It can be tough to craft a good skin care routine if you have sensitive skin, especially if you have certain skin concerns like rosacea or eczema. It can be hard to protect sensitive skin from the sun, too. Many sunscreens you’ll find on the market are considered chemical sunscreens, meaning they use active ingredients like avobenzone or octinoxate, which are more likely to cause stinging, redness and irritation — to avoid this, experts agree to look for mineral sunscreens, which contain more gentle ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, instead.
But there are multiple other reasons you may not be able to tolerate certain sunscreens that go beyond active ingredients — it simply depends on your specific skin type and triggers. “It’s very rare to find true skin allergies to the active ingredients of sunscreens, but people [with sensitive skin] may be allergic to some of the ingredients commonly used in lotions and creams,” says Dr. Amy McMichael, board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. These included fragrances, preservatives, parabens and dyes.
To help you shop for sunscreens that won’t irritate sensitive skin, we spoke to dermatologists about what causes irritation, certain ingredients to look for and the best ones to shop. We also rounded up some expert-recommended sunscreens for sensitive skin to shop.
How we picked the best sunscreens for sensitive skin
To compile the best sunscreens for sensitive skin below, we spoke to six dermatologists about the safest types of sunscreens, minimum SPF and formulations that those with sensitive skin can tolerate. The experts we spoke to recommended the following factors to keep in mind:
- Chemical vs mineral: Mineral sunscreen — also known as a physical sunscreen — is less likely to cause irritation compared to chemical sunscreens, which rely on chemical filters like oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate, because they aren’t absorbed into the skin. Mineral sunscreens are formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- Ingredients: In addition to the active ingredients,you should scan the ingredients list for other factors that may cause irritation, including fragrances and botanical extracts. “When it comes to sensitive skin, the simpler the formula, the less likely for irritation,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, board-certified dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital.
- Formulation: Lotions and gels are also easier to spread and rub into the skin, which reduces the likelihood of a friction reaction, according to Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. Plus, they provide more coverage than a spray sunscreen might.
- SPF protection: Dermatologists agreed you should look for a minimum SPF 30 rating, with SPF 50 or higher as the ideal amount of protection.
Best sunscreens for sensitive skin
Below, we rounded up expert-recommended and Select staff-favorite sunscreens that are noncomedogenic, fragrance-free and can prevent irritation on sensitive skin.
The EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen is a favorite among our experts and staff for sensitive skin since it’s noncomedogenic, meaning it is free of heavy moisturizers that can clog pores. It also contains niacinamide, which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory ingredient for those with skin concerns like rosacea. The mineral-based sunscreen offers SPF 46 protection and includes zinc oxide, which experts told us provides protection against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays while soothing the skin.
It’s the only sunscreen I’ve tried that doesn’t flare up my rosacea, and Select’s editorial projects associate Rebecca Rodriguez says it works great on her rosacea-prone, sensitive skin, too. Select’s managing editor Leah Ginsberg also uses it on her fair, sensitive skin every day, too. “I love the texture and it never burns my eyes if I sweat,” she says.
