June 14, 2022

The Best Clean Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

Raise your hand if finding the perfect clean face sunscreen for sensitive skin ranks right up there with shopping for jeans, bathing suits and sunglasses (ok that last one might just be me…)? If I put all of the face SPFs that I’ve tried next to the hair products I’ve tried (you curly girls know what I’m talking about), it would be a tight race.

Chances are you arrived here already knowing the importance of using sunscreen, so I won’t get on my sunscreen soapbox for too long. We’ve long been told how important a daily SPF is in our skincare routine: most importantly it helps to prevent skin cancer, but it also slows the signs of aging, including hyperpigmentation, lines and wrinkles. But here’s something not everyone is aware of:

Sunscreen use not only prevents but REVERSES signs of aging.

Yes, I said reverse. When I really committed to using a daily sunscreen 10 years ago, and without changing anything else about my routine, I noticed a difference in the texture of my skin, lightening of areas of hyperpigmentation, and an improvement in my fine lines. I would’ve thought that it was just my eyes getting older and just not seeing those lines as well #midlifeproblems, but between comments from others and comparing pics of myself, there truly was a difference.

In fact, a study was done a few years ago investigating the reversal of photodamage on subjects over a 52 week period using a daily SPF 30, and the findings showed significant improvement. It was so good to know I wasn’t imagining things!

But it’s not the SPF itself that’s working the actual magic…it’s our skin. Think of it like this: when you wear a bandaid on an owie, it’s not the bandaid that’s doing the healing, right? The bandage is simply protecting the area while the skin (with maybe some help from an antibiotic ointment) heals and repairs itself. Sunscreen is the bandaid, and if you’re protecting your skin with it DAILY, it gives your skin the optimum chance to repair and rejuvenate itself. Throw in a vitamin C serum to help with hyperpigmentation (the Neosporin in this analogy), and you’re making some serious anti-aging progress.

Needless to say, finding a clean sunscreen for my face when I was switching to clean beauty was one of my top priorities.

Sunscreen and Sensitive Skin

For those of us that have sensitive skin that’s easily product-reactive, it can be a real pain in the arse to find a moisturizer with SPF that doesn’t break us out, cause a rash, redness or some form of dermatitis. The good news about clean sunscreens is that most are mineral-based, using either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or both), and zinc oxide in particular is great for healing and calming skin. But they can also be heavy, have a whitecast, contain essential oils or other ingredients that set us sensitives off, or else not play nicely with other products or makeup.

When looking for the perfect clean face moisturizer with SPF, I need it to:

  • Be clean, with the SPF being mineral-based and reef-friendly.
  • Be gentle.
  • Be moisturizing, but not shiny…I prefer a satin finish (though if you like some glow, I’ve got options for you too!).
  • Be protective, with a minimum SPF of 30.
  • Play nicely with my other products, and for my daily sunscreen it needs to be cosmetically elegant and work under makeup.

I’ve tried so many clean facial sunscreens. And sadly many that are touted as being sensitive-skin friendly have caused my skin trouble. Below you’ll find my top picks for best clean face sunscreen for the most sensitive of sensitive skin, including a fantastic option for outdoor exercising and/or beach and pool level sunscreen AND a tinted moisturizer with SPF! And you can rest assured that if I can use it, it’s pretty damn gentle.

My CLEAN SUNSCREEN FOR SENSITIVE SKIN ‘It List’

Best Daily Face Moisturizers with SPF

Best clean sunscreen for sensitive skin - Fitglow Vita Shield SPF 30

FITGLOW BEAUTY | Vita Shield Plum Hyaluronic Primer SPF 30
$44

Iiiiit’s baaaaack!!! So many of us have been awaiting the return of Vita Shield…it was by far my favorite clean face SPF: perfect satin finish, no whitecast, no breakouts, moisturizing, hydrating and simply the most cosmetically elegant SPF I’d ever tried (clean or not). But sadly it’s been unavailable for quite some time, due to reformulation and then packaging issues (thanks, COVID). Until now! I did a full happy dance when I got the email that it was back, much to my teenager’s chagrin. And while it’s only been a week and there are some differences to the OG formula, I still absolutely love it! Same lovely finish that somehow makes my skin look smoother and plumper, no irritation, plays nicely with my other products and makeup, and fantastic protection. I will say that there is a teeny bit of a whitecast with this now and there wasn’t before (I happen to still have a bottle of the OG that I’d hoarded, so I’ve been doing a side-by-side), but it becomes unnoticeable if you rub in well. There’s also a bit of a scent that I can’t place but it goes away on application. Given the finish and performance this past week, it’s still my #1, and I’m excited about the addition of plum in the ingredients!

