When choosing a sunscreen, consumers are barraged with a flood of terms in which they may not be well-versed. Terms such as SPF, UVA, UVB, chemical sunscreen and mineral sunscreen are just the tip of the iceberg. That list gets longer and more complicated if you have allergies, making it a necessity to pore over the individual ingredients on the bottle. Finding the right sunscreen when you have allergies can take a little more effort, but can be well worth your time.
Allergy Rash to Sunscreen
Determining whether you have had an allergic reaction to sunscreen as opposed to some other irritant can be difficult, as sun exposure and wind alone can cause skin symptoms in sensitive individuals. Sunscreen allergies can appear as a contact allergy — when it is applied to your skin — but other types of reactions can appear once you get into the sun, called a contact photoallergy. Typical symptoms of a sunscreen allergy can include a red rash, itchy skin, blisters, burning skin and red bumps. These can appear where you applied the sunscreen or where the skin with the sunscreen was exposed to the sun.
The Usual Suspects
Sunscreens can contain a variety of ingredients that have the potential to cause allergic reactions, sometimes resulting in a rash-like allergy. A lot of sunscreens even have a general warning to stop use if an allergy or rash develops. The major classes of ingredients responsible for sensitization, according to Dr. Michael S. King of Allergy & Asthma Associates of Connecticut, include para-amino benzoic acids, homosalate, benzophenone, and cinnamates. If you have ever had an allergy rash to sunscreen, this is a short list of ingredients you definitely want to avoid.
Another common ingredient that people react to in cosmetic products is the fragrance, and it is no different with sunscreen. It's tempting to buy products based on how they smell and feel, but one thing to remember for those who have had allergies to sunscreen is that less is more. When fragrance is listed in the ingredients, it does not usually denote just one ingredient; it can actually mean several ingredients. Do your skin a favor and opt for a sunscreen without fragrance.
Mineral vs. Chemical
Those who have experienced a sunscreen allergy rash may be helping their case by switching to a mineral sunscreen as opposed to a chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens often contain less man-made ingredients and fare well in terms of efficacy. Environmental Working Group's website highlights some of the pros of using a mineral sunscreen: "After reviewing the evidence, EWG determined that mineral sunscreens have the best safety profile of today’s choices. They are stable in sunlight and do not appear to penetrate the skin. They offer UVA protection, which is sorely lacking in most of today’s sunscreen products."
Lynn MacPherson has covered health, preventive care and nutrition for various online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Science in counseling and guidance from the University of Montevallo.