Sun protection shouldn’t leave your skin vulnerable to irritation, inflammation, or acne, nor should it lead to the accumulation of synthetic chemicals in your bloodstream. Unfortunately, certain sunscreens contain ingredients that might not be optimal for your overall health.

You must apply sunscreen generously. If you plan on spending a full day outdoors, it is recommended that you reapply approximately one ounce of sunscreen to your body every few hours (more frequently when swimming). That means your body is continually exposed to the ingredients in the product.

Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid

The next time you’re shopping for an effective sunscreen, here are a few ingredients that might be deal-breakers, particularly if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin.

Synthetic Ingredients

Synthetic sunscreen ingredients are highly effective in deactivating ultraviolet (UV) rays before they cause damage to the skin. They are also used to create a more liquid, lightweight product that doesn’t leave a white cast. However, they might not be ideal for everyone. People with sensitive skin, for example, might be more likely to experience redness or inflammation from synthetic sunscreen ingredients.

While synthetic sunscreen ingredients have not been conclusively shown to cause long-term harm, ingredients like avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, and oxybenzone are stored in the body for weeks after one application. Because sunscreens must be applied and reapplied daily, some synthetic ingredients can build in the system and even become detectible in breast milk.

Oxybenzone has been linked with hormone disruption, though not in humans. Hormone disruption occurs when chemicals mimic hormonal activity, causing the body to over or underproduce certain hormones. Moreover, if you have acne-prone skin, benzophenones could aggravate your skin and cause breakouts.

Bug Repellants (DEET)

Having an insect repellent in your sunscreen seems like a convenient time-saver, but it’s less-than-ideal for sun protection and overall health. When used with DEET, (N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide), some sunscreens’ efficacy is significantly diminished – sometimes by more than 30 %. This deficiency means that you must apply sunscreen more frequently to ensure sufficient protection, effectively exposing you to greater quantities of DEET.

Moreover, because sunscreen formulations are designed to be absorbed into the skin, other ingredients are being absorbed, too. This phenomenon might enhance the quantities of DEET you are absorbing.

To make sure you are getting the best possible sun protection while shielding yourself from pesky pests, use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. After approximately 10-15 minutes, apply a separate insect repellent of your choosing. While DEET is highly effective, oil of lemon eucalyptus has been found to provide high levels of protection, though it must be applied more frequently.

Comedogenic Oils, Butters, and Waxes

Acne-prone skin is especially sensitive to sunscreens containing breakout-inducing ingredients because sunscreen must be applied and reapplied thickly and throughout the day. 
Coconut oil, cocoa butter, mineral oil, beeswax, and silicones can trigger breakouts in acne-prone skin. In addition to the ingredients listed above, check your sunscreen for the most common offenders: 
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) 
  • Soybean oil
  • Wheatgerm oil 

Another no-no for people with sensitive skin: Fragrance. While fragrances are frequentlyoften used to make sometimes unpleasant sunscreen ingredients smell more inviting, the volatility of fragrance can cause irritation and allergic contact dermatitis. In fact, fragrance in cosmetics should be avoided whether you have sensitive skin or not!

Effective, Non-Irritating Sunscreens

Well, now that you know what to avoid, what should you use? 
Mineral sunscreens are the most effective sun protection products for people with sensitive and acne-prone skin. They are extremely gentle, and physically shield your skin from harmful UV rays. If you have oily skin, mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide offer an additional benefit: they leave a smooth, matte finish that absorbs shine.

At our clinics and online at, we offer a comprehensive range of sun protection products designed to deliver maximum SPF while being safe for all skin types. If you’re looking for the right sunscreen for your lifestyle, here are a few extremely effective products we recommend:

To schedule an appointment at one of our California, Nevada, or Arizona clinics, please visit our location page to find one near you. 
Rachelle Riley