Used to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun, sunscreen is a cream or lotion applied to the skin to prevent sun damage. But what do you do when you find you have a sunscreen allergy?
There are 2 main types of sunscreen: Chemical and Physical. Chemical sunscreens contain compounds that absorb UV rays whereas Physical sunscreens contain minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that deflect UV rays.
For some of us, especially those prone to sensitive skin and eczema, an allergic reaction may occur when using sunscreen. Some of the most common ingredients that cause reactions in sunscreen are: benzophenones (especially benzeophenone-3, or oxybenzone), dibenzoylmethanes, cinnamates, and added fragrances. If you have sensitive skin or suffer from eczema, if possible try and find a sunscreen that doesn’t include these ingredients. And as always, it’s important to do a patch test a few days ahead of time when trying new products.
Sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide pose fewer risks for allergic reactions, and they also protect against UVA and UVB rays.
To do a patch test:
Squeeze out a small amount of sunscreen into your hand and rub onto an inconspicuous area of skin. The inside of your elbow works well.
Wait and see if any reaction occurs. You may need to expose the area to sunlight in order to see you have a reaction.
If nothing happens over two days, then you can apply the sunscreen to the rest of your body.
The amount of time it takes for an allergic reaction to develop depends on the person. It can happen within minutes or it may take as long as a few days for any signs to show. Sometimes you may not get a reaction until the sunscreen on your skin is exposed to UV rays.
Contact Dermatitis is the most common type of skin reaction to sunscreen. This includes Irritant contact dermatitis (more likely to occur in those who have sensitive skin of eczema), Allergic contact dermatitis (allergy to one or more of the ingredients), and Photoallergic contact dermatitis (occurs when the sunscreen comes in contact with UV light. This may appear similar to a sunburn.)
Symptoms of a sunscreen allergy may include:
- skin redness or swelling
- itching or stinging
- raised bumps or hives
- scaling or bleeding
- rash, or fluid-filled blisters
To protect yourself from harmful UV rays you should:
- Apply a broad spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
- Be wary of spray sunscreens that are difficult to control and can be inhaled, especially by infants.
- Dress in long pants, a long sleeved shirt, and a broad brimmed hat.
- Keep children younger than 6 months of age out of the sun.
If you find that you do have a sunscreen allergy you may be able to keep using sunscreen. There are plenty of products on the market that you can try, however if it’s possible you’ll want to try and pinpoint what actually caused your reaction so you can avoid those containing your allergic ingredients. A dermatologist will be your best point of call in working out what to avoid.
As always, ensure you do a patch test before applying to your whole body as everyone’s skin is different. What works for us, may not work for you.