type, you need to wear sunscreen. The CDC recommends wearing it every day because skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States as well as the most preventable kind. Sunscreen blocks harmful UV rays from the sun and can help keep your skin healthy when you’re out and about. Unfortunately, if you have sensitive skin, sunscreen can be an irritant. But don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with in depth reviews of the five best sunscreens for sensitive skin.
We are going to recommend using a sunscreen with a physical blocker rather than a chemical blocker, as commonly used chemicals are more likely to irritate sensitive skin. However, everyone is different and even products marketed for sensitive skin may cause issues in some people.
- Sunscreen Basics
- Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
- Considerations for Use
- TOP 5 Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
- 1 DRMTLGY Anti Aging Clear Face Sunscreen and Facial Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 45. Oil Free, Zinc Oxide Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin and Acne Prone Skin
- 2 Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen - Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30+ Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB Protection - 8.75 oz. Bottle
- 3 Alba Botanica Fragrance Free Clear Spray Sensitive SPF 50 Sunscreen, 6 oz.
- 4 Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen Lotion for Children's Sensitive Skin with Broad Spectrum SPF 50, Tear-Free, Sweat- & Water-Resistant, 3 fl. Oz
- 5 Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant and Non-Greasy Sunscreen Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 100+, 3 fl. oz.
- How to Wear Sunscreen Beautifully
- Further Sun Protection Strategies
Regardless of skin type, choose a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum coverage. That means it protects against the UVB rays that actually burn as well as the UVA rays that cause lasting skin damage. You want a product of at least 30 SPF, and will need to reapply every two hours if you are out in the sun.
Remember that no sunscreen can entirely prevent sunburn and that you should still take breaks in the shade and wear protective clothing, including sunglasses.
If you are looking for sunscreen specifically for your face, pay attention to the other ingredients included in different brands. Some have special ingredients aimed at preventing fine lines and wrinkles.
Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
If you have sensitive skin, chances are you are already extremely cautious about what you put on your face. Sunscreen can be especially problematic because it is often made with chemical blockers that shield skin from UV rays - and cause burning, irritation, stinging, and redness in the process.
So what’s a person with sensitive skin to do? Luckily, there is another option. Some sunscreens work via physical (rather than chemical) blockers. Examples include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are often found in products labeled as baby sunscreen or for folks with sensitive skin. These can also be ideal as sunscreen for acne prone skin.
Be sure to read the label of any sunscreen you are considering, as some are hybrid products that include both physical and chemical blockers. These may still irritate your skin.
Considerations for Use
Following are a few more factors to consider when using your own personal best sunscreen for sensitive skin.
It should be at least 30 SPF, but the SPF categorization system is not easy for consumers to follow. Generally speaking, an SPF 15 sunscreen is capable of blocking about 94% of UVB rays; an SPF 30 product can block 97% of UVB rays; and an SPF 45 sunscreen protects against about 98% of rays. After 45, you don’t gain much, so it’s not necessary to get an SPF 100 sunscreen. However, no matter what SPF you use, after two hours, it is spent and needs to be reapplied.
Matching Your Skin Type
Sensitive skin can have additional subtypes, namely oily or dry. If your skin is dry, look for a sunscreen with hydrating ingredients included. Examples include hyaluronic acid or ceramides. For oily skin, look for a sunscreen with a matte finish. You might also do well with a lighter gel formulation that will feel less heavy on the skin.
Ordering Your Products
Most people have some sort of skin care routine, and people with sensitive skin often need multiple products in order to keep their face clear and glowing. It is important to apply your sunscreen in the correct order among other products. Use it after any cleanser or serum, but before moisturizer and makeup. Depending on the texture of your sunscreen, you may find that it replaces the need for moisturizer.
Choosing & Applying Wisely
In the end, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen. However, some studies suggest that sunscreens that come in aerosol or stick form offer better protection than creams or gels. That is likely because aerosol and stick sunscreens don’t need to be rubbed into the skin and therefore provide a better barrier.
If you prefer gel or cream products, don’t worry. You can improve the coverage by applying two thin layers, letting the first layer dry before adding the second.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, let’s explore at your choices in dermatologist recommended sunscreen for sensitive skin. But you don’t have to take the doctor’s word for it – each of these products comes highly reviewed by users as well.
TOP 5 Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
Get started with the basic specs on each of our reviewed sunscreens.
#1 Editor Choice
Zinc oxide & titanium dioxide
Octocrylene & homosalate
Avobenzone & homosalate
Read on for more details on the best sunscreen for sensitive skin.
No matter your skin type – dry, normal, combination, oily, or sensitive, you will love this DRMTLGY product. It is not greasy or oily, has no irritating fragrance, and contains no paraben. Using it will provide solid broad spectrum 45 SPF protection but will not leave behind a white residue. This sunscreen uses zinc oxide as a physical sun blocker rather than a chemical formula.
