EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 Review

by Emma | Last modified: March 4, 2021
Face / Skincare
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EltaMD UV Clear is such an iconic sunscreen and a real game changer. It is often touted by dermatologists as one of the most acne-friendly sunscreens and has garnered almost 200 reviews on makeuaplley.com. I was first introduced to this sunscreen by a dermatologist back in 2012 when I was living in New York. At that time, my skin was going through a bad spell of acne and rosacea, and as part of my updated skincare routine, she introduced me to UV Clear. 

Illuminatural

As a long-time acne sufferer, I approached this sunscreen with a mixture of suspicion and trepidation. For the longest time, the American market was saturated with thick occlusive sunscreens that often aggravated instead improved active blemishes. My doctor told me that UV Clear was different because it included ingredients such as lactic acid and niacinamide both of which help to clear pores and calm inflammation. And indeed, when it was included in a well-thought-out skin care regimen, my skin improved by leaps and bounds. 

First Impressions

The design of the bottle hasn’t changed much and I consider that a good thing. It comes in a small, 1.7 oz airless pump bottle. The only challenge in getting the product out of the bottle is when it is first being used and in the end when the product is at the very bottom. During these two stages, it does take a couple of extra pumps to get the product out, but I find that to be the only challenging aspect of the packaging. 

The sunscreen itself is white, creamy without any perceptible odor. While it’s often marketed as a light-weight sunscreen, I actually consider this to be a middle-weight sunscreen. Yes, it does dry down in a similar fashion as many lighter sunscreens, but when it’s first applied, it has a creamy texture, similar to a dense lotion and does take a while to dry down. 

Pros

For a sunscreen with a short ingredient list, it is packed with ingredients that matter. With 9.0% Zinc Oxide and 7.5% Octinoxate, it provides broad spectrum protection with a combination of physical and chemical filters. While the concentration of UV filters won’t cut it if you’re hiking on a sunny day. It does a great job in protecting the sun if you’re running around doing errands or going to work. 

The sunscreen also works well under make up with the presence of Cyclomethicone which is a silicone. It gives the product just enough slip so that it glides on the skin and creates a silky base for foundation, bb creams, and powder. 

Since I consider my skin to be dry but acne-prone, this sunscreen does a great job in providing  a hint of hydration. I definitely cannot use it on its own, and I always need a layer of moisturizer underneath, but I find that this sunscreen definitely adds to my moisturizer in a good way. 

Most importantly, this sunscreen does not sting my eyes nor contribute to new breakouts. This is so crucial when looking for sunscreen for acne-prone skin. The lactic acid in this sunscreen does a great job in providing mild exfoliation and keeping my breakouts at bay. 

target acne

Cons

So even with all its great qualities, there are a lot of drawbacks with this sunscreen. While it doesn’t sting my eyes, depending on what kind of active ingredients I used the night before, the UV Clear can really sting my skin. I haven’t worked out which ingredient is the culprit. Whether it’s the presence of octinoxate, a chemical filter which can irritate the skin, lactic acid or niacinamide. In higher concentrations, niacinamide has been reported to cause symptoms such as burning, stinging and redness. In any case, if I used a glycolic acid treatment or applied Finacea (prescription azelaic acid) the night before, then I know that I cannot use UV Clear the next day because it’ll cause my skin to sting to no end. Also, I cannot layer this sunscreen with vitamin C, because similarly, my cheeks will turn red and burn. 

Another drawback is the pilling. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve learned that if I don’t give this sunscreen at least 5 minutes to dry down, then whatever foundation I use on top of it will start piling into little foundation-colored balls. A huge inconvenience if I don’t have 5 minutes to spare and need to rush out. Moreover, it also means that the sunscreen isn’t staying on my face and providing the protection I need from the sun’s harmful rays. 

While this certainly ranks within the top sunscreens on the American market, it doesn’t quite hold a candle to sunscreens found in Europe or Asia. Simply put, there are sunscreens on the international market, that contain more sophisticated filters with a more lightweight finish. At a similar price point,  I would rather use Rohto’s Skin Aqua UV Moisture Milk SPF 50 which contains both physical and chemical filters and doesn’t irritate my skin. 

Final Impressions

Even with its drawbacks, I always keep a bottle of EltaMD’s UV clear on my shelf and buy a replacement every 3 months. While there are new, shinier products on the market, EltaMD has proven itself to be reliable. If my skin is breaking out or going through a phase, I know I can rely on EltaMD to be one of the products to sort my skin out. And even when my skin isn’t acting up, it’s a great maintenance product that I often turn to so that I can keep my skin clear and blemish-free. 

I’m no historian on sunscreens, but I truly believe that when EltaMD’s UV Clear came onto the market, it really forced American sunscreen makers to step up their game. It signaled to companies that consumers were tired of thick, pore-clogging sunscreens that looked like spackle on the skin. We were and still are hungry for sunscreens that provide UV protection, don’t contribute to acne, and can play nice with makeup. In that sense, EltaMD’s UV Clear set the bar higher for what sunscreens can be, especially for those with acne-prone skin,  and for that reason, it will forever have a place on my top shelf. 

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