Spending time in the sun offers many benefits, and it’s frequently suggested as a way to improve your health. It boosts your Vitamin D level, helps you sleep, increases your immunity, and can improve your mood. Sun exposure has even been given credit for clearing up acne.
That’s where you need to be careful, though. Using the sun to dry up your acne is a short-term fix that can have long-term consequences. Too much sun can make your acne worse, especially if you’re using acne medication. That makes using sunscreen every day a necessity.
But not just any old sunscreen will do. There are several things to consider when looking for a product that will work best for your meds.
Does Acne Medication Change Your Skin?
The short answer is yes. Certain types of acne treatment can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. It’s called photosensitivity, and it means you’re more likely to get a severe sunburn where you blister and peel. This type of sunburn can actually lead to a new acne breakout. Excess sun exposure can also make acne scars more noticeable.
Several types of acne medication can lead to photosensitivity. Topical retinoids (e.g., isotretinoin) and benzoyl peroxide (prescription or over-the-counter) can have this effect. Even oral antibiotics used to treat acne, such as tetracycline, can have the same impact. So keep an eye on how your skin responds when you’re in the sun.
How Does Sunscreen Play In?
When you’re using acne medications, it’s best to try to stay out of the sun as much as possible. The middle of the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest is the worst time to be out. Still, you can’t put your life on hold. If you’re not already doing so, wearing sunscreen must now become part of your daily routine.
Sunscreen does more than protect you from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays, which can age your skin. It also protects the progress you’ve made with your acne treatment.
For some patients, a regular routine with acne meds can thin the skin and dry it out. Sunscreen offers the barrier you need to sidestep potential skin damage. It can also limit post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, a common condition in acne-prone people where light causes dark spots to appear on the skin.
Tips for Successfully Combining Acne Treatment and Sun Protection
Here are some tips for finding a good sunscreen and using it properly with your acne medication.
1. Choose Minerals
Many types of sunscreen are made of chemicals that are absorbed into your skin. These products can potentially make your acne worse.
Instead, choose a sunscreen made from 100% mineral sunscreen actives, especially if you have sensitive skin. Zinc oxide or titanium oxide are good options because their particles are bigger than your pores and won’t cause clogs. They sit on top of your skin, working like a layer to deflect the sun’s rays.
2. Opt for Noncomedogenic Products
As with make-up or moisturizers, you’ll want to find a sunscreen that won’t clog your pores. Look for products that are thinner, feel gel-like, or have a more liquid consistency. Sprays can also be a good option — just be sure you’re applying enough to really cover your skin. Avoid thicker, cream-like sunscreens or ones made from plant oils, such as coconut oil, or fatty acids.
If you don’t like the slick, greasy feeling some sunscreens leave behind, choose a water-based one. It will give you a soft, matte finish.
3. Go for Broad-Spectrum Protection
Choose a sunscreen that is sweat- and water-resistant and will block both UVA and UVB rays. This is just good all-around advice because it will help protect you from skin cancer in the long run. However, it’s particularly important while you’re using acne medication due to the photosensitivity they can cause.
As for SPF levels, the American Academy of Dermatologists recommends at least SPF 30. Some dermatologists suggest SPF 50 for even stronger protection. Be sure to apply non-mineral sunscreens at least 20 minutes before you go outside. Remember to do it again if you’re going to be in the sun or the water for a while.
4. Pass on Oxybenzone
Keep your eyes open for this ingredient — it’s present in many types of sunscreen. Not only is oxybenzone a suspected endocrine disruptor, it can cause photo-allergic contact dermatitis. Given that many acne treatments lead to photosensitivity, acne sufferers have all the more reason to avoid it.
If your acne meds dry your skin out, you’ll likewise want to avoid products that contain oxybenzone. The chemical can produce skin irritation, causing redness, inflammation, and itching. You’ll touch your face more if you’re uncomfortable, and the oil from your hands could prompt another acne breakout.
5. Consider a Moisturizer-Sunscreen Combo
If your acne medication is making your skin dry, you’re probably already using a moisturizer. But what if you could reduce that dryness and shield yourself from the sun at the same time?
A moisturizer-sunscreen combo is a one-two punch. You can get the same sun protection in a single product, saving you time in your daily routine. (It could also save you money.) Most such products aren’t strong enough to be long-lasting, though, so you’ll need to reapply them every couple of hours.
6. Try Powder Sunscreen.
Don’t want to put a gel, cream, or spray on your skin? Powder sunscreen can be your friend if you’re acne-prone and using medication. Mineral-based formulas are less irritating for sensitive complexions. They also sit on top of your skin and won’t clog your pores.
Some powder sunscreens contain hydrating ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid or ceramides, which can help if your acne treatment dries out your skin. Choose one that’s SPF 30 or higher, and remember to reapply often.
7. Make Sunscreen Part of Your Acne Skin Care Routine
Adding sunscreen to your daily regimen can shield your skin even if you’re not planning to be in direct sunlight. If you’re using a topical medication, apply it first. Give yourself about a minute to allow your medication to dry fully. Then, add an oil-free moisturizer. After that, you can follow it up with your choice of sunscreen.
When you choose a sunscreen that works well, and there are many, you won’t hesitate to apply it each day. Making sunscreen application a part of your morning routine will ensure that your skin always gets the protection it needs.
The sun gives us light and warmth, lifts our mood, and even boosts our immune system. When it comes to skin, though, it can do more harm than good. This can seem especially dismaying when you’re already battling acne. With the right combination of sunscreen and acne meds, though, you’ll be on your way to skin as clear as a cloudless sky.