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Best clean SPF for sensitive skin - Honua Malu SPF 30

HONUA HAWAIIAN SKINCARE | Malu SPF 30
$42

This daily clean sunscreen is an extremely close runner-up to the Fitglow, and has been my go-to this past year. In the summer it’s a bit too glowy for me and has a wee bit of whitecast, but it’s perfection in the dryer months…it saved me this winter when my skin was super dry and dehydrated. If you stay on the drier side in the warmer months or just prefer a bit of a glowy finish vs the satin, get this! The glow is the only thing that keeps this at runner-up status for me. Reef safe, hydrating, beautiful but light smell, plays nicely with makeup and doesn’t irritate my crazy skin. I also dig the give-back factor: a percentage of all proceeds from each bottle of Malu sold is donated to Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, a non-profit that educates the community and keeps our oceans clean.

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Best clean sunscreen for face sensitive skin - Erin's Faces Peptide SPF 30

ERIN’S FACES | Peptide SPF 30
$38-$57.50

This one is right up there with the Honua Malu. I almost didn’t give it a try because it has titanium dioxide (alongside non-nano zinc oxide), and I’ve found that titanium dioxide in higher concentrations causes my skin to freak out. But I’m so happy to say that I haven’t had any reactions to this! It’s sublimely lightweight while still being hydrating and moisturizing. In fact it’s so lovely to put on that I’ve put it not only on my face, neck and chest, but also my hands and arms, so easy! No noticeable whitecast after rubbing in well, plays nicely with all the things, reef safe, no fragrance, totally clean (Think Dirty rating of 1!) and has a satin finish.

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Best Clean Tinted Moisturizer with SPF

Best clean tinted moisturizer with SPF sensitive skin - Tower 28 Sunny Days

TOWER 28 BEAUTY | Sunny Days
$30

When I was switching my products over to clean options, I really struggled to find a tinted moisturizer (I was a huge fan of Laura Mercier’s). Everything was either too drying, a total shinefest, or caused a breakout. In fact largely due to that (and the fact that foundation hasn’t proven to be a friend to the look of my aging skin), I let go of a tinted moisturizer with SPF…my current routine typically involves a bit of spot cover over one of the sunscreens listed above. But Tower 28 caught my attention as they gear their line around being sensitive skin-friendly. And I must say, this tinted moisturizer is fantastic! Gives a lovely satin finish, smoothes over pores without emphasizing fine lines, provides broad spectrum SPF 30 and hasn’t caused my skin any troubles. Tons of shades available too!

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While all wonderful products, I’ll provide a few of the more popular tm’s that I’ve tried for reference, and why they didn’t work for me: Ilia’s (too shiny), Kosas (too drying), Suntegrity (too dewy, broke me out), Josh Rosenbrook (pilled, broke me out), W3LL People (too heavy), Kari Gran (too glowy). There are others, so if you don’t see one listed here and you’re wondering about it, please feel free to comment below!

Best Clean Face SPF for the beach, pool and outdoor exercise

Best clean sunscreen for face sensitive skin - Kinfield Daily Dew

KINFIELD | Daily Dew SPF 35
$24

I was so very excited when I found this last summer. I’m not sure what magickery Kinfield used to create it, but they changed the SPF game with this one. Finally, FINALLY, a clean, non-nano zinc-based face sunscreen that breathes. No more crazy face sweating when I’m working out! It also smells great, has very little whitecast, is not hard on the budget, is water-resistant (40 min) and reef-friendly. The finish is a bit glowy for me as a daily sunscreen, but I don’t care about that when it comes to exercise and beach/pool time. For those that do like some glow, Daily Dew does play nicely with makeup. Doesn’t irritate my super sensitive skin, plays nicely with my other skincare products, this is a GAME. CHANGER. In fact I included this as part of my top clean beauty products of 2021!

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Some honorable mentions….

A few other clean moisturizers with SPF that are definitely worth checking out, as they’re awesome for sensitive skin but just didn’t stay in my arsenal for various reasons:

  • KINSHIP Self Reflect Sunscreen SPF 32Glow lovers, this one is for you! I discovered this when I was battling perioral dermatitis, and it was a lifesaver in that not only did it not further irritate my already pissed-off skin, but I’m sure it’s probiotics helped in the healing (the probiotics is what drew me to it, even though I knew it would be a glowy finish). It’s also blue light protective and hits all of the big checks, however the glow factor just doesn’t work for me. But it is a stellar product, and should I ever have to deal with PD again, I’ll go back to it!
  • LE PRUNIER Plumscreen SPF 31– I’m a longtime user of Le Prunier’s Plum Beauty Oil, so it goes without saying that I was excited about the launch of their sunscreen! The finish is lovely (satin/demi-matte), no whitecast at all, is hydrating, reef safe, blue light protective and full of antioxidants…it’s truly a powerhouse all-in-one product. Sadly something in it causes a tiny breakout for me, but a friend of mine that’s also sensitive has no issues and loves it! It’s also spendy…but depending on your skin type you may be able to just use this vs this AND a moisturizer/oil.
Use code CLEAN10 to get 10% off your first order if you grab one of these from Credo Beauty!

I’ll keep this list updated, and may even add a ‘what didn’t work’ section at some point. If you have sensitive skin and have questions about a sunscreen that isn’t mentioned in this article, please drop me a question down in the comments…there’s a decent chance I’ve tried it. On the flip side, if you too have sensitive skin and have an SPF you love, please share it below!

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