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Allergic Reaction to Sunscreen

Naomi Sarah
Many people out there fall prey to an allergic reaction to sunscreen, which is a vital product that everyone must possess. Here you'll find out about why this happens, and what chemicals to stay clear from.
No one should be caught outside in the sun without first applying sunscreen on their skin. Those having darker skin tones can use SPFs (Sun Protection Factor) as low as 15, but those with lighter skin tones, should use sunscreen with a higher SPF, since their skin is more susceptible to absorbing more of the sun's rays.
An oil-free sunscreen is a good option to go with. When the weather isn't agreeable, like say on a hot, sticky day, the last thing you need is an oily face streaked with sunscreen. Use one that is easily absorbed by the skin. Trust me, you'll notice how much easier it is to even to put on makeup, without having to mess it up if sunscreen is not oil based.
Sunscreens come under two umbrella terms, namely physical blockers and chemical absorbers. Physical blockers deflect UV radiation and reflect it, spreading that energy into the open surroundings.
Chemical absorbers on the other hand, absorb UV radiation, and merges that energy into the sunscreen molecule structure, increasing the energy state of the molecule itself. This converts harmful UV energy, into wavelengths that aren't threatening to one's skin.
Although it is important to get your stock of vitamin D from sun exposure (15 minutes qualifies as more than enough), you mustn't make it a habit to stay out longer than 15 minutes in the sun sans sunscreen.

Sunscreen Allergy and Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an allergy mostly caused when one has an allergic reaction to cosmetics/foreign allergens. When there is allergic reaction due to a combination of sunscreen and exposure to UV radiation, it is known as photo-contact dermatitis.
Areas that are highly prone to photo-contact dermatitis are the lower neck, face, forearms, upper chest area, and the back of one's hands.
Allergic reactions can show signs on the person's skin, either on the first application of sunscreen, or after days/years from constant use. Certain chemicals, fragrances, or preservatives present in the structure of the sunscreen, could cause an allergic reaction to those who are highly sensitive to these.
Here's how you can identify your problem if you're experiencing an allergic reaction to allergens in a sunscreen.
  • Presence of blisters, with fluid
  • Swelling
  • Itching
  • Reddened skin

Those Highly at Risk in Getting Allergies

  • If sunscreen is applied to damaged skin, you are likely to witness a reaction.
  • Due to the increase of cosmetics containing sunscreen, females are more prone to getting allergic reactions to it.
  • Those who work outdoors in the sun.
  • Those who have atopic dermatitis.
  • Those with chronic skin problems that could trigger a reaction.
  • Babies shouldn't be exposed to the sunlight, due to their immature skin. Apply a natural baby sunscreen only, that has no chemical-based ingredients in it.
The best thing to do about allergic reactions to is to use a zinc oxide sunblock coupled with powdered titanium dioxide, which doesn't penetrate the skin layer, but reflects light.
These don't cause allergic reactions when used. You could also visit a dermatologist and ask him/her which sunscreen would suit you best, and which ones to avoid in terms of chemical content.

Chemicals to Watch Out for

For those of you who are allergic to products, there are certain chemicals that you need to check the back of the product for, when it comes to both cosmetics and sunscreens. These are more likely to give you an allergic reaction so keep a look out for them.

Para-Aminobenzoic Acid (PABA)

Due to its many side effects, it is hardly ever used in sunscreens, and can stain clothing as well as cause contact dermatitis. Other names this chemical falls under are Padimate A and O. Products labeled as hypo-allergenic (do not contain PABA, but can cause contact dermatitis)


For over 50 years this has been incorporated in sunscreens and is the number one chemical that causes allergic reactions leading to contact dermatitis. Other names this chemical falls under include Uvinal M40, chemicals ending with -benzophenone, diphenylketone, eusolex 4360, oxybenzone, and methanone.


Although this is a rare chemical to cause contact dermatitis, it is still a chemical that is likely to cause a reaction in some cases. Benzyl salicylate, was the most commonly used chemical name, when it first came around. Other names are homosalate, chemicals ending with salicylate, and octyl salicylate.


Commonly used to flavor and add a pleasing scent to toothpastes and perfumes, this chemical is also found in some sunscreens. Other names include chemicals ending with cinnamate, cinnamic acid, balsam of Peru, cinnamon oils, parsol MCX, and aldehyde.
Other chemicals to check the ingredients of a product for are dibenzoylmethane (eusolex 8020 and avobenzone), and a new ingredient in the market used in sunscreens that can cause contact dermatitis―octocrylene.
Always remember to put on sunscreen or sunblock, depending on which one agrees with your skin type, and, to avoid any allergic reactions, make it a habit to also wear protective clothing before you step out of your home.