While sunscreen is strongly recommended as part of your daily personal care routine, it is not uncommon for some sun blockers to trigger allergic reactions. Not all sunscreens are equal.
An allergic reaction to sunscreen may appear the first time you use sunscreen but it can also appear after many years of using sunscreen. Common symptoms of sunscreen allergy include itching, swelling, red patches on the skin, and fluid-filled blisters.
These symptoms may appear immediately, a few hours or several days after sunscreen application. The symptoms typically appear on the part of your body where you applied sunscreen or where your skin was exposed to the sun if you are allergic to sun exposure as well.
Sunscreen Allergy Risk Factors
Although anyone can develop a sunscreen allergy, some people face a higher risk. You are more like to experience a sunscreen allergy if:
How To Manage A Sunscreen Allergy
The first step to take if you suspect a sunscreen allergy is to consult a professional skin doctor. An allergist or dermatologist can undertake a small patch test to determine the cause of your allergic reaction.
If you have signs of contact allergy, the doctor will likely perform a patch test without using ultraviolet light. If you have a photo-allergy, the patch test will be performed alongside UV light exposure.
Even if you are allergic to sunscreen, you can still protect your skin from exposure to harmful UV rays. One or a combination of chemicals usually triggers sunscreen allergies. By eliminating this chemical (s), you would be able to prevent an allergic reaction.
A good place to start is with a physical sunscreen. Dermatologists recommend physical sunscreens because they contain two minerals—titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
These minerals work to reflect light to prevent damage to the skin. Generally, physical sunscreens have a lower risk of causing allergic reactions.
Sunscreen Ingredients That Can Cause Allergies
If you have sensitive skin or you are already suffering allergic reactions to sunscreen, it is important to look out for products that contain allergens and to avoid these sunscreens as much as possible. Common allergens that could trigger an allergic reaction include:
This group of chemicals includes 2-ethoxyethyl-p-methoxycinnamate and ethylhexyl-p-methoxycinnamate and can increase skin irritation.
Benzophenones include benzophenone-3, oxybenzone and any compound containing the word benzophenone at the end.
Examples of dibenzoylmethanes include eusolex 8020 and avobenzone.
Some sunscreen manufacturers have recently begun adding Octocrylene. Many people with sensitive skin are allergic to this compound.
Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA)
Most manufacturers in the USA stopped using this compound in their sunscreen products.
Examples of salicylates include octyl salicylates and benzyle salicylate. Generally, watch out for any ingredient ending with the word ‘salicylate’. These compounds can trigger contact dermatitis.
Preservatives and fragrances
Fragrances and preservatives can release formaldehyde, a chemical compound that is harmful to the skin and your overall well-being.
Types of UV Filters
Some sunscreens have more adverse effects than others depending on the UV filters they use. The two types of UV filters are chemical filters and physical filters.
These synthetic filters capture UV rays and transform these into heat energy, which is less dangerous. Sunscreens that use chemical filters contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, mexoryl and others.
As seen above, products containing ‘benzones’ are more likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Physical blockers contain white minerals that capture UV rays and convert them into heat energy. Additionally, they reflect some UV radiation away from your skin.
Physical filters contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and are less likely to cause allergic reactions. However, sunscreen containing physical filters can leave a whitish layer on the skin.
In rare cases, some people may react to physical sunscreens. If you are allergic to zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, even a physical sunscreen, normally considered safe, can cause some skin reaction.
Another explanation is that the physical sunblock you are using contains one or more allergens, fragrances or preservatives that could cause an allergic reaction. Always check the ingredients list when shopping for sunblock.
Lastly, it could be that you are reacting to the physical sunscreen because of a photo-allergy. The combination of sunlight and sunscreen can trigger an allergic reaction in some people.
A phototoxic reaction may not trigger a rash when you apply sunscreen on the skin but it could trigger other symptoms such as skin reddening and blisters.
Best Products For Those Who Are Allergic To Sunscreen
If you are allergic to sunscreen, your best bet is to look for products containing as few ingredients as possible. Also, pay attention to sun blockers with mineral as opposed to chemical ingredients.
Below are some of the top-rated physical sunscreens for those who are allergic to standard sunscreens.
The Skin Care Foundation recommends EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum 47 as a safe-to-use and effective sunblock.
EltaMD is suitable for the whole family. It contains chemical-free ingredients and its gentle formula makes it safe for everyday use.
In addition to its natural, physical and photostable mineral composition, this sunscreen glides on well on dry and wet skin and is super easy to rub onto the skin.
EltMD sunscreen contains up to 10.0% transparent zinc oxide and 5.5% titanium dioxide.
It also contains antioxidants that fight against free radicals associated with premature aging.
The sunscreen offers water-resistant protection for up to 80 minutes and the best part is that it is noncomedogenic, gluten-free, dye-free, allergen free, oil-free, fragrance-free, and does not contain parabens.
SkinCeuticals offers a lightweight physical sunscreen that is 100% free of common allergies.
The cream is sheer and matte so you no longer have to contend with heavy, sticky, and greasy sunscreen.
The Sheer Physical UV Defense does exactly what it says it will. With an SPF 50 rating, it offers broad-spectrum protection against harmful UVA and UVB radiation.
This SkinCeuticals sunscreen contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
This sunscreen has plenty of good things going. First, it contains only five ingredients, all ingredients are natural, and it is fragrance-free.
Badger’s sunscreen is rated SPF30 and is sweat and water-resistant for up to 40 minutes and is one of the top recommended by the EWG.
The product contains non-nano mineral zinc oxide, which lingers on the skin surface and deflects UVA and UVB light.
It is also made with organic beeswax, vitamin E, seabuckthorn, and sunflower oil all of which have a soothing effect on the skin.
Due to its natural ingredients, this sunscreen is friendly to underwater ecosystems. It is also biodegradable, does not contain GMO, and is cruelty-free.
The Hypoallergenic Eco Sunblock by Raw Elements offers long-lasting protection as it stays on the skin for up to 80 minutes.
With an SPF 30 rating and with its natural ingredients including minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, this sunscreen will protect you against the sun without harming marine wildlife.
A really cool aspect of this sunblock is that you can apply it underwater. The sunscreen comes in an easy to use, no-mess applicator that glides easily on the skin.
Sunscreen allergies are common but you can still stay safe in the sun buy opting for allergen-free sunscreens. Preferably, look for a physical sunblock containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
When shopping for sunscreen, be sure to read the ingredients list to avoid products with potentially harmful allergens.
All in all, take precautions to protect yourself against harmful UV radiation. Avoid the sun as much as you can and if you have to spend time outdoors, always wear protective clothing.