The Ultimate Skin Care Guide

8 Solutions to Sunblock Issues

Too slick, too thick, too irritating—skin experts have heard every reason under the sun for why people won’t wear SPF. Here, resolutions for various excuses.

By Liesa Goins
Woman with sunscreenPlamen Petkov

The Excuses

“It’s just another step—and too heavy to layer under makeup.”
With SPF ingredients now in so many products, says Linda Franks, a New York City dermatologist and a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, “the easiest way to form a daily habit of applying SPF is to make sure it’s in your face moisturizer.” (For product suggestions, see Sunblock, Any Which Way.) If you already have a non-SPF moisturizer and are loath to give it up, protect skin using a lightweight fluid, spray, or wipe first. New formulations are easier to layer, thanks to finer polymers. To reapply SPF later in the day without messing up your makeup (or having to start from scratch), use a powder containing SPF.

“I’ll be inside all day.”
Unless you live in a candlelit cave, there’s no escaping sun exposure. “A significant percentage of UVA rays penetrate clear glass, and they’re the same consistent strength year-round, rain or shine,” says Miami dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd. Artificial light, surprisingly, can damage skin, too. Fluorescent light and the new, green compact fluorescent bulbs emit low levels of UV rays, says Franks. The threat is mainly from corkscrew-style compact fluorescents (a.k.a. single envelope), so look for bulbs with a double envelope. These encapsulated bulbs have an added layer of protection that reduces the amount of UV rays emitted. A broad-spectrum sunscreen, which shields you from aging UVA and burning UVB rays, will protect you indoors.

“It irritates my sensitive skin.”
“Earlier sunscreen formulations definitely had more irritants than current ones,” says Howard Epstein, a cosmetic chemist in Gibbstown, New Jersey. “PABA, one of the first widely available sunscreens, caused allergic reactions.” Now PABA is rarely used, but check labels to be safe. Some common chemical ingredients used today, such as avobenzone and cinnamates, can degrade in sunlight, and that degradation may cause skin reactions. Now these ingredients are paired with stabilizers, like oxybenzone and octocrylene, to help circumvent irritation. Still, your gentlest bet is a physical sunscreen with the mineral titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (which sits on top of the skin). This is less likely to irritate than one with chemical ingredients that the skin absorbs. If your supersensitive skin is irked by almost everything, try baby formulas; their ingredients are often treated to prevent irritation.

“Sunscreens make me break out.”
Don’t suffer damage later to avoid breakouts now, says David J. Leffell, a professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine. Look for gel or fluid formulas labeled “non-comedogenic,” which means ingredients won’t clog pores. Avoid polyethylene glycol (PEG), too; it has been shown to irritate acne-prone skin.

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