Type: Mineral and chemical | SPF: 46 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, octinoxate | Water-resistant: No
“This ultra lightweight lotion sunscreen uses mineral-only [blockers] that can be used on both the face and the body,” Zeichner says. “It can easily be spread to large body surface areas and fully rubs into the skin without leaving a harsh, white cast.” The sunscreen is hypoallergenic, meaning it won’t cause irritation, and free of fragrances, oils and dyes. It’s also suitable for use on both the face and body.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)
ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica sunscreen comes recommended by multiple of our experts due to its non-greasy, mineral-based formula that provides SPF 50+ protection. “It is easy to apply under makeup as it doesn’t leave a greasy finish or white cast and can be used by all skin types, including those with sensitive skin,” says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City. Hartman recommends this sunscreen to his patients with sensitive skin because it “delivers moisture and [is a] chemical-free, physical sunscreen that eliminates the possibility of allergy,” he says.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 50+ | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 40 minutes)
Select’s associate updates editor Zoe Malin wears the Kinfield Daily Dew face sunscreen while running. “It’s sweat- and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, so I can go on an hour-long run and not worry about reapplication,” she says. Since she’s more prone to breakouts in the summer due to sweat, Malin says the sunscreen is “super gentle” and doesn’t irritate her skin or acne. It’s also formulated with glycerin, sea kelp and aloe vera to keep skin hydrated, moisturized and calm, according to the brand.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 35 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)
This Brush on Block mineral sunscreen “has an amazing formulation for being all-mineral — it’s moisturizing, doesn’t leave a white cast or any greasiness,” says Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. It also serves as a daily moisturizer since it’s formulated with hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, jojoba oil, squalene and glycerin, according to the brand. The brand also offers a powder mineral sunscreen that experts told us is lightweight, great for sensitive skin and easy to reapply throughout the day, especially if you are wearing makeup.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)
La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios mineral sunscreen is lightweight, noncomedogenic and fragrance-free. It’s also oil-free and made with silica, a lightweight powder that helps absorb excess oil from skin and reduce shine, according to the brand. “[The sunscreen] has the benefits of a mineral filter with SPF 30, plus the hydrating properties of a moisturizer with glycerin, vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid, all which are suitable for sensitive skin,” Hartman says.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)
Garshick recommends Cerave’s Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen, which pairs SPF 30 protection with a sheer tint, offsetting any white cast on the skin, according to the brand. “It contains hyaluronic acid to help provide moisture, ceramides to help support the skin’s natural barrier, as well as niacinamide which can soothe the skin, making it easy to apply,” Garshick says. The sunscreen is noncomedogenic and free of oil and fragrances, making it a great option for acne-prone and sensitive skin.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide | Water-resistant: No
“If I’m not wearing tinted sunscreen, I wear this face sunscreen — it doesn’t smell strong like most sunscreens do, and I can’t even feel it once it’s blended in because it soaks into my skin so well,” Malin says. She adds that it never irritates her sensitive, acne-prone skin, or leaves a shiny, greasy feel when she applies makeup over it. The sunscreen has a silky texture with a subtle citrus scent (a factor to keep in mind if you’re sensitive to fragrance). It’s also formulated with a blend of antioxidants, like grapefruit extract (which is rich in vitamin C) and sunflower seed oil, to help soften and even out skin tone, according to the brand.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: No
This sunscreen from Vanicream is noncomedogenic, lightweight and formulated with ceramides to hydrate the skin, according to the brand. “It’s free from potential skin irritants like fragrances, dyes and parabens, making it an ideal choice for people with sensitive skin,” Hartman says.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: No
This mineral-based sunscreen from Blue Lizard, one of our favorite expert-recommended mineral sunscreens, can be a great option for those with sensitive skin around the entire body (not just the face). It’s fragrance-free and offers broad-spectrum SPF 50+ coverage. “The bottle changes color when exposed to UV using the brand’s Smart Bottle Technology, making it not only fun to watch but also helpful to know when sunscreen is needed,” Garshick says.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 50+ | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)
Recommended by Garshick and Dr. Michele Farber, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, this sunscreen from La Roche-Posay is noncomedogenic, free of fragrances and oil, and it can be worn underneath makeup. “The lightweight formula can be used on the face or body and, in addition to zinc oxide, contains moisturizing ingredients, such as silver ear mushroom extract to help boost hydration,” Garshick says. “And as the name implies, it absorbs easily and won’t leave behind a white cast.” It protects your skin against UVA and UVB rays, blue light (which is great if you work in front of a computer all day), infrared light, free radicals and pollution, according to the brand.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 40 minutes)
This splurge-worthy Skinceuticals mineral sunscreen provides broad-spectrum SPF 50 coverage while also improving the appearance of uneven skin tone. “It absorbs easily while offering a universal tint, without leaving behind a greasy or white residue,” Garshick says. It’s noncomedogenic, paraben- and fragrance-free, ideal for those with sensitive skin.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 40 minutes)
This mineral sunscreen from Neutrogena includes the brand’s Dry-Touch technology, which ensures it dries sheer and won’t leave the skin feeling greasy, according to Garshick. It also has the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance, which means it’s suitable for sensitive skin. The sunscreen is noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic and oil- and fragrance-free.
Type: Mineral | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)
Zeichner recommends this hyaluronic acid-based sunscreen for dry, sensitive skin — it can hydrate the skin for up to 72 hours, according to the brand. “It provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays in an ultralight formula that can be layered under makeup,” he says. It has a transparent water-gel formula that absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a white cast. Keep in mind that this is a chemical formula, which dermatologists recommend avoiding if you have very sensitive skin and doing a patch test before applying it.