But beyond protection from the sun, you also get better skin out of the deal. This product contains hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and niacinimade (vitamin B3) to plump up your skin, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, correct uneven skin tone, reduce pore size, and hydrate the skin. That’s a lot of benefit from one little product.
Dermatologists agree that this sunscreen will not clog your pores or cause breakouts while it fights free radical damage caused by ultraviolet and infrared radiation from the sun. All DRMTLGY products are made in an FDA regulated facility located in Southern California. This sunscreen is certified free of sulfates, paraben, and hormones – plus the entire manufacturing process is cruelty-free (no animal testing).
You can try this sunscreen without worry, as the company offers an easy 60-day money back guarantee that you can use with no questions asked.
- 2 oz.
- 45 SPF
- Zinc oxide
- Moisturizes without feeling greasy
- Made cruelty-free in the USA
- Absorbs quickly and wears well under makeup
- May not be sufficient to entirely replace other moisturizers
- No fragrance added so there is a faint smell of zinc oxide
- Can leave a whitish residue on brows and around hairline
For daily wear, your sunscreen doesn’t necessarily have to consider its effect on the environment. But when you go swimming in natural bodies of water, this becomes a serious consideration. Conventional sunscreens have been found to damage delicate coral reefs and interfere with the health of marine life.
Blue Lizard is reef-safe because it has no oxybenzone or octinoxate, in fact, it has no chemical additives at all. You also won’t find any parabens or fragrances to cause irritation. It uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block 97% of the sun’s rays by reflecting them away from your skin. This product provides 30+ SPF broad spectrum protection.
And since you’re swimming, you want a sunscreen that is water resistant. This one can last up to 40 minutes in the water; after that, you’ll need to reapply. Finally, this product has a unique feature that we’ve never seen elsewhere – smart bottle technology. The bottle turns blue under exposure to harmful UV light as a visual reminder to reapply. This can be especially helpful on overcast days when we tend to forget that those rays are still coming through the clouds.
- Reef safe
- Smart bottle technology
- Water resistant for up to 40 minutes
- Requires soap to remove from skin
- Does not contain a moisturizer
- Can burn if it runs into eyes
For a product with a truly weightless feel, try Alba Botanica Fragrance Free Clear Spray Sensitive SPF 50 Sunscreen. It is applied in a lightweight, air-powered mist that provides smooth coverage without feeling heavy or greasy. Made with botanical ingredients, it comes in a generous 6 oz. bottle.
This sunscreen is also certified safe for reefs. It contains only 100% vegetarian ingredients, with no oxybenzone, octinoxate, synthetic fragrances, or gluten. It is cruelty free and biodegradable for a truly environmentally-friendly choice, as proven by its Leaping Bunny certification. (Leaping Bunny is an internationally recognized symbol for cruelty-free cosmetics.) Alba Botanica sunscreen is also enthusiastically recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Like other coral reef safe sunscreens, this one is also water resistant for an impressive 80 minutes! You can enjoy broad spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays while also nourishing your skin with gentle botanicals like chamomile and aloe. That’s a win-win in our books!
- 6 oz.
- Light clear sunscreen spray leaves no noticeable residue
- Reef safe and entirely cruelty free
- Pleasant yet light coconut scent
- Skin must be dry for proper application
- Contains avobenzone, which can stain clothing
- Spray nozzle can become clogged if not periodically cleaned
Aveeno offers a specially formulated sunscreen for kids that will be nevertheless enjoyed by the whole family. Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion with SPF 50 comes in a 3-ounce tube and provides superior broad spectrum protection against damaging UVA and UVB rays. It is gentle and safe enough to be used as baby sunscreen, too.
It is a mineral sunscreen that locks in moisture upon application without stinging or irritating delicate skin. The formula is guaranteed to be tear-free, non-greasy, hypoallergenic, and free of paraben, phthalate, and fragrance. The active ingredient is zinc oxide, backed with soothing oat.
You’ll find this Aveeno sunscreen to be both sweat and water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Because it is a mineral product, it tends to be thick and must be rubbed in thoroughly to avoid a whitish cast. Though it is excellent for both children and adults with sensitive skin, it performs best for a day at the pool or beach rather than as a facial sunscreen under makeup.
- 3 oz.
- 50 SPF
- Zinc oxide
- Long lasting and effective
- Contains skin-soothing oat
- Tear-free formula
- Some people may be bothered by the zinc smell
- Thick and time consuming to rub in completely
- Doesn’t wear extremely well under makeup
Neutrogena is a brand that dominates the health and beauty arena. This product is an ultra-sheer sunscreen that wears beautifully while providing 100+ SPF protection. It is formulated with Dry-Touch technology that offers a non-greasy matte finish that is undetectable under makeup. It also contains Helioplex for superior defense against broad spectrum rays.
