Acne & SPF – What You Need to Know

Acne Vulgaris & SPF - What You Need to Know

Dr. Sandra Lee explains the importance of SPF.

We've all heard about the importance of slathering on the SPF when we go outside, but did you know it's even more important to do so if you suffer from acne vulgaris?  So, how are you protecting your skin from the sun.  The sun's damaging UVA/UVB rays are out there rain or shine, and it is very important that you make an effort to protect your skin daily.

Sun protection is important for everyone, but especially for those who suffer from acne vulgaris.  However, when you have a tendency to break out, you likely HATE the thought of putting on sunblock. Here’s what I hear in my facial room from clients that I treat:

“But, SPF is greasy, I don’t like how it feels on my skin.”


“It makes me break out”

I hear you, I really do!  It took me a lot of trial and error to find an SPF that didn’t put me into a downward spiral of an acne vulgaris breakout. But I stuck with it because sun damage is extremely difficult to reverse.  Here are 4 compelling reasons why you need to protect that skin of yours from the big bad rays of the sun.

4 Reasons to Slather SPF

Aging: UV rays are very damaging to your skin.  They cause damage to collagen fibers in your skin, causing your skin to sag and wrinkle. The cumulative effect shows up later in life, so do yourself a favor now, and protect your skin.  This truck driver is a perfect example of what the sun's damaging rays can do over time. For almost 30 years, his left side was exposed to UVA rays which can penetrate glass, causing this photo-aging.


Scars: If you already have acne vulgaris scars, the sun will only make things worse.  Acne vulgaris can lead to various types of scars, depending on the type of lesion that occurred.  Some are flat and wide, while others look like little hole in your skin.  Collagen holds up the underlying skin tissues.  The damaging UV rays will break these down and this will make any scars you have look deeper and more visible.

Hyperpigmentation: Most people call these freckles. Freckles, however, are something you’re born with. Hyperpigmentation, however, develops over years of unprotected sun exposure. Depending on the type of acne vulgaris you have, you may end up with injury to the skin that leads to a type of scar that is pigmented (colored).  This type of acne vulgaris scar is called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation.  As with any sort of hyperpigmentation, it is extremely difficult to treat as the damage is in the deeper layers of the skin.  It is wise, then, to prevent any type of hyperpigmentation with daily use of SPF.


Melanoma: This is above all else the most compelling reason to protect your skin. According to “Getting sunburn, just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer.”  This form of cancer is the deadliest, and according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, "nearly 90% of melanomas are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from natural or artificial sources."  Prevention with proper use of an SPF can literally save your life!

Melanoma (1)

What next?

Find an SPF you like and apply every day.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  DAY.  Rain or shine, whether you're going to be staying indoors or going out for just a minute to check the mail.  Damaging rays from the sun penetrate through glass (remember the trucker?) and even if you just step out for a moment, cumulative sun damage adds up, so it is best to prevent the damage from happening in the first place.

Some don't feel it is necessary to apply sun block on cold cloudy days, but the UV rays responsible for causing melanoma aren’t felt as heat on your skin so you can get a sunburn even in cold, cloudy weather.  So no matter what the forecast is, it's always best to be safe and apply SPF daily.


Look for oil-free formulations with "non Comedogenic" on the label.  Try out physical as well as chemical sunscreens. For my 1-year-old daughter, I look for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. For myself, I look for SPF that contains antioxidants to apply to my face. Antioxidants are going to aid in calming inflammation, as well as help battle the damaging effects of the sun and when you add that into your SPF, you’re getting protection from the sun, prevention of premature aging, along with the healing property of antioxidants. Yes, please. Multitasking at its best.  And finally, reapply a broad spectrum SPF every 2 hours.

“But my makeup has sunblock in it already.”

I hear this one a lot.  You'll be interested to know that the FDA doesn’t treat cosmetics (like your makeup) as actual “SPF”.  The truth is, when a product claims to be an SPF product, it is held to a higher standard and they have to block both UVA and UVB rays when cosmetics can get away with just blocking either UVA or UVB, but not both.  Look at your makeup label.  Does it have an FDA label on it?  Likely not.  If it doesn't, you need a broad spectrum SPF.

 SPF rating matters. Go with an SPF 15-30. Anything less isn't enough protection, and anything more than that isn’t much more effective.

For healthy, glowing skin, SPF should be a part of your daily skin care routine. What obstacles have you faced when trying to find your favorite SPF? Even more pressing, what’s your favorite SPF, and why?

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