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Windom Allergy, Asthma, Sinus

Shielding Your Skin: The Sunscreen Saga and Sensitivity Struggles

School’s out for the summer! That usually means fun in the sun and splashing in the water but don’t forget about skin safety! Sun protection is extremely important for protecting against sunburns which increase cancer risk and cause premature skin aging. Finding the right sunscreen is important, especially for those who have known eczema or sensitive skin

While sunscreen-related allergic reactions are rare, they are more common in those with existing eczema or allergic contact dermatitis. When they occur, reactions can include irritant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, phototoxic dermatitis, or contact urticaria. The main symptoms are itching, blistering, redness, and/or stinging to the area the sunscreen was applied. This reaction can happen after initial application, after sun exposure to the area of application, or even days after repetitive use of the same product. 

The most common contact sensitizer in sunscreen is para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) which is fortunately now rarely used in sunscreen manufacture. However, Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3) is the most widely used ultraviolet A filter worldwide and is the most frequent cause of sunscreen-induced photoallergic contact dermatitis, followed by DL-alpha-tocopherol and fragrances. Mineral or physical sunscreens use ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which are less likely to cause contact allergy. However, chemical sunscreens, which are more popular due to their lightweight, sheer appearance, are more likely to contain chemicals that cause sunscreen allergy. 

If you are struggling with sensitivity to sunscreen products or have a history of allergic contact dermatitis to an unknown allergen, an allergist can perform a test called patch testing which aims at identifying which specific chemical is causing a reaction. This makes it easier to avoid exposure to that chemical moving forward. While certain sunscreen brands tend to be gentler on the skin, such as Vanicream, Cerave, Cetaphil, and Eucerin, checking ingredient labels if you know which chemical you are allergic to is still important. Various products within the same brand contain different ingredients. 

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