Even though it is perfect for daily use, it translates to the pool easily with 80 minutes of water resistance. You can trust this sunscreen to be non-comedogenic and PABA-free, though it does use avobenzone, which can stain clothing and cause an allergic reaction in rare cases.
This product comes in both stick and spray versions for ultimate convenience and portability. While it functions well as sunscreen for face or body use, some male users have noted that it tends to clump up on facial hair.
- A little goes a long way
- Water resistant for 80 minutes
- Can burn if it runs into eyes
- It takes a few minutes to absorb after application
- May irritate people sensitive to avobenzone
How to Wear Sunscreen Beautifully
For a day at the pool or beach, a photo ready face with perfect makeup isn’t really feasible or even necessary. But for daily life, including work and socializing, you want to both protect your skin and look your best. Here are a few strategies for pairing sunscreen with your regular beauty regimen.
Take a beat
Sunscreen should be applied to clean skin before any makeup. But don’t rush through the process. If you wait 10 minutes or so after applying sunscreen before moving on to foundation or powder, the sunscreen will have absorbed/dried, leaving a better surface for makeup.
Shine free protection
One of the biggest struggles involved in wearing sunscreen under makeup is the shiny or sticky appearance. To counteract this problem, start with an oil-free sunscreen and then top it with loose mineral powder. The powder particles will absorb and hold oil, providing a drier, smoother finish while still offering reliable skin protection.
Sunscreen does best under makeup, but it also needs to be reapplied every 2 hours during sun exposure or 4-6 hours in mixed conditions. This presents a bit of a challenge, because we rarely have the time or opportunity to remove all makeup and start over that often.
A good solution is to purchase some loose powder that contains sunscreen. Whenever you need to control shine with a touch-up, using this powder will impart additional sun protection as well. Alternately, use a sunscreen spray to avoid wiping away or disturbing makeup. After you coat your face carefully, give it several minutes to dry before touching your skin.
Further Sun Protection Strategies
Sunscreen is step one in terms of caring for your skin. Daily use can help keep you looking young and fresh as well as prevent the development of skin cancer. However, applying a good sunscreen is not the only thing you need to do to really protect yourself. Following are further strategies to keep you healthy in the sun. Some may surprise you.
Eat your greens
Turns out, there is more to sun protection than external coverage. What you eat can make a huge difference, too. Eating foods rich in beta-carotene and lycopene can reduce your risk of getting burned. The best sources of these elements are carrots for beta-carotene and tomatoes for lycopene. The great news is that both of these foods contain a high level of antioxidants that can also heal free radical damage and strengthen the skin’s immune system to boot.
Wear skin covering + sunscreen
It makes sense that skin covered with fabric receives protection from that clothing. However, not all clothing has the same level of protection. A white cotton t-shirt, for example, only offers an SPF of about 7! So you still need to apply sunscreen to skin that will be covered, especially if it is a lightweight fabric.
Hats are an important part of sun protection, too. Make sure that the brim or bill or your hat shades your entire nose, as this part of the body extends furthest out from the face and therefore receives more rays. The hat will save you from having to reapply sunscreen to your nose more often than the rest of your skin.
Avoid repeat mistakes
Skin cancer is fortunately very curable when diagnosed early, but having been diagnosed once does leave you at greater risk of developing skin cancer again in the future. If you have ever had a brush with the disease, you can’t cut corners with your skin protection for the rest of your life.
Be extra cautious about areas that are often forgotten or neglected, like lips, tops of the ears, and hands and feet. You may also want to apply sunscreen to the part in your hair and always wear a hat when outside.
Assess your risk
There are a number of factors that can affect your risk of skin cancer. A family history of the disease is a big one. But your skin type also plays a part. Fair skinned people are more susceptible, especially those with lots of freckles or moles. Those with blonde or red hair also tend to burn more easily. If you fit into any of these categories, it is important to back up your sunscreen with physical barriers such as long sleeved t-shirts, long pants, and hats.
Skin care is not something to mess around with. You need to use sunscreen on a daily basis. That can be challenging with sensitive skin, but not impossible. The main thing to look for is a physical blocker like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than a chemical formula. Physical blockers protect by simply reflecting rays away from your skin.
You need to read labels carefully, because most sunscreens use chemical blockers these days. They effectively neutralize harmful UVA and UVB rays, but can also irritate sensitive skin - plus the long term safety of contact with them is unknown. One ingredient that appears frequently in sunscreens labeled for sensitive skin is avobenzone. While it is generally considered safe, it can still cause irritation in some people.
You may need to experiment with a few different brands of sunscreen to find the best for your particular skin, but we are confident in the five options we have reviewed for you here – they are all dermatologist recommended sunscreen brands. One of them is sure to be the best sunscreen for sensitive skin that you’ve ever tried. Now you can get out there and soak up some sun, worry-free!