Being Well

Coping With a Sunscreen Allergy: How to Stay Safe in the Sun

Even with a sunscreen allergy, you can still use other types of sunscreen or protective clothing to guard your skin against the sun's harsh rays.

When the sun comes out in full force, you’re likely getting invitations left and right to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s important to protect yourself from skin cancer during these outings, but if you have a sunscreen allergy, you may be hesitant to slather on UV protection before you hit the beach or pool. Don’t worry, you can still protect your skin without missing out on any fun.

Recognizing a Sunscreen Allergy

If you apply sunscreen and immediately develop a rash, you’re probably allergic to something in the product. However, sometimes the rash doesn’t appear until you’re in the sun. You may pass it off as heat rash, but if it keeps happening, it could actually be the sunscreen. You may also experience itching, bumps or swelling where you applied sunscreen.

A sunscreen allergy may develop over time. Even if you’ve used the same sunscreen every year and you’re just now getting a rash, it may be time to try something different. You can also see a dermatologist for an allergy test to find out exactly what’s causing the reaction.

Possible Causes

Many common sunscreens, called chemical sunscreens, contain ingredients that can irritate sensitive skin. Preservatives, fragrances, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), avobenzone and oxybenzone are not recommended for people with acne, rosacea or skin allergies, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Alternatives for Sensitive Skin

There are many alternatives to chemical sunscreens and other options to protect yourself from harmful rays.

  • Physical sunscreen: Most people are able to tolerate physical sunscreens, those that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. The main drawback is that they leave a white film over your skin, and it shows up more when you get wet. Some sunscreens for sensitive skin contain these mineral ingredients with other active ingredients that make it easier to rub in and are less likely to cause reactions.
  • Sun-protective clothing: If you prefer not to cover yourself with lotion, you can wear protective clothing. Pants, shirts, swim tees and rash guards block UVA and UVB rays, while looking stylish. You can still enjoy the beach and the pool with a swim tee, and these shirts keep you cool even when it’s hot outside.
  • Hats and umbrellas: Protect your head, face and ears with a wide-brimmed hat, or carry an umbrella with you to make your own shade. Sitting at the pool or a splash park? Pop open an umbrella and keep yourself cool and covered.
  • Avoid the strongest rays: The sun is harshest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Try to avoid being out in direct sun for long periods during these hours or stay in the shade if you have to be out.

Stay Sun Safe

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, affecting millions of people every year. The primary cause is too much exposure to sunlight or tanning beds. Plus, too much sun exposure causes your skin to show signs of aging faster.

Protect your skin with regular sunscreen use or by covering up. When using any type of sunscreen, remember to reapply every two hours, more often if you’re getting wet. Also, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30, which means that it blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays, both UVA and UVB.

Taking precautions while in the sun will keep your skin healthy and younger looking for years to come.

UVA Cancer Center offers free skin cancer screenings. Early detection is always best, so come get checked out and learn more.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney