If You Have Oily Skin, Avoid This Sunscreen Ingredient

You'd think choosing a sunscreen would be pretty straightforward, right? Does it protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays? Check. Is it water-resistant? Check. It all seems pretty simple. But that's not exactly the case—especially when you consider all the different types of sunscreens out there. There are chemical and mineral versions plus sprays, lotions, and powders. Some are just for the face. Others are for more active lifestyles. There's just a lot to think about.

One other thing you should consider when choosing a sunscreen? Your skin type. Some sunscreens might irritate sensitive skin. Some might not moisturize dry skin enough. And if you've got oily skin, well, you know that certain formulas can leave your skin feeling even oiler and might even clog your pores.


(Image credit: @kaiagerber)

In general, there are some guidelines to go by when choosing a face sunscreen, regardless of skin type. Board-certified dermatologist and founder of Amarte Skin Care Craig A. Kraffert, MD, says that the ideal facial sunscreen should offer broad-spectrum SPF (preferably 50+) protection that is water-resistant for 40 minutes.

Kraffert says that in his experience, he's found the best facial sunscreens are a blend of both physical and organic chemical sunscreens. "These blended products allow the best synergy of functional SPF and aesthetic elegance/usability," he explains. "For those with oily skin, chemical-only sunscreens offering SPF 50+ tend to be heavy, leaving a cloud-like residue even after massaging in thoroughly. This residue is particularly problematic when it mixes with skin oils. On the other hand, physical-only sunscreens lack aesthetic elegance at SPF 50+ due to the opacity inherent in physical sun blockade. This is often described as a pastiness or greying. It can impart a ghost-like quality to skin."

When it comes to mineral versus chemical sunscreens, it's up to personal choice, as we've learned before. Mineral (or physical) sunscreens contain zinc and/or titanium dioxide and sit on top of your skin to block out rays. They're known as natural and nontoxic. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone and are absorbed into the skin in order to provide protection. These ingredients aren't labeled as toxic by the FDA, but Kraffert does say that there have been increasing concerns about oxybenzone and avobenzone in the dermatology community. In short, much more research needs to be done on these ingredients' impact when absorbed in the body.


(Image credit: @alessandragl)

But one sunscreen ingredient you want to stay away from if you have oily skin? Homosalate. "It is a leading candidate because it is a relatively weak UV filter and, especially at the higher concentrations frequently used, thick and oily," Kraffert explains. "It is frequently included in sunscreen formulations to help dissolve and stabilize avobenzone, a sunscreen ingredient that has its own safety concerns."

And when it comes to the form of the sunscreen—lotion, spray, or powder—Kraffert says lotions are the better option because they typically have more water per volume (and conversely less oil per volume) than spray and are overall more hydrating. "SPF values of spray sunscreens are determined by much thicker product application than what is done in the real world," he adds. "This means that the SPF protective value of these products in typical use may be less than what is indicated on the packaging. Furthermore, spray formulations tend to be on the oilier side."

And as for powders, Kraffert says that while they might have benefits of being lightweight and oil-free, the products do not always play well with oily complexions and become less uniform in appearance throughout the day.

Ready to choose a sunscreen for your oily skin? Take a look at some of our recommendations below.

Sunscreen Picks for Oily Skin


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Managing Editor

Sarah is lifestyle writer and editor with over 10 years of experience covering health and wellness, interior design, food, beauty, and tech. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended New York University and lived in New York for 12 years before returning to L.A. in 2019. In addition to her work on THE/THIRTY and Who What Wear, she held editor roles at Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and The Bump (sister site of The Knot). She has a passion for health and wellness, but she especially loves writing about mental health. Her self-care routine consists of five things: a good workout, “me” time on the regular, an intriguing book/podcast/playlist to unwind after a long day, naps, and decorating her home.