Sunscreen allergy or photoallergic eruption
Some years ago I published a page on "Sun allergy caused by sunscreens" describing my experiences with allergies caused by sunscreens. Since 2008 I invited readers to send me their comments. Now I have compiled a selection of these comments, especially those that refer to products that caused similar problems, or products that were found to be safe.
Different people have problems with different sunscreen products. Products that are safe to some people cause allergic reactions for others.
The following comments are listed without the names of the authors. In the heading of each comment I have included the sunscreen products, chemical ingredients or medicines that are mentioned in the message.
Note that some of the messages were slightly edited, usually just they were shortened or typing errors were corrected.
These are some of the messages I received in 2008:
19 November 2008
I just moved to the Big Island of Hawaii two years ago. Since then, I have just started using quite a bit of both sunscreen AND insect repellent because I garden a lot. During spring of last year I developed a terribly itchy rash with small blisters only on the outside, upper portion shoulder to elbow of both arms. The blisters constantly bled as I was frantically itching them. I went to a dermatologist who told me to stop using normal soap, stay out of the sun, etc. etc. I followed his advice for the most part – it's tough staying out of the sun here! and eventually, by January, it went away. Now, again THIS spring it reappeared. I've tried Neosporin,
Bactrin, and all sorts of moisturizers, but nothing has cleared up the blisters or alleviated the horrible itching. The only thing that helps is to put ice packs on my arms until they are numb. Could it possibly be the sunscreen OR bug spray that my arms are reacting to under the sun? Why then was it just limited to my upper arms and why would it continue to itch whether I'm in or out of the sun? If you could shed any light on this I'd be forever grateful!! Many mahalos!
Hawaiian Tropic 30 SPF Facial
29 September 2008
Thank you so much for putting your story on the net. I had the same problem the last couple of summers and did not know what was causing it. We had our first summer day here yesterday and I covered my face in sunscreen and today have a bright red face and swelling under my eyes. I have checked the ingredients in the sunscreen I used Hawaiian Tropic 30 SPF Facial and it contains both
Benzophenone and Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane. Now I know the ingredients to avoid in a sunscreen. Thank you!!
E45 Hypoallergenic Zinc sunscreen
10 September 2008
I also come out in an itchy, red, lumpy rash in areas where sunscreen has been exposed to the sun. If I put sunscreen on one arm and none on the other, I get this eyesore of a rash on the area where the sunscreen is – but only when I expose myself to the sun and only if the sun is particularly strong. I've used loads of sunscreens in the past only to experience this horrible rash until a friend told me about "green people" products online. I used one of their SPF8 sunscreens and didn't come out in a rash but I didn't take note of the ingredients and haven't bought it for 3 years, as I felt it was rather expensive and wanted to find a cheaper product. This year, however, I went on a trip to Australia and so knew I couldn't get away with not using sunscreen. I did lots of internet research and discovered that products containing zinc or titanium dioxide as their main ingredients do not bring others out in the rash. I managed to get E45 Hypoallergenic Zinc sunscreen on prescription to take with me, my doctor felt sorry for me for having to spend so much money on trying out sunscreens only to have to throw them away. I found that it didn't cause a rash from contact with the sun, but it caused me for the 1st time in my life to get prickly heat in areas where I hadn't applied it! It has an unbelievably thick consistency and deposited a thick white layer on the skin which rubbed off on all my clothes and wouldn't rinse off. I also looked so white, I looked ill when I wore this! I then tried "Invisible Zinc". It didn't cause any rash. However, after 2 weeks it had dried my skin out to the point where it was like crepe paper – all scaly wrinkly. The skin around my eyes in particular went from looking like a 22 year old to looking like a 65 year old in 2 weeks of everyday use. I had to stop using it and wore sunglasses and hat constantly for another 2 weeks until my skin got its elasticity back. I then spot tested Hamilton Toddler for young delicate skin on my arm and didn't get a rash! So I used it for a bit of sunbathing and didn't get a rash.
