Identify, prevent and treat irritation and allergy to sunscreens

Sunscreen is supposed to protect your skin, but could it actually irritate you? Here’s how to find out and how to fix it.

Summer is fast approaching, it’s the sun, and in quantity. As we spend more and more time at the pool, park and beach, slathering on sunscreen can become a daily activity. And that’s normal: applying a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 should be a reflex. Because every time you go outside protected, it reduces the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40% and the risk of melanoma by 50%. Besides reducing the risk of skin cancer, there is substantial evidence showing that sun protection helps reduce the risk of skin aging.

However, for some people, applying certain types of sunscreen can also cause an allergic skin reaction. Sunscreen allergies are pretty rare, but if you’re prone to skin allergies or are worried about sunscreen irritating your skin, here’s what to do.

Understanding Your Sunscreen Ingredients

There are two types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreen and physical, or mineral, sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreens are carbon-based compounds, also called organic molecules. They protect the skin against harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays by absorbing the energy and preventing it from passing through. The ingredients in chemical sunscreens that are known to most often cause allergic skin reactions are oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), dibenzoylmethanes, cinnamates and benzophenones. Other ingredients like PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) have also been shown to cause allergic reactions but are rarely used in sunscreens.

So-called physical, or mineral, sunscreens are free of chemical ingredients. They contain only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide combined with zinc oxide to block UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are quite effective and tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens. But they can be harder to spread on the skin and can leave a white or ashy appearance. Mineral sunscreen is recommended for young children, as they lack the chemical filters that are more likely to cause skin irritation or allergies.

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Signs and Symptoms of a Sunscreen Allergy

A sunscreen allergy usually manifests in two ways: as a contact allergy or a contact photoallergy. If you have a contact allergy, you get a rash where the product is applied. But in the case of a contact photoallergy, the reaction is due to an interaction between sunscreen chemicals and sunlight. You then get the rash where the product was applied, but only after the skin has been exposed to the sun.

An allergy to sunscreen products can appear when you start using sunscreen. It can also develop after years of sunscreen use. An allergic reaction may occur immediately or several days after applying sunscreen.

Signs of a sunscreen allergy:

Red skin
liquid-filled blisters

Other symptoms may also appear:

Raised bumps
raw skin

Risk factors for sunscreen irritation or allergy

If you have a history of eczema or other allergies, you are more likely to develop an allergy to chemical sunscreen. And some ingredients can cause a real allergic reaction through your immune system. If you have generally sensitive skin or a condition like rosacea, the ingredients in chemical sunscreens can be directly caustic to your skin. You may also be at increased risk of sunscreen allergy if you have had contact dermatitis from other products or if sunscreen allergies run in your family.

Check for allergies by performing a screening test

Before going to the beach or the pool, you can do a screening test at home by applying sunscreen to a small area of ​​skin to make sure you don’t develop a reaction.

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How to Prevent a Sunscreen Allergy

If you know what ingredients you’re allergic to, you can choose sunscreens that don’t contain those ingredients and avoid having a reaction. If you have a known history of skin allergies or sensitive skin, opt for mineral-only sunscreens to avoid a potential reaction.

How to Treat a Sunscreen Allergy

If you are allergic to sunscreen, cleanse your skin immediately. To calm the inflammation (in less severe cases) you can simply apply a very moisturizer. Stay out of the sun until your skin has healed. Because exposure to the sun can exacerbate an existing allergic reaction. It may take a few days.

When to See a Doctor About a Sunscreen Allergy

If you think you may be allergic to sunscreen and you have symptoms such as: fever, chills, nausea or difficulty breathing or blistered, open or rough skin, or if you are treating your reaction and it does not improve not, you should see a doctor.

Other Possible Risks of Using Sunscreen

A preliminary study published in May 2019 in JAMA showed that chemical ingredients in sunscreens are absorbed through the skin. They then produce blood concentrations that exceed safety thresholds. But the study authors conclude that more research is needed. This is to more accurately determine the effects of absorption of sunscreen ingredients into the bloodstream and warn that people should continue to wear sunscreen…


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