How to recognize, prevent and treat sunscreen allergy?

Sunscreen is supposed to protect your skin from damage, but can it actually irritate it? Here’s how to find out and what to do.

Summer is synonymous with sunshine and lots of sunshine. As we spend more time in the pool, park, and beach, applying sunscreen can become a daily activity. Applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every time you go outside reduces your risk of squamous cell carcinoma by about 40% and your risk of skin cancer by 50%. Besides reducing the risk of skin cancer, there is strong evidence to show that sunscreens help reduce the risk of skin aging.

However, for some people, using certain types of sunscreen can cause an allergic skin reaction. Sunscreen allergies are usually uncommon, but if you’re prone to skin allergies or think sunscreens are irritating your skin, here’s what to do.

Understand the ingredients of sunscreen

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

Chemical sunscreens are carbon compounds also called organic molecules. They protect the skin from harmful UV rays by absorbing energy and preventing it from passing through. The chemical ingredients in sunscreens that cause the most common allergic skin reactions are oxybenzone (benzophenone 3), dibenzoylmethane, cinnamate, and benzophenone. Other ingredients such as PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid) have also been shown to cause allergic reactions.

So called physical or mineral sunscreens are free of organic (ie chemical) ingredients. They only contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide with zinc oxide to block UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are very effective and tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens, but they can be difficult to spread on the skin and leave a white or ash appearance. Mineral sunscreen is recommended for young children, as it does not contain chemical filters that may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions.

Choosing between chemical or mineral sunscreen is a personal preference, but don’t be fooled by any natural or homemade sunscreen recipes you may find online. A study published online in May 2019 in the journal Health Communications warned that these options, which tend to include ingredients such as coconut oil, shea butter, zinc, beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, carrot oil, raspberry oil, lavender oil, and avocado oil may provide insufficient protection from UV rays increase the risk of sunburn.

Signs and symptoms of sunscreen allergy

Sunscreen sensitivity generally manifests in two ways: as a contact allergy or as a contact photosensitivity. In case of contact allergy, you have a rash where the product was applied. But in the case of contact photosensitivity, the reaction is caused by a reaction between the chemicals in the sunscreen and sunlight, so the rash appears where the sunscreen was applied, but only after the skin has been exposed to the sun.

Sunscreen allergies can appear when you first start using sunscreen, or develop years after use. You may feel an allergic reaction right away or after several days of applying sunscreen.

Here are some signs of a sunscreen allergy:

red skin
Liquid-filled ampoules

Other symptoms may appear:

raised bumps

Risk factors for sunscreen allergy

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

How to prevent allergy to sunscreen?

If you know the ingredients that cause you to be allergic, you can choose sunscreens that do not contain those ingredients and avoid the interaction. If you have a known history of skin allergies or sensitivities, only choose mineral sunscreens to avoid any potential reactions.

How do you treat sensitivity to sunscreen?

If you are allergic to sunscreen, cleanse your skin immediately. In less severe cases, you can leave it alone or apply a gentle moisturizer. Stay out of the sun until your skin has healed, as exposure to sunlight can exacerbate an existing allergic reaction. It may take a few days.

When to consult a doctor for an allergy to sunscreen?

If you think you may be allergic to sunscreen and have systemic symptoms (such as fever, chills, nausea, or difficulty breathing), blisters, or open or worn skin, or if you treat your reaction and it does not improve, you should see a dermatologist for evaluation.

Summary: The importance and safety of sun protection

Applying sunscreen is an important part of protecting the health of your skin. If you are allergic to a chemical in sunscreen, your doctor can help you find one that does not contain this product. In addition to sunscreen, people who are allergic to sunscreen products can also use the following methods to protect their skin from the sun:

Avoid the sun between peak hours from 10 am to 2 pm.
Wear sunglasses with UV protection.
Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
Wear sunscreen that says UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), which means it has been shown to protect the skin from ultraviolet rays.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In any case, the information provided cannot replace the advice of a health professional.

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