Is your sunburn actually a sunscreen allergy?

Sunscreen Allergy

Learn about sunscreen allergy ingredients, symptoms, and treatment from board-certified allergist Dr. Sonia Cajigal. Visit us at St. Louis Family Allergy to get to the bottom of your sunscreen allergy reaction and identify allergy free sunscreen products that work for you.

“This office was amazing! I am so very impressed. I have never had such a thorough doctor. The office staff was great too. Dr. Cajigal made sure to lay everything out on the table of what could be the cause of my symptoms. She was so helpful.”

– Rachel R, February 2022

Sunscreen allergy doctor Sonia Cajigal of St. Louis Family Allergy in St. Louis, Missouri
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Sunscreen Allergy Overview

Sunscreen Allergy Overview
Sunscreen Allergy Ingredients
Allergy Free Sunscreen
Sunscreen Allergy Symptoms
Sunscreen allergy is a skin allergy that occurs after applying certain sunscreen products. Like other types of contact dermatitis, sunscreen allergy presents as a rash or as other skin allergy symptoms where the sunscreen is applied. You may be at an increased risk of sunscreen allergy if you have contact dermatitis with other topical products or sensitive skin. Individuals with sunscreen allergy are usually able to identify an alternative product that doesn’t cause allergy symptoms.
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Sunscreen Allergy Ingredients

Common sunscreen ingredients that can trigger an allergic reaction include:

  • Benzophenones (especially Oxybenzone, also called benzophenone-3)
  • Cinnamates
  • Dibenzoylmethane
  • Added fragrances

Importantly, benzophenones, cinnamates, and dibenzoylmethane are photo-allergenic, meaning that they only become allergenic when exposed to UVA or UVB rays from the sunlight. Though not always the case, if you have a sunscreen allergy, you may notice that you can safely apply sunscreen indoors, and only begin to experience skin allergy symptoms after sun exposure.

Allergy Free Sunscreen

If you have a sunscreen allergy, an allergist will typically recommend trying sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as opposed to the active ingredients listed above. Fragrances also should be avoided. Generally, the fewer added ingredients in a sunscreen product, the less likely it is to trigger your allergies, but your exact experience is heavily dependent on which ingredient(s) you’re allergic to.

Repeated or severe instances of sunscreen allergy should be evaluated by an allergist to help identify what you’re allergic to. Your allergist can also offer suggestions for sunscreen use and sun exposure.

If your sunscreen allergy symptoms are tolerable, you may be able to identify an alternative sunscreen product that works for you through trial and error. You can test small amounts of different sunscreen products in small areas on your skin to see if an allergy occurs. Note that you may need to expose the treated area to sunlight in order to see if you have a reaction. If you’re allergy free after two to three days of testing a new sunscreen, you may be safe to apply the new sunscreen to the rest of your body.

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in St. Louis, Missouri

Sunscreen Allergy Symptoms

The telltale sign of sunscreen allergy is a red rash after sunscreen application. Symptoms of sunscreen allergy look similar to sun poisoning, heat rash, and/or sunburn. Other symptoms include:

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

Sunscreen allergy symptoms may take time to develop. Some individuals experience sunscreen allergy symptoms within minutes of exposure, while others see a delayed reaction of one to two days. It also bears repeating that you may not see a reaction at all unless the sunscreen on your skin is exposed to the sun.

Though rare, anaphylaxis is possible in severe sunscreen allergy reactions.

Sunscreen Allergy Diagnosis

Sunscreen allergy diagnosis focuses on identifying the specific ingredient(s) that you’re allergic to in sunscreen products, usually through skin patch testing. If you suspect that you’ve experienced a sunscreen allergy, make note of the products that you were using at the time of the reaction. Once your allergy is confirmed, an allergist can also provide personalized recommendations and advice on alternative sunscreen products as needed.

Sunscreen Allergy Treatment

The most effective way to beat a sunscreen allergy is to find out what ingredient(s) you’re allergic to and identify an alternative sunscreen product that works for you. If you’re still recovering from a sunscreen reaction, it is recommended that you completely avoid the sun (and sunscreen) until your skin has completely healed.

For immediate symptom relief, a sunscreen allergy is treated similarly to other allergic skin reactions. In milder cases, the rash will subside on its own. Cold compresses, skin moisturizers, and other skin reaction remedies may be effective. Moderate to severe cases may require topical or oral steroids to reduce inflammation and the reaction. Oral antihistamines can also help with itching and allergic response.

References

[1] American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: https://acaai.org/
[2] Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: https://www.aafa.org/
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Visit Sunscreen Allergy Specialist Dr. Sonia Cajigal of St. Louis Family Allergy in St. Louis, Missouri

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Dr. Sonia Cajigal

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"Dr. Cajigal was friendly, professional, and informative. She took the time to explain the tests and what was going on with my allergies. She is so knowledgeable and really cared about how I was feeling. I would highly recommend this practice if you suffer from allergies and asthma."

- Sue D, July 2020

“Dr Cajigal is a great listener. She trusts her patients instead of treating them as if they are not the experts of their own bodies. I really appreciate that (many doctors do not have that quality). She also immediately treats the symptoms instead of waiting to see if things clear. I use her for my children and myself. We have never left her office feeling as if it was a waste of time.”

– Stephanie, August 2020

"Great Allergist!"

- Ann H, December 2018

"She is the best."

- Stephen W, June 2020

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