Type: Chemical | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Octocrylene, ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, avobenzone | Water-resistant: No
How to shop for sunscreen if you have sensitive skin
In addition to considering a chemical or a physical sunscreen and looking for products formulated for sensitive skin, our experts recommend a few other factors to keep in mind when shopping for sensitive skin-friendly sunscreen.
Avoid formulas with common irritants, including chemical filters, fragrances, preservatives and botanical extracts. To make sunscreen more tolerable for sensitive skin, look for active mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. You should also consider added skin care ingredients, including dimethicone, which is noncomedogenic and helps keep the skin hydrated, as well as niacinamide and vitamin C to brighten the skin, according to Rahman.
Look for a lotion, gel or powder sunscreen rather than sprays. “If a patient cites friction as a trigger for a reaction in their skin, I would recommend a lotion or gel sunscreen as they tend to spread easily and rub into the skin quickly,” Hartman says, adding that the aerosol in spray sunscreens can also be very irritating. Thicker, cream-based sunscreens may be too heavy for those with sensitive, acne-prone skin, too.
Consider SPF 30 protection or higher — and make sure you reapply. Keep in mind that once you go above SPF 50, the higher SPF rating only offers marginal improvements when it comes to sun protection. “It’s more important to apply sunscreen properly and reapply often,” Hartman says. You should apply a quarter-size amount for your face and a shot glass-size amount on your body at least 15 minutes before sun exposure, according to Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
Combine your sunscreen with UPF clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, especially if your sensitive skin can’t tolerate sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher. “Clothing isn’t necessarily keeping the sun’s rays from harming our skin. But if you were to use UPF clothing, you can cover a large percentage of your skin and it tends to be safer and easier in terms of compliance,” Rahman says.
What causes sunscreen to irritate sensitive skin?
There isn’t just one ingredient that can cause sunscreen to irritate your skin — it often has to do with your specific skin type or concerns. Overall, looking for sunscreens labeled as noncomedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores), and free of fragrances (the most common irritant), botanical extracts, preservatives and, ideally, chemical UV filters is a good first step
Chemical sunscreens can cause allergic contact dermatitis, an inflammatory disease of the skin that causes it to become red and sensitive, according to Dr. Zakia Rahman, board-certified dermatologist, clinical professor of dermatology and director of the Resident Laser and Aesthetic Clinic at Stanford Health Care. Certain fragrances or preservatives that are added to sunscreens may also lead to red, flaky patches, burning or stinging, especially for those with rosacea or eczema-prone skin, according Garshick.
People with sensitive skin should consider using a mineral sunscreen, which is formulated with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that block UV rays, rather than chemical filters that turn those rays into heat, according to Hartman.
But mineral sunscreens do have their limitations: “Traditionally, mineral sunscreens don’t look as elegant as chemical sunscreens, especially for people with brown and black skin,” Hartman says. But most have come a long way in providing physical SPF protection for darker skin tones without leaving a white or iridescent cast on the skin, he adds.
Keep in mind that many people with sensitive skin can tolerate both mineral and chemical options. “I recommend doing a patch test on the skin – rub a small amount of sunscreen on the underside of your wrist and see how the skin reacts after 24 hours,” Hartman says.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Amy McMichael is board-certified dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
- Dr. Joshua Zeichner is a board-certified dermatologist, associate professor of dermatology and the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. He specializes in cosmeceuticals, skin care and cosmetic dermatology.
- Dr. Corey L. Hartman is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama.
- Dr. Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
- Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
- Dr. Michele Farber is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia. She specializes in skin cancer treatments, as well as general, cosmetic and procedural dermatology.
- Dr. Zakia Rahman is a board-certified dermatologist, clinical professor of dermatology and director of the Resident Laser and Aesthetic Clinic at Stanford Health Care. She also serves as the assistant chief at the Palo Alto VA Medical Center-Livermore.
- Dr. Robyn Gmyrek is a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City.
Why trust Select?
Mili Godio is an editor at Select who has covered a wide range of skin-care topics, including under-eye circles treatments, sunscreens for oily skin and rosacea treatments. For this article, Godio spoke to eight dermatologists to narrow down the best sunscreens for sensitive skin, and highlighted their recommendations for the best ingredients and products to consider.