If you have sensitive skin, you're probably very cautious when it comes to what type of skin care products and ingredients you use. After all, sensitive skin tends to be more prone to redness, inflammation and irritation overall than other skin types, says Marisa Garshick, MD, dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York City.
As with any skin care product, sunscreen contains a bevy of ingredients that can cause irritation in someone with sensitive skin.
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"Certain ingredients in sunscreens, be it active ingredients, fragrances, dyes or preservatives, may be more commonly associated with skin reactions," explains Brendan Camp, MD, a Manhattan-based dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. "Familiarizing yourself with these before making purchases — and becoming comfortable reading ingredient lists — may help avoid skin reactions."
How We Chose
We chatted with dermatologists, who broke down the most important features of sunscreen for sensitive skin. Our top picks are based on their criteria, including:
The Best Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin
- Best Overall: EltaMD UV Clean Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($37.30, Amazon)
- Best Mineral: CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($14.97, Amazon)
- Best for Face: Supergoop Mineral Sheerscreen ($38, Amazon)
- Best Stick: Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Sunstick ($8.29, Amazon)
- Best Tinted Moisturizer: bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream SPF 30 ($23.35, Amazon)
- Best for Working Out: Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen ($19.79, Amazon)
- Best Water-Resistant: Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen ($13.80, Amazon)
1. Best Overall: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
This physical mineral sunscreen has an SPF of 46 and helps shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. It's free of fragrance, which makes it an ideal buy for someone with sensitive skin, and it's also moisturizing, thanks to sodium hyaluronate.
For those prone to acne, the lactic acid it contains helps clear pores and prevent breakouts.
"Unlike some other physical blockers, it rubs in clear, avoiding the pasty white film seen with many physical sunscreens," adds Jason Miller, MD, at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Freehold, New Jersey.
2. Best Mineral: CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
CeraVe is a popular skin care brand for sensitive skin types because most of the brand's products are gentle and fragrance-free, including this mineral sunscreen, which contains an SPF of 50.
"In addition to containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide broad-spectrum coverage, it also 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," Dr. Dr. Garshick says.
3. Best for Face: Supergoop Mineral Sheerscreen
Dr. Camp likes to recommend this SPF 30, zinc-based facial sunscreen for his patients looking for one to use on their face.
Even though it is a mineral sunscreen, it doesn't leave a white cast like most other mineral-based sunscreens. Instead, it offers a sheer application that's not greasy and won't cause breakouts.
It also contains hydrating ingredients such as squalane and aloe leaf juice.
4. Best Stick: Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Sunstick
Sunscreen sticks are a more convenient option for certain areas, especially your face, as they can easily get into small and sensitive areas, such as your under-eye and the creases near your nose and mouth. They are also a great solution for treating areas more prone to burning, such as the lips, nose, earlobes and around the eyes, notes Dr. Camp.
This mineral sunscreen offers SPF 50 protection and is conveniently sized for travel.
5. Best Tinted Moisturizer: bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream SPF 30
If you're looking for a tinted SPF moisturizer that blends well into your skin and offers a wide range of tones to choose from, look no further than this one by bareMinerals.
It comes in more than 20 different shades to match every skin tone and contains moisturizing hyaluronic acid to help plump and hydrate the skin.
What it does not contain is potentially harmful ingredients that could cause irritation, especially for those with sensitive skin.
6. Best for Working Out: Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen
As a mineral sunscreen, Dr. Garshick likes to recommend this option both for those with sensitive skin and those who work out frequently.
"It incorporates a universal tint that blends in easily, leaving behind a sheer finish that won't leave the skin feeling greasy," she says. "It also incorporates an antioxidant blend to protect against free radical damage and is free of parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrance and formaldehyde."
7. Best Water-Resistant: Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
Like most mineral sunscreens, this one contains zinc oxide, which blocks out UV rays without having to be absorbed into the skin.
"This sunscreen is free of chemical active ingredients and is both paraben-free and fragrance-free, making it a great option for sensitive skin," says Dr. Garshick.
It's ideal for pool and beach days because it's a water-resistant sunscreen (for up to 40 minutes) and the cap actually turns blue when exposed to UV light, which can help remind you when to apply and reapply.
What to Look for in a Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
Here are some features dermatologists recommend looking for when shopping for a sunscreen for sensitive skin.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of sunscreens that have an SPF of at least 30. It's worth mentioning, however, that a higher SPF doesn't mean you can reapply less often. Most sunscreens require you to reapply every two hours minimum, although you should reapply more often if you're swimming or sweating a lot.
Richard Torbeck, MD, New York City-based dermatologist, recommends a cream or lotion consistency over spray to allow for better coverage.
"Coverage needs to be on the thicker side, or the actual SPF may not be what is stated on the bottle," he says.
3. Mineral vs. Chemical
Mineral sunscreens, such as those with active ingredients like titanium and zinc oxide, sit on top of the skin and reflect UV radiation off the skin instead of being absorbed, explains Dr. Camp.
"Mineral sunscreens are thought to be less likely to cause skin irritation in those with sensitive skin than chemical sunscreens," he says.
Chemical sunscreens include ingredients such as avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene and oxybenzone. If any of these are on the label, it's probably best to avoid that sunscreen if you have sensitive skin.
4. Other Ingredients to Look Out For
Some sunscreens include other skin care ingredients like hyaluronic acid, shea butter, vitamin E and niacinamide, which can provide benefits for those with sensitive skin.
"Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, meaning it helps moisturize skin by helping it retain water molecules, shea butter helps hydrate skin by preventing it from drying out, vitamin E is an antioxidant that can help protect skin from the damaging effects of prolonged sun exposure and niacinamide is a calming agent that reduces redness, swelling and inflammation," Dr. Camp says.
On the other hand, avoid sunscreens with chemical ingredients (as we mentioned above) and added fragrances, as these can be irritating to the skin.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.