Are You Irritated by Most Sunscreens? We Asked Dermatologists to Share Their Tips for Finding a Gentle Formula

Look to mineral SPF or sunscreens for babies, they say.

Having highly reactive skin can be a struggle throughout the year, but it often becomes more challenging during the summer, when we become that much more diligent about slathering on SPF (which should be a year round endeavor!). After all, many sunscreens are chock-full of ingredients that can trigger redness, itching, stinging, and, in some cases, full-blown dermatitis. With this in mind (and with the warm-weather season officially upon us), we chatted with a few dermatologists about everything there is to know about gentle sunscreen options, especially for those who often struggle with finding a formula that works for them.

woman applying sunscreen to face at beach
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Consider mineral or baby sunscreen.

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman, people with easily irritated skin should look formulas that are fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and free of parabens and certain chemicals, like oxybenzone (a popular ingredient in many sunscreens). Dr. Hope Mitchell takes it a step further, noting that mineral sunscreens are your best option; they "won't cause redness, burning, itching, acne, or stinging of their eyes," she shares. "In this case, chemical-free or mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are my first choice."

And while there are many mineral sunscreens on the market now, some dermatologists recommend opting for baby iterations, like Baby Bum's Fragrance Free Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion ($13.99,, and that's true even if you're an adult. "They are formulated to suit the most vulnerable skin types," Dr. Mitchell says. "Baby sunscreen still contains active ingredients that protect both baby and adult skin from the sun's rays." With that in mind, Dr. Engelman points out that, thanks to modern technology, there are handfuls of fantastic sunscreen options for adults that are fragrance-free, hypoallergenic, and designed for sensitive skin. So, if you don't like the idea of carrying around baby-specific formulas, there are still plenty of options out there, like Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50 ($39,

Mineral sunscreens are gentler on skin because they don't sink in.

In order to fully understand why mineral sunscreens, like La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50 ($36.99,, are a better option for those with easily irritated skin, New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Hadley King walked us through the science behind their formulation. "Chemical sunscreens are made up of chemicals that are absorbed into the skin, where they can absorb the UV rays and create a chemical reaction that changes the UV rays into heat; the heat is then released from the skin," she explains, noting that chemical sunscreens typically contain a combination of two to six of the following common ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and homosalate.

"With physical sunscreens, the mineral ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—sit on top of the skin to scatter and deflect UV rays, physically blocking them from penetrating the skin," she adds. The gist? If you opt for chemical sunscreens, their ingredients will sink into your skin, where they are more likely to cause irritation. "Mineral sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, however, are less likely to irritate sensitive skin; there are fewer concerns about absorption and safety," Dr. King explains, noting that they're often better for the environment, too.

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