Did you know it’s possible to be allergic to sunscreen? Sunscreens are associated with both allergic contact dermatitis and photoallergy.

With allergic contact dermatitis, a person typically develops an itchy skin rash only where the product is applied to the skin. This is not unlike poison ivy, and the reaction may worsen over several days.

With contact photoallergy, the reaction is due to the combination of applied substance and sunlight; therefore, skin symptoms appear only once the product-laden skin is exposed to the sun.

It is challenging to distinguish the exact type of allergic reaction to sunscreen, because sunscreens are designed to be applied to areas exposed to sunlight. Sunscreen allergy (from both allergic contact dermatitis and photoallergic reactions) can cause itching, blisters, red skin, and skin swelling.

People may have allergic skin reactions to chemical UV absorbers or even inactive ingredients in sunscreen, such as fragrances, formaldehyde releasers, preservatives, and lanolin.

What Should I Do If I Have a Reaction to Sunscreen?

If you develop allergic skin symptoms to sunscreen, see your allergist for patch testing. Patch testing involves placing small patches or discs, each containing a separate chemical, on skin for a period of time. This helps identify the cause of the reaction.

Options for people who have allergic skin reactions to sunscreens include protective clothing, and sunscreen formulations that contain ingredients that scatter or reflect (rather than absorb) UV radiation. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are common UV blockers that have not been reported to cause allergic skin reactions such as contact dermatitis or photoallergy.