Summer brings with it plenty of sun. As a result, we spend more time at the beach, park and pool exposing us to the negative effects of the sun, among them skin cancer. For this reason, it is important to use sunscreen whenever you go out into the sun. Research has shown that applying sunscreen on a daily basis reduces chances of skin cancer by up to 50%. Sunscreen helps block and absorb harmful UV rays. Nonetheless, the increased use of sunscreen has seen the rise of skin allergy caused by the chemical components of sunscreen among many users. If you often develop skin irritation after applying sun screen, then there is a chance that you’re allergic. Here’s what you should know about this reaction.

Signs That You Are Allergic To Sunscreen

Sunscreens usually contain chemicals that are known to cause allergic reactions in some people. The allergy can either be a contact allergy or photoallergy. Contact allergies are when you get an irritation where sunscreen was applied. A photoallergy is as a result of the interaction between sunlight and sunscreen chemicals.

If you are allergic, you might notice an adverse reaction when you first start using sunscreen or even after many years of use. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Swelling

  • Red skin

  • Itching

  • Fluid filled blisters

The symptoms will appear anywhere in your body where you have applied sunscreen or in the case of photoallergy, where your skin was exposed to the sun. This is normally on the face, back o the hands, arms, lower neck and upper chest.

What Causes Sunscreen Allergy?

As mentioned earlier, being allergic to sunscreen is caused by any one of the ingredients found in the products. Some people are usually more sensitive to these chemicals than others. The fragrances or preservatives used in the sunscreen can also cause an allergic reaction. Below are some common ingredients in sunscreen that can cause an adverse reaction.

PABA (Para-Aminobenzoic Acid)

This was among the first ingredients used in sunscreen. However, it has been dropped by most manufacturers due to its many side effects. It causes contact dermatitis and has a tendency to stain clothes. Some of the chemicals still in use to date that are closely related to PABA include padimate A and O. While many manufacturers label their products as hypo-allergic since they do not contain PABA, it is advisable to check whether there are any other PABA related ingredients. If you’re allergic to PABA, there is a high chance that you’re also allergic to sulfonamide (sulfa) and para-phenylenediamine.



These have been in use for over 50 years now. They are one of the reasons why many people are allergic to sun screen. Benzophenones are the most common cause of contact dermatitis caused by sunscreen in the US. The chemical is also referred to as Eusolex 4360, oxybenzone, methanone, diphenylketone or Uvinal M40. You should also look out for any chemical in the ingredients ending with “-benzophenone”.



Cinnamates are quite a rare ingredient. They are used as fragrances and flavorings in many home products including toothpaste and perfumes. Cinnamtes aare closely related to cinnamon oils, Balsam of Peru and cinnamic acid. If you are allergic to cinnamates, then you should also avoid these other chemicals. They are also referred to as Parsol MCX.



The first sunscreen ever used in the US was Benzyl Salicylate. Chemiclas falling under this group include homosalate and octyl salicylate. While there is a chance you could be allergic to sunscreen containing salicylates, it is often not the culprit.



Dibenzoylmethanes are often used in combination with other chemical absorbers in sunscreens. They first appeared in sunscreens in the US in 1997. They include chemicals such as Eusolex 8020 and avobenzone.



Compared to the rest of the chemicals, octocrylene is relatively new. It is said to cause contact dermatitis and is very similar to cinnamates. It is often used along with cinnamate chemicals in many sunscreens.

Avoiding Allergic Reactions

The easiest way to avoid adverse reactions to sunscreens is to use products that do not contain allergy causing chemicals. The following tips can help a great deal if you are allergic to sunscreen:

1. Use organic sunscreens. They protect the skin by shielding it from UVB and UVA light whilst allowing it to breathe.

2. If you’re buying sunscreen for your kids, pick fragrance-free to avoid adverse reactions.

3. If you’re prone to getting heat rashes, you should limit your time in the sun. Whenever you’re outdoors sit in the shade or wear a wide brimmed hat. You can also take frequent showers or use ice packs on the areas that have been exposed to the sun.

4. Do not use waterproof sunscreens since they’re likely to cause heat rashes. Instead, use alcohol based water resistant sun block products. When exposed to the sun, the alcohol evaporates and leaves the s leaving little or no residue.

5. Doctors usually recommend that people use products that contain soothing ingredients such as calendula or aloe vera, which help soothe the skin. Avoid oil and gel based after-sun products since they clog the sweat glands. You should also steer clear of moisturizers since they have the same effect and will aggravate the allergic reactions.


Even after taking all the above precautions, you can still get an allergic reaction to sunscreen. When it happens, you need to consult your doctor on the best course of action. Once they confirm that the adverse reaction is caused by sunscreen, they should prescribe cortisone based creams or antihistamines. If the adverse reaction doesn’t subside after treatment and the rash turns into pus filled Miliaria Pustulosa, you should consult a dermatologist.


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