Do alcohol in sunscreen cause photosensitivity?

It’s kind of a shame that many sunscreens in the market contain alcohol in their base ingredient and I’m referring to alcohol denat, SD alcohol, ethyl alcohol, ethanol, or isopropyl alcohol. It is widely known that such alcohols can break down and disturb the skin’s natural acid mantle, causing irritation, dryness and possibly generating free radicals leading to skin damage. But does this also means that it causes our skin to be more vulnerable to UV radiation?

Organically derived alcohols are no different
Such lower molecular weight alcohols in skin care products typically work as a solvent, antiseptic, or degreasing agent. I know that some organic skin care range include such alcohols and they are even listed as organically derived. However, my understanding is that it doesn’t matter if the ingredient is organic because it’s of the exact same molecule as non-organic alcohols. Correct me if my understanding is wrong.

Studies did not exhibit evidence of phototoxicity
I’ve read various sources that state that alcohol, when applied to the skin, causes photosensitivity in the area, meaning that it makes the skin more sensitive when it is exposed to sunlight. However, I have not been able to find actual studies supporting this information. What I have come across were more about how such alcohols cause skin irritations such as this study that cited adverse effects of topically applied ethanol may include skin irritations or allergic contact dermatitis. On the contrary, I found one study that specifically indicated that three different sunscreen products (35% SD Alcohol 40-B, 72.4% SD Alcohol 40, and 74.5% SD Alcohol 40) did not show any signs of photoallergy in human subjects. Also, these three formulas did not exhibit any evidence of phototoxicity in humans (source).

I avoid such alcohols in my sunscreen
Some experts also claim that such alcohols should be in very high concentration before it can cause damage to the skin but personally, I avoid such alcohol in my skin care products, and in particular my sunscreen because I don’t like the idea of a product that is supposed to protect my skin causing my skin to be more sensitive with prolonged usage. What do you think? Does your sunscreen contain alcohol? Like alcohol denat? And is it high up in the ingredient list?


  1. Dawn says:

    Hi there! I’ve been reading your blog for the longest time! Esp. all the posts on sunscreen. Been religiously applying sunscreen since reading your blog!

    I recently encountered Banana Boat’s Mineral sunscreen. It is said to contain 22% zinc oxide. I haven’t laid my hands on the Veronique ones because the shipping fee is just too much ? I’ve been using the shiseido one (blue and yellow). Will you be able to tell me if thats safe enough to use on the face?


  2. Dawn says:

    It’s this one btw!

    Also, should I use the baby or normal one u reckon?

  3. sesame says:

    I don’t see the ingredient list and I couldn’t find it either after searching online. I only know the product is low-irritant, paraben, fragrance free, and nano-friendly as claimed. Got to try to locate this at a store and check it out. But with 22% zinc oxide, that sounds impressive. But I wonder if there are other chemical filters.

  4. claire says:

    Really informative post you have here! It didn’t really ocur to me that alcohol could be that detrimental to our skin. I have had been having problems with suncreens of allsorts be it natural or chemical. When I go out in the sun and start perspiring. My skin started getting itchy and there’s this prickly feeling. and i end up with tiny bumps all over my skin ? I’ve been using Kimberly Sayer’s Ultra Light Facial Moisturizer and…



  5. sesame says:

    Is this product also causing you those bumps? I’ve had the experience of itchy skin and bumps with certain mineral powder so I know exactly what you’re talk about. If you’ve tried both chemical and physical and they don’t work, then you might have to try oral consumption of sunscreen pills. Heliocare has one on it but it’s very ex! I’m currently trying out an Astaxanthin supplement. Many users have reported no need for sunscreen after taking it.

  6. Reena says:

    very informative post as always… seriously I really learned a lot from you. I always use sunscreen but I never really cared for its ingredients.

  7. sesame says:

    With sunscreen, it’s good to know the ingredients cos some of the stuff used can cause more free radical damage if we’re not careful.

  8. Sarah Bellum says:

    “However, my understanding is that it doesn’t matter if the ingredient is organic because it’s of the exact same molecule as non-organic alcohols. Correct me if my understanding is wrong.”. You are correct! The source of the alcohol doesn’t matter because the molecule is the same. Thanks for a great post.

  9. Nika says:

    I admit that only recently I started to use sunscreen on daily bases. This summer, when I found first wrinkles around eyes. Until that, I used only at the beach.
    After doing some research I decided to go with zinc oxide only sunscreen. And it is not easy task to find a good one. I would like to try Marie Veronique, but shipping rates are unbelievably high. Too bad, after reading so many good reviews about it.
    So, I am on a quest for finding perfect mineral, natural, non causing break outs, non greasy, no white cast, suitable for sensitive skin, and now alcohol free… sunscreen. Impossible mission.

  10. sesame says:

    Thanks Sarah for confirming the information! ?

  11. sesame says:

    Yes, true…hard to find one that is zinc oxide and works for our skin type. I love MVO but some readers can’t use it cos of different skin type. Have you tried Devita? I reviewed it here:

  12. Stephanie/Yukaeshi says:

    Organically-derived alcohol or not, if I see alcohol listed as an ingredient in any skincare or makeup products that I am interested in I usually end up not buying them, because I seem to have an adverse reaction towards them- namely increased redness and acne/pimple-like welts. Ironically though the only products with alcohol listed on the ingredients list which I had no problem using so far are sunscreen- first one was Clarins, then now Chanel.

    It’s quite a feat to get sunscreen without alcohol as an ingredient here, apparently, and after reading your post I am more inclined to step up my search!

  13. Nika says:

    I’ve tried Devita. It is one of my favorites. When I apply it, I have a feeling that I didn’t put anything on. The problem is, it is hard to get it deliver to Croatia without paying high shipping. I found it on ebay, but seller runs out of it.
    I would like to find something that is easy available here in Croatia.
    I also tried Neals Yard Remedies Wild Rose Moisture SPF 30 that looked promising, available from UK. Zinc Oxide only. Unfortunately, it cause blackheads for me, but besides that, I like it a lot.
    Now, I am on Invisible Zinc. So far so good.
    But I still haven’t found my perfect sunscreen. Maybe I am just too complicated.

  14. sesame says:

    Yes, very hard especially those sunscreens sold in retail stores commonly have them. It’s the same here. That’s why I have to source and purchase online.

  15. sesame says:

    I see…I wanted to try Neals Yard Remedies but just haven’t got down to it. Also wanted to try 100% Pure, which has a moisturizer with high zinc oxide content. The only issue is that it contains cinnamon and that may not suit some sensitive skin.

  16. Audris says:

    My more moisturising SS don’t contain alcohol but a few that tout good oil-control do. I use them interchangeably depending on whether I have makeup on or otherwise. Plant-derived or otherwise, I’m starting to steer clear of them in my SS and skincare as they strip my skin of moisture and I can actually feel it drying out, so phasing them out or using the alcohol ones on my neck and decollete.

  17. sesame says:

    The Japanese ones unfortunately tend to contain them. Their texture is nice and all but yes, like you mentioned, they are moisture stripping when used long term.

  18. Miss Vinny says:

    You can also get Devita from , if memory serves me right.

  19. Sunny says:

    Yes! I´ve been using a sunscreen with alcohol denat. as the second ingredient (!) this summer and it damaged my skin so bad! It´s dehydrated all over and I noticed tiny lines where I applied it the most (my shoulders, stomach, hands and knees). It´s really horrible! Those kind of products should be banned!

  20. Sesame says:

    Unfortunately, they’re aren’t. Alcohol denat is added to make the sunscreen easier to apply and feels less greasy but it does damage to the skin when used on a prolonged basis.

Leave a Reply