Are you allergic to your sunscreen?

A reader by the name of Esther sent me an email last week asking if it’s normal for her chemical sunscreen to sting her face upon application. My reply was that it’s abnormal and she could be allergic to her sunscreen. I forgot to ask Esther if she has sensitive skin as I understand that those with such skin type may not take too well to chemical sunscreens. For some of these people, the sting could be so bad that it makes their face red with a burning sensation. Apparently, some of these allergic reactions represent contact dermatitis.

So besides having sensitive skin, what other reasons may result in one being allergic to their sunscreens?

1. Photoallergy
In some cases of sunscreen allergy, those affected reported that their face itched and turn red when exposed to the sun, and this is because of a photoallergic reaction when the chemical filters within the sunscreen reacted with the UV rays.

2. Reaction with perspiration
Still others have reported feeling itchy when they start to perspire or get their face wet. There appears to be a few causes for this but on the simplest level, the pores of our sweat glands may get blocked when dead skin cells and bacteria collect during perspiration. This in turn, causes an inflammation of the skin of some people and that’s how they develop prickly heat rash.

3. Ingredients in their sunscreen
Some are highly intolerant the chemical ingredients within the sunscreen. Besides the active ingredients, it could also be due to the fragrance, preservatives or even alcohol.

4. Acne medication
Those who are using acne medication may find their skin more sensitive and hence, not suitable to use chemical sunscreens.

5. Dry skin
You may experience a stinging effect if your sunscreen makes your skin become dry. Alcohol in your sunscreen may aggravate this and many sunscreens have a high alcohol content to make them feel less greasy. In this case, you might want to ensure you’ve hydrated your skin well in advance.

So if your sunscreen stings your skin or turns it red, you may want to switch to an all physical sunblock or mineral sunscreen containing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, preferably in a natural formulation with little preservatives and no alcohol. You may like to know zinc oxide is widely known to calm down skin inflammation and relieve symptoms such as itching, burning and redness. This is why it’s a key ingredient in ointments for controlling diaper rash. And to answer another of Esther’s question: stinging in the long run is bad for your skin as it means your skin is being assaulted and these will possibly contribute to free radical damage on your skin in the long run.


  1. Raelynn says:

    mine is the stinging of the eyes. most chemicals do. i’m still looking for one that wouldnt.

  2. miyo says:

    Hello sesame, i wanna rave to you about Smooth-E physical sunscreen spf 52++.
    their ingredients listed is short n simple.. but i hope this is gg to be true..
    application wise is smooth and not greasy. it has 2 color (white & beige). I using the latter as the white seems to be sold during the point of purchase.
    so far, no major breakouts.. touchwood choy.. and i hope it won’t ..

    Do you know of anything about this brand “smooth-e”.. which is available at Guardian.

    It seems to be a mild & natural otc products.

    please share your views if you happen to know this brand ? thank you sesame ? ?

  3. sesame says:

    I suppose you have to avoid applying around the eyes for the time being.

  4. yay says:

    my problem w/sunscreen is that after i used it i can’t seem to put my daily routine..put powder on or a little bit of lotion on… i seem to get acne & blackhead more during summer…i tried different sunscreen already… bummer..

  5. sesame says:

    I talked about this product here:

    It seems perfect except that it contains nano particles.

  6. sesame says:

    The one you used is probably too thick for you as it sounds like you’re getting clogged pores.

  7. Zinat says:

    Have you tried bare minerals sunscreen SPF 30? I haven’t used it yet, but I hope it’s good?

  8. sesame says:

    Nope, never tried that brand. Maybe you can read reviews on MakeupAlley.

  9. Hanns says:

    I get allergies and rashes too whenever I use major concerns are #2 and #3.argh!

  10. TheUndercoverGypsy says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Sesame, since it’s only in recent years that cosmetics manufacturers have recognised that there are a lot of us chemical sunscreen allergy sufferers out there.

    I am severely allergic to certain chemical ingredients in sunscreen, specifically, the benzophenones (both oxybenzone and avobenzone)and once had to be treated with both steroid creams and pills. Horrible experience… Since most chemical sunscreen brands use these ingredients, I thought I was allergic to all chemical sunscreens, for a long time, but when I got the opportunity to use the Vichy sunscreen recently (it uses a combination of octinoxate, octocrylene and titanium dioxide) I was extremely apprehensive, but did give it a shot and discovered I was fine. My skin did not throw up rashes and scary stuff. So, my suggestion is, check if you’re allergic to specific ingredients like benzophenones, the octyl/ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or even sulpha compounds/derivatives.

    Speaking of sunscreens, I know you’re an ardent supported of MV Organics (as am I) and not particularly interested in experimenting with your beauty regime, but I was wondering if you checked out the Boscia tinted moisturiser with SPF that’s available in Sephora? It seems to have a decent percentage of Zinc oxide and Titanium dioxide and the price was not horribly atrocious either (relatively)…it’s got me curious now…

  11. sesame says:

    Do you use a mineral sunscreen then? Maybe that’ll be okay for you?

  12. sesame says:

    Glad to know that Vichy worked for you. That’s the reason I would recommend Vichy and La-Roche Posay for those who don’t mind chemical sunscreens. They do test their products for skin sensitivity.

    I’ve come across Boscia but I haven’t looked at their products. I really prefer zinc oxide only sunblock but if the ingredients and price are agreeable, I’ll be happy to check them out. Will take a closer look the next time I’m at Sephora. Thanks for letting me know!

  13. Zinat says:

    I have read some reviews and most people said its good and its also good for blemish/sensitive skin.

  14. Jasmine says:

    ME! I am severely allergic to a kind of sunscreen — the one found in Palmer’s Cocoa Butter SPF 15.

  15. Jasmine says:

    Cocoa Butter Lip balm, sorry I forgot to mention the full name. It itches horribly the moment I apply it on my lips, even though it smells heavenly …

  16. sesame says:

    Probably some ingredient in there didn’t agree with your skin.

  17. Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy says:

    According to Samuel Epstein MD, Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Toxicology at the University of Illinois, “There are no safe sunscreens on the market.”
    After I read his book, I wrote a blog post of my own about sunscreens. It’s s great place to start reducing the number of carcinogens and hormone-disrupters we put onto our bodies.

  18. cluvy says:

    I have stopped usage of sunscreens since most chemical sunscreens seem to disagree with my skin. No sunscreen is really bad for the skin in the long run. But I kinda lost hope with finding a good sunscreen.

    Any suggestions for natural sunscreens?

  19. LP says:

    Exactly! Many skincare products nowadays contain nano particles, especially sunscreens.

    BTW, nano particles are listed as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide in labels. These substances are really traditional ingredients used for a long time in sunscreens in micro dimensions, which are safe.

    But modern technology has enabled manufacturers to produce TO2 and ZO in ultra minute sizes, of nano dimensions, which are smaller than our cells and can penetrate them easily. Research has shown that nano particles are toxic to all bio-organisms. These nano particles are heavily used in the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries today.

    Just 2 scientific studies on this:

    People need to be aware that the sunscreen they are using to try and prevent cancer can actually be the cause of cancer in the long run.

    Also, we do need to have some direct sunshine on our skins in order for our bodies to manufacture Vitamin D, necessary for assimilation of Calcium in the building of strong and healthy bones, skin, nerves and brains.

  20. LP says:

    I am also severely allergic to the Benzophenones, and there are several of them, such as -2, -3, -4, -5, which I have seen on labels. I have even tried a hair spray with Benzophenone, which I had thought would not affect me since I did not apply it directly on to my skin, but I got the same very bad reaction on my face anyway.

    I do not use sunscreens at all, even though I live in a tropical climate. Because I think they are more dangerous than what they are trying to prevent.

    I ensure I eat a balanced and nutritious diet, with as much natural, unprocessed and organic foods as possible; take supplementary vitamins and minerals every day; drink enough water; try to get enough sleep; and I walk around and climb stairs for exercise. I am almost 60 years old and very healthy, with no health problems so far. ?

  21. sesame says:

    That’s good info you’ve shared! Yeah, a lot of uncertainties with sunscreen and it doesn’t help some companies aren’t above the board with their info,

  22. sesame says:

    You don’t use a sunscreen at all? It’s very hard for me to not use it…I feel very uneasy. Just today, I forgot to apply on my arms and feel so vulnerable already.

    But I like your lifestyle. In fact, I think slathering on products is easy but eating well is another matter – yet it affects us so much in terms of health and aging. I’m trying to learn more but I hope I can really put what I learn into practice like you. ?

  23. hikari says:

    This is such a GREAT site. Compiles of all my worries about natural product that actual doesn’t break out my young skin & at the same time works. I saw that your favorite sunscreen is Marie V’s one but can you sometime post the ingredient list or if already posted give a link for the newly vamped products. Also do you know of Loving Naturals Organics Sunscreen brand? Its rated higher on EWG & doesn’t look like it contains any pore clogging ing. other than cocoa butter. Thanks & sorry for such a long OT post.

  24. sesame says:

    I did post the ingredients on MV’s sunscreen on the original post. You have to go through the link to find it. Haven’t come across Loving Naturals Organics…will check it out when I have the time. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Sherry says:

    Sometimes the sunscreen sting and sometime not. I also have a question how much sunscreen we need to use for indoor and outdoor. Is SPF 15 enough?

Leave a Reply