“Why is my face SPF causing breakouts and bumpy congested skin?”

“Why is my face SPF causing breakouts and bumpy congested skin?”

April 25, 2022

Written by Morgan Fargo

Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics, breaks down why SPF can cause skin congestion, how to treat a sunscreen-related breakout and certain changes to make to your skincare routine because of it. 

As more and more of us have woken up to wearing sunscreen daily (yes, even when you’re inside, on an aeroplane, wearing make-up or somewhere without sun), a secondary question has arisen: can SPFs cause breakouts? It’s a common issue, and you’re not imagining that upping your SPF wear-time is causing skin congestion – certain formulations can lead to clogged pores and those small ‘headless’ bumps under the skin. 

Need a refresher on what skin congestion is? “Congested skin is a simple way of describing skin that feels bumpy and rough. It’s the build-up of dead skin cells, impurities, sweat and sebum on the skin pores,” explains Ksenia Sobchak, a clinical cosmetologist and dermatologist. “As this debris increases, it might be unable to leave the skin and get trapped, causing blackheads or uneven skin texture with a dull appearance.”

Everything you need to know about congested skin

Congested skin is simple to treat if you know what you’re looking for. Here’s how to spot the common skin concern

But what can you do about skin congestion once it starts? Stop applying SPF to your face? Absolutely not. An essential no matter the season, broad-spectrum sunscreen protects skin from UVA and UVB rays emitted by the sun. 

UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays and significantly contribute to premature skin-ageing. UVB rays cause sunburn and changes that occur on the outer layer of the skin. Both types of UV light can cause changes in the skin cells that cause skin cancers, free radical damage, textural changes and pigmentation. 

So, what to do? Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics breaks down why SPF can cause skin congestion, how to treat a sunscreen-related breakout and certain changes to make to your skincare routine because of it. 

Can facial sunscreen cause skin congestion?

Yes, but it depends on which facial SPF you’re using and what ingredients it contains. 

Dr Perry explains: “Facial sunscreens can clog pores and cause acne, depending on the ingredients. These formulations tend to include fragrances, preservatives and emollients. 

“Try to avoid ingredients like cocoa butter, wheat germ oil, soybean oil, and coconut oil. Although they are natural ingredients, these, in particular, do tend to clog skin pores. You’re better off finding an SPF that contains sunflower, jojoba, sea buckthorn, rosehip seed and grapeseed oils. 

“Other ingredients that are also likely to block pores and cause skin congestion include mineral oils and silicones –  essentially because they don’t allow the sweat to escape through your skin pores, meaning dirt and bacteria can get trapped. Other ingredients to avoid if you’re prone to breakouts include para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and methoxycinnamate (commonly found in waterproof sunscreen).”

Can using the same SPF for your body and face can lead to congested skin?

Most definitely. Facial sunscreens are designed specifically to be less oily and therefore less likely to lead to breakouts, clogged pores and irritation. 

“Facial sunscreens are specifically designed to be more easily absorbed and much lighter on the skin,” explains Dr Perry. 

“For an everyday regimen, do your normal skincare regime of cleansing, toning and moisturising followed by an SPF of 30. Allow it to sink into the face before applying make-up and don’t forget the eyelids and neck area, which are often neglected.

“When choosing an SPF for the face look for one with antioxidant properties that will further protect the skin from environmental damage such as pollution. If your skin is particularly oily and prone to breakouts opt for oil-free. For sensitive skin, find one that is fragrance-free and for those with dry skin, opt for a moisturising SPF.”

Why you need to be careful using powerful skincare ingredients in the sun

Everything you need to know about active ingredients and damage-causing UV rays

What to do if your skin has broken out from facial SPF

“If your skin is congested, my advice is to try not to pick or squeeze, as it can often lead to scarring and possible infection. As long as you’re following a good skincare regime to get rid of the day’s make-up and the skin is properly cleansed, breakouts should clear up relatively quickly if left alone. Most breakouts are normally linked to hormonal changes, stress and poor lifestyle,” says Dr Perry.

However, if you feel like facial SPFs are exacerbating existing acne, Dr Perry says to look for formulas labelled as non-acnegenic as well as non-comedogenic and made without silicone. 

Best facial sunscreens to avoid breakouts and congested skin

Murad / £37

Oil and Pore Control Mattifier SPF45 PA


Ultra Facial UV Defense SPF50

Ultra Violette / £34

Lean Screen Mineral Mattifying spf 50+

La Roche-Posay / £18

Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Fluid SPF50+ Sun Cream

Main image: Getty

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