Sunscreen Allergy: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

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Can you be allergic to sunscreen?

Sunscreens are generally safe for most people, but some ingredients, such as fragrances and oxybenzone, can cause an allergic reaction known as sunscreen allergy. This can lead to an allergic rash, among other symptoms.

If you experience a rash after using sunscreen, it is important to identify the cause. Do not stop using sunscreen altogether, as this will not protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Instead, find a sunscreen that does not contain the ingredients that triggered your allergic reaction.

What are the symptoms?

Sunscreen allergies can cause symptoms that are similar to other skin conditions, such as sun poisoning, heat rash, and sunburn. These conditions all involve red and sometimes itchy rashes.

Other symptoms of a sunscreen allergy may include:

  • Hives
  • Raised bumps
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Bleeding
  • Scaling
  • Pain

The time it takes for an allergic reaction to develop after using sunscreen varies from person to person. It can happen within minutes or it may take as long as 48 hours for any signs to show properly.

Some people may not experience a reaction to sunscreen until it is exposed to sunlight with UV rays. This type of reaction is called photoallergic contact dermatitis.

People who have had contact dermatitis with other products, have sensitive skin, or have a family history of sunscreen allergies are more likely to develop a sunscreen allergy. These people should be aware of the signs and symptoms of a sunscreen allergy, such as a rash, hives, or other skin irritation. If they develop any of these symptoms after using sunscreen, they should stop using the sunscreen and see a doctor.

There are a few things you can do to help reduce their risk of developing a sunscreen allergy. First, you should read the ingredient list carefully when choosing a sunscreen. You should look for sunscreens that do not contain fragrances, oxybenzone, or other known allergens. Second, you should talk to their doctor or dermatologist. These professionals can help you to find a sunscreen that is right for your skin type and allergy history.

What can you do to treat a sunscreen allergy?

Sunscreen allergies are treated similarly to other allergic skin reactions. In mild cases, the rash will go away on its own. In moderate to severe cases, topical or oral steroids may be needed to reduce inflammation and the reaction. Oral antihistamines can also help with itching and allergic response.

It is important to stay out of the sun until your skin has completely healed. Continued sun exposure can aggravate the rash. Full recovery can take up to several days, depending on the severity of the allergy.

How can you prevent an allergic reaction?

The best way to prevent an allergic reaction to sunscreen is to avoid ingredients that you know you are sensitive to. However, it can be difficult to know which ingredient is causing the reaction. If you have not seen an allergist for testing, you may need to experiment with different sunscreens to find one that does not cause a reaction.

Some of the most commonly known sunscreen ingredients that cause reactions include (according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology):

  • Benzophenones (especially benzeophenone-3, or oxybenzone)
  • Dibenzoylmethane
  • Cinnamates
  • Added fragrances

Sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are less likely to cause allergic reactions than other types of sunscreens. They also protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

It is advisable to patch test any new sunscreen before using it on your entire body. This can help you avoid allergic reactions.

To do a sunscreen patch test:

  • Squeeze a small amount of sunscreen into your hand and rub it onto a small, inconspicuous area of your skin. The inside of your elbow is a good spot.
  • Wait 24-48 hours to see if you have any reaction. You may also need to expose the area to sunlight to see if you have a reaction.
  • If you do not have any reaction after 48 hours, you can apply the sunscreen to the rest of your body.

When should you see a doctor?

If you experience repeated or severe cases of sunscreen allergy, it is important to see a doctor or dermatologist. They can help you diagnose the skin condition and recommend treatment options.

A dermatologist can also provide guidance on how to use sunscreen safely and minimize your exposure to the sun.

In some cases, you may need to see an allergist. They can perform allergy testing to identify the specific allergens that are causing your reaction. Treatment options for severe allergies can include antihistamines and allergy shots.

Sun safety tips

To reduce your risk of developing a sunscreen allergy, you can minimize your exposure to UV rays. This includes wearing sunscreen every day, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding outdoor activities during the sun’s peak hours.

  • Wear sunscreen every day. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. This includes hats, long sleeves, and pants. You can also look for clothes with built-in sunscreen protection.
  • Avoid outdoor activities during the sun’s peak hours. This is typically between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM.
  • By following these tips, you can help reduce your risk of developing a sunscreen allergy and protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.


Sunscreen allergies are not uncommon. The best way to prevent an allergic reaction from sunscreen is to avoid ingredients that you know you are allergic to. You can also reduce your overall exposure to the sun to protect your skin from harm.

Sunscreen use is an important part of skin cancer prevention, so it is important to find an effective product that does not cause a reaction. If you continue to experience reactions despite switching sunscreens, you may need to see a doctor for advice.

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