6 Interesting Facts about Sunscreen Allergy - Health Education - DesiMD Healthcare - India

6 Interesting Facts about Sunscreen Allergy

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 29 Mar 2016 - 10:40


Come summer and there has to be a sunscreen to defend your delicate skin from the sun's powerful rays. But what if the very 'skin-saving' sunscreen is causing more harm to your skin than good, in terms of causing allergies and rashes? If you're confident about spending a super sunny day in the pool or any other place by using a sunscreen, think again! Dr. Clifford Bassett, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York says, “Many patients come into my allergy practice and they have rashes after using products, sunscreen,"

Before using a sunscreen, it is important that you know what products you must avoid and what can be considered safe to be used in the sun. For instance, people having allergy-prone skin must monitor their skin reaction after applying sunscreen. An important point to note is that rashes or skin irritation don't emerge immediately, rather take a couple of days to appear.

6 interesting facts about sunscreen allergy:

1.      Probing through the root cause of Sunscreen Allergy

The most common problem is Contact Dermatitis and this includes rash, blisters, swelling or itchy skin, wherever sunscreen is applied. Dr. Bassett points out, “If you have a rash after using sunscreen or using a product in the sun, see a dermatologist or an allergist for patch testing.” Doing so quickly points out the exact underlying problem, whether it is the fragrance or the preservative or the sunscreen agent. Dr. Cohen, an international expert on skin allergies and patch testing says, “Patch testing would be helpful in distinguishing the specific item that may be causing the allergic reaction,” He also adds that, “when a chemical sun block allergy is suspected, physical sun blocks that contain titanium or zinc may be helpful".

2.      Sunscreen Contents: Chemical vs. Physical

Chemical: The most common sunscreens are called chemical absorbers as they contain lab-made carbon compounds, which absorb UV rays and convert them into less harmful rays. These include ingredients such as mexoryl, oxybenzone, avobenzone and PABAs.

Physical: This category comes in two types: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – these are natural minerals ground to fine powders. They leave a whitish cast on the skin. These don't absorb UV, instead create a shield over the skin in such a way that UV rays bounce back upon hitting the skin.

According to Dr. Burkhart, “The benefit of physical blockers is that they don't decompose through sun exposure, so they theoretically have a longer life on your skin," The only disadvantage is that they feel greasy. An excerpt from the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, says “Chemical sunscreens absorb high-energy UV rays, and physical blockers reflect or scatter light. Multiple organic compounds are usually incorporated into chemical sun screening agents to achieve protection against a range of the UV spectrum.”

* Doctor's Recommendation

No matter what people say, what you are comfortable with matters most! But ignorance is not always bliss. Whether it is a chemical product or a product made of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, you must always use broad-spectrum sunblock whenever you go in the sun. According to Craig Burkhart, MD, an associate professor of paediatric dermatology at the UNC School of Medicine, "Sunscreens, you want to be SPF 30 or greater, broad spectrum, ideally water resistant, and you want to reapply every two hours. That's important with kids." – This advice is particularly valuable for kids aged six months or older.

Doc-recommended Quick Tip: Use a physical-block sun cream at the start of the day and re-apply after two hours. SPF combination products are great too.

So, who is most prone to sunscreen allergy? This allergy is commonly seen in:

  • People most exposed to the sun regularly
  • Allergic people sensitive to sun-related skin conditions, eczema, atopic dermatitis.
  • People working outdoors
  • Women sensitive to certain cosmetics present in sunscreen.

3.      Top Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid

The chemicals present in sunscreens work by absorbing dangerous ultraviolet radiations and preventing them from penetrating the skin. Some of these UV-protecting chemicals include:

  • Oxybenzone
  • PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)
  • 4-isopropyl-dibenzoylmethane
  • Aavobenzone and esters
  • Cinnamates
  • Salicylates
  • Octocrylene
  • Dibenzoylmethanes

4.      Ways to Avoid Sunscreen Allergies or Sunscreen Heat Rashes

There are two ways in which sunscreen allergy appears. According to a clinical instructor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Anna Feldweg, MD,

i.       Contact Allergy – a rash appears at the product application site
ii.      Contact Photo Allergy – reactions caused due to sunscreen chemicals interacting with sunlight

The above two conditions are difficult to differentiate, but it is important to identify the difference in order to test for sunscreen allergy. By using the right sunscreen product, you can stay away from sunscreen allergies :

  • Use organic sun screens works relatively well as they allow the skin to breathe while providing protection from UVA and UVB.
  • Use fragrance-free sunscreens for kids, since the fragrant varieties cause sunscreen allergies when applied on sensitive skin.
  • People who tend to develop sunscreen allergies must limit their time spent in the sun by seeking shade wherever possible or by using a wide hat. Taking frequent cold showers can also heal a sun-kissed skin from developing allergies.
  • Avoid waterproof sunscreens and instead use water resistant sunscreen products which are alcohol based – alcohol evaporates while sunscreen remains, thus leaving little to no residue on the skin.
  • Most doctors recommend after-sun products that contain soothing elements such as Calendula, Aloe Vera, etc. as they help cool and soothe the skin from redness and inflammation.
  • Stay away from oil based and gel based varieties as they clog sweat glands and aggravate allergies. Avoid moisturizers, especially after-sun moisturizers.
  • Avoid using soaps on irritated skin, instead use soap free products to wash and bathe.

5.      Ways to Treat Sunscreen Allergy

  • Use a mild soap to wash off the sunscreen and don't reapply sunscreen.
  • Prevent further exposure to sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Wash the irritated skin and apply a cortisone cream as it helps reduce pain, itching and swelling. An oral antihistamine also works.
  • Wait for five days and check if the irritation is reducing. If not, seek medical advice.
  • In case of sun-burn, this mixture is effective for the skin – aloe + coconut oil + vitamin 

6.      Quick need-to-know Tips while Purchasing Sunscreens:

  • Spray sunscreens are a strict no-no
  • Avoid Super-high SPFs
  • Always choose a broad-spectrum sunblock
  • Avoid loose powder sunscreens
  • Steer clear from toxic ingredients
  • Always prefer zinc oxide/titanium dioxide as active ingredient

7.      Some Allergy-friendly sunscreens worth trying:

  • Episencial: Babytime Sunny Sunscreen
  • Badger: Unscented, All-Natural Sunscreen
  • Raw Elements: Hypoallergenic Eco Stick
  • California Baby: Super Sensitive Sunscreen
  • Vanicream: Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
  • Alba Botanica: Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen
  • Lavanila: Healthy Sun Screen
  • EWG's Sunscreen Rankings

The bottom line : Try a mineral sunscreen with as minimum ingredients as possible, if you have high chances of reaction with common allergens like fragrances or preservatives or chemical UV filters. Whatever be the case, consult your doctor as quickly as possible.




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