Optimal Sunscreen Formulation Selection by Skin Type


One of the major reasons for resistance to the application of sunscreen is overall discomfort which gets more aggravated on choosing a formulation not intended for their skin type. Here is a quick guide to choosing the right format.


The regular use of sunscreen to protect against harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is still not prevalent on a regular basis. Even in developed nations like America, it has been reported that though 62% of Americans use anti-aging products as part of their daily skincare regimen, only 11% apply sunscreen every day.

One of the major reasons for resistance to the application is overall discomfort which gets more aggravated on choosing a sunscreen formulation not intended for their skin type. So, let’s look at the different sunscreen formats, more suited for specific skin types, which can help in easing the apprehensions and guide us to make a more informed choice toward better skin care.

Sunscreen ingredients with their functions

Oily skin type

Since these skin types are more to breakouts and acne with excess oil production, the intended formulations should be non-greasy, lightweight, and non-comedogenic. In this context, the following formats can be preferred:

Gel or matte-based sunscreens:

As compared to conventional cream or lotion formats, gel formats can be a viable alternative due to their lightweight, non-greasy formulation with the ability to regulate oil production. Apart from providing broad-spectrum protection, these may be constituted by ingredients like salicylic acid which are non-comedogenic and prevent breakouts.

Anhydrous Sunscreens:

This relatively new format of sun care is gaining popularity due to various advantages offered by them viz, lightweight, breathable feel, quick absorption, and smooth application without leaving residues. These formulations characterized by the absence of water are generally constituted by physical/chemical UV filters, silicones, vegetal or mineral-based waxes, and oils. Further, these are also augmented with aesthetic modifiers like antioxidants, vitamins, and hydrating agents for better nourishment of the skin along with protection. These are particularly appropriate for oily skin types engaged in water or underwater activities as these can be applied on wet skin and do not need to comply with the rule of 20-minute application before water exposure.

Sunscreen Powders:

This is also a relatively new segment of sunscreens that can absorb oil and reduce shiny appearance while providing sun protection with its UV filters. However, achieving even coverage is a major limitation that may restrict effective UV protection despite appropriate SPF usage. Thus, these are mostly advocated as easy reapplication options on the go and not the primary approach for sun care. Mostly, these are constituted by mineral blockers such as zinc oxide, and titanium oxide which leave a matte finish on oily skin and thus, serve as viable touch-up options, especially in scenarios of make-up-laden skin.

Dry skin type

Since dry skin types require formulations that are quickly absorbed to provide a smooth and hydrating finish, the following formats can be chosen:

Cream or lotion-based formats:

These emulsion-based formats in addition to their UV-blocking constituents may contain moisturizing ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and vitamin E which will hydrate and soothe dry skin as well as protect it from adverse effects of photo-aging.

Water essence sunscreens:

Apart from the UV protection provided by appropriate SPF, these lightweight formulations are non-greasy and provide hydration and nourishment to the skin. Being quickly absorbed, these do not leave residues on the skin and are also non-irritating as compared to other conventional formulations.


Sensitive skin type

Since the skin of these individuals can easily flare up an adverse reaction in response to constituents of sunscreens, it is of prime concern that their formulations are free from potential irritants or allergens. Thus, labeling such as "dermatologist-tested", “hypoallergenic", and “fragrance-free” can help in building trust toward selection by the intended user.

Mineral-based sunscreens:

As compared to chemical sunscreens which contain ingredients that absorb UV rays, mineral sunscreens which deflect or block UV rays can be a better choice for sensitive skin individuals. Since these mineral sunscreens provide a physical barrier between UV rays and human skin, these are also referred to as physical sunscreens. The active ingredients of chemical sunscreens such as benzophenones, octisalate, octinoxate, dibenzoylmethanes, cinnamates, octocrylene, and avobenzone have been identified as allergens for many individuals, especially for immunocompromised ones.

There have been numerous reported cases of contact dermatitis with chemical sunscreen usage in sensitive skin individuals. In contrast, the actives of mineral sunscreens such as titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide have been rarely reported for triggering an allergenic response. Overall, due to the non-adsorption and safety of the actives, mineral sunscreens can be a viable choice for sensitive skin types.

Fragrance-free and hypoallergenic formulations:

Though the use of active UV-blockers may remain the same as in mineral sunscreens, these formulations selectively exclude any ingredients such as fragrances, dyes or pigments, preservatives that may irritate skin and trigger an adverse response. For instance, fragrances are commonly added to sunscreens for enhancing their appeal but these may contain allergens like coumarin, linalool, and synthetic musk which may cause rashes in sensitive individuals. Similarly, commonly used preservatives viz. methylisothiazolinone, parabens, and formaldehyde can lead to allergic reactions. Therefore, formulating with effective but gentle ingredients remains pivotal in providing skin protection while negating allergic reactions.

Tinted Sunscreens for colored skin:

The common myth prevalent among masses is that darker skin tones are resistant to skin cancer. Though the risk factor for pigmented skin is less as compared to white skin, it does not make them immune to adverse effects of UV including skin cancer. This myth accompanied by a lack of representation of colored skin for matching sunscreen formats leads to strong reluctance towards using sunscreens.

The particularly noticeable white cast with traditional sunscreens derails the confidence and comfort of the intended user in the application of sunscreen. Tinted sunscreens constituted by broad-spectrum mineral filters (zinc oxide, titanium oxide) as well as iron oxide can match the colored skin tones as closely as possible to provide a matte even tone finish without any white patchiness.

Overall, sunscreen formulations tailored to the specific skin type of the intended user can provide an effective and convenient way to encourage the incorporation of sunscreen application as the most important and indispensable part of a healthy skincare routine.