A child putting sunscreen on.
Healthy Living

Am I Allergic to Sunscreen?

Jun 28 2021
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Sunscreen is a miraculous invention. It helps prevent the UV radiation from sun exposure from creating lasting damage to your skin.

But what about those individuals who have an allergic reaction to sunscreen on their face or another part of their body? For these people, it’s essential to understand the types of sunscreen available and what a sunscreen allergy is.

Arming yourself with this information is a great way to choose the sunscreen that will work best for you.

Types of sunscreen

Many people don’t realize that there are two basic kinds of sunscreen. Chemical blockers contain substances like oxybenzone and avobenzone. They work by absorbing the sun’s UV rays.

Physical blockers contain either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Both of these ingredients reflect UV rays, causing them to bounce off your skin instead of damaging it. These formulas sit on top of the skin.

A titanium dioxide sunscreen allergy is rare. In fact, titanium is often used in implants and other medical devices because it’s considered nonallergenic. Zinc oxide allergies are also rare. Therefore, most sunscreen allergies happen when someone uses chemical blockers.

Types of sunscreen allergic reactions

Some people have what’s called a photo-allergic reaction. When this happens, you can apply sunscreen indoors and be fine. But when you go outside in the sun, you might develop redness and itchy bumps.

For others, the reaction can happen shortly after applying sunscreen. It’s important to determine if your sunscreen allergy is a reaction to blocking the sun’s rays or to the ingredients in your sunscreen.

If you have certain skin conditions, you might be at a higher risk of having an allergic reaction to ingredients in sunscreen. If you have sensitive skin, you’re also at a higher risk.

Sunscreen allergy symptoms

A sunscreen allergy can happen the first time you use a certain sunscreen. It can also happen after using it multiple times. You might notice symptoms right away, or they might not appear for a few days.

Common sunscreen allergy symptoms include:

  • Fluid-filled blisters
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Raised bumps
  • Rash
  • Redness of the skin
  • Scaling
  • Swelling

Sunscreen allergy treatment

So, how do you treat an allergic reaction to sunscreen? Start by cleaning your skin to wash away the sunscreen. In mild cases, that could be enough. You might want to apply a mild moisturizer to soothe your skin.

If you’re having moderate inflammation and itching, try applying a cream containing 1% hydrocortisone, which can be found over the counter. Stay in the shade and avoid sun exposure until your skin heals as the sun can worsen the reaction.

See your primary care provider or seek medical attention immediately if you develop serious symptoms, including:

  • Blistering, raw skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea

Learn about the allergies and allergic reactions care we offer at Mercy Health.


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