Most of us take using a sunscreen for granted, but someone with sunscreen allergies can’t do that. We have been told for years to protect our skin from the sun due to risk of skin cancer, sun spots on the skin, and premature aging, and most of us have accommodated this information by including sunscreen in our daily lives. Look in the tote bag of any young family on a beach and you’ll probably see at least one large bottle of sunblock.
But what about people who are allergic to sunscreen? Do they have options for protecting their skin other than staying out of the sun altogether?
Allergies from the sun can show up as itchy, inflamed rashes, and even blisters. People with high risk of a reaction include those with skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema). The allergies are caused by the skin’s reaction to the chemicals used in sunscreens and generally fall into two types of reactions:
- Contact Dermatitis, caused by sunscreen touching the skin.
- Phototoxic Reaction, which is caused by a combination of sunscreen and ultraviolet radiation.
Contact dermatitis is by far the most common type of sunscreen allergy.
The chemicals in sunscreens most likely to cause sunscreen allergies are PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), benzophenones, cinnamates, salicylates, dibenzoylmethanes, and octocrylene.
There are sunscreens that do not work based on a chemical reaction in the skin. These ‘physical’ sun blockers physically reflect the sun away from the skin. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the two most common physical sunblocks. These sunscreens are far less likely to cause allergy problems unless they are formulated with unnecesssary chemicals.
When natural sunscreens first became popular, many people found that they would not apply smoothly to the skin. This was due to the large particle size of the minerals. Often they would leave thick, white streaks behind forcing people to revert back to chemical alternatives. Today, mineral sunscreens are greatly improved, and we have researched and tried the very best ones here.
It is very important that babies under 6 months are kept out of direct sunlight due to their immature skin. If there is absolutely no shade or protection available, a natural sunscreen, formulated specifically for babies, must be used on areas that are likely to be exposed, such as the hands and face. Read the label to make sure it is safe to use on young babies. Using the wrong sunscreen on babies may cause a nasty skin reaction. For a child over 6 months old, a sunscreen formulated for babies should be used that contains natural ingredients and is chemical free.
Anyone with sensitive skin and skin that reacts to sunscreen should avoid chemical based brands and try a natural alternative made from titanium dioxide or zinc oxide instead. And don’t forget the non-cosmetic sunscreens, such as a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, and UV protective clothing.