24 August 2008
Hi, very interested to read about your experiences. I am also in the same boat. Before writing anything, I should appreciate you for sharing your experience and for keeping track of your allergic reactions. Of course I do not have a diary but I still remember my allergic reactions … and you know it is very difficult to forget all those sick days. From my experiences I realised that I am allergetic to both sunscreen and sun. I live in the US, and the sunscreen products that I am allergetic to are neutrogena, banana boat both babies and adults and another herbal based sunscreen. I believe it was alba. Thanks for telling about waterbabies, I should definitely try that. Problem with me is that I will develop allergic reaction even if I don't wear a sunscreen.and I get that usually in my hands and face. Never developed anything on feets yet. My reactions were not severe as yours but I will get red rashes, itching, swelling and eventually skin will peel off. I consulted a doctor when it occurred for the first time and he gave me prednisolone and a prescription cream called ELIDEL which helped to heal the reaction in a week. Next time when it occurred I applied ELIDEL again and it helped me to heal very quickly. Another interesting thing is I am originally from a tropical country with lot of sun and humidity and I never developed any sun allergy while I was there. 5 years back I came to US and I developed this only after coming here. I seriously think there is something with humidity in helping with this, but not sure need to find out though. I went to my country for a vacation recently and then I applied a sunscreen from there called LAKME and exposed to sun. Interestingly I developed allergy after coming back, but I believe it was allergy to that product and not the sun there. Because I was exposed to sun a number of times while I was there and didn't develop any allergy. That is all my sun allergy story, and I should admit that sun and sunscreen started to affect my day to day life.
Neutrogena with helioplex
Clinique 30spf for face
6 August 2008
For the first time I feel like I'm not crazy. I've always been able to apply sunscreen to my face indoors but as soon as I reapply after being outside an hour or so, my face begins stinging so bad that I have been known to rub tuna salad on my face to relieve the sting while at the beach. It happens every summer and each time I try a different sunscreen. This summer I tried the Neutrogena with helioplex and that burned just as bad. Clinique 30spf for face also burns. I too have used the Water Babies but it leaves my face looking blue and extremely greasy. When I have a reaction to sunscreen a stranger always comments on my sunburn and the rest of my body is ghost white. I know it's not a burn but a reaction however, it looks ridiculous and feels miserable.
Piz Buin Allergy
4 August 2008
Your information was very informative. I have had a very similar experience to you. The only sunscreen I can use is Piz Buin Allergy. It has to be the allergy version. I have tried other allergy products without success. The only problem with this is that it is a waterproof sunscreen and very greasy for every day use. I am shortly moving to live in Singapore and I am looking for a lighter sunscreen I can use every day. If you hear of anything then please let me know.
No Ad suncream
Nivea sun cream
31 July 2008
Hi there, It sounds like I have a very similar allergy! I first noticed it when I used No Ad suncream, but as I was on holiday at the time I couldn't pin point it exactly to the cream as it could have been anything and of course the doctor was no help!! I used the cream again a year later and had the same reaction so knew then it must be that! I have used Nivea sun cream which seems to be ok, though I used a tiny bit of Piz Buin last weekend and now I'm covered in the rash! One thing I was wondering, did you find a cure, something to help the rash go away? My doctor has again been useless and only prescribed Piriton – which is not much help and I feel tired all the time, not good when I'm at work!! Many thanks, and thanks for all the info on your website, I found it really helpful.
Banana Boat Sport Sunblock
Neutrogena Visibly Even SPF 15 moisturizer
Clean Clear day soft oil-free moisturizer SPF 15
23 July 2008
Thanks for all the info. I have had a similar problem, although I don't believe I had any allergic reactions as a child/teen with sunscreen. The first time I had an allergic reaction I used Banana Boat Sport Sunblock and spent a lot of time in the sun since I was camping. I thought it was from having my face too close to the heat while cooking over a grill. I realized it was the sunblock after I used it twice more and had the same reaction. I don't get much swelling but most of my face breaks out into red, tiny itchy bumps. Makes my face look like its made out of sandpaper. I've used Neutrogena Visibly Even SPF 15 moisturizer and never had a reaction no matter how much time in the sun. I recently tried Clean Clear day soft oil-free moisturizer SPF 15 and had pretty bad reaction to it after spending about an hour in the sun.
Piz Buin Allergy
9 July 2008
Just back from two weeks in Mexico, using the Piz Buin Allergy product. It worked really well and I had virtually none of the usual reaction to the sun / sunscreen combination.
Ambre Solaire Clear Protect
Dermalogica super sensitive face block
Dermalogica ultra sensitive face block
24 June 2008
Hi, I've just read your website and am comforted to know I am not alone. I have only had this reaction twice in my life, August 2007 and now last week, June 2008. I get the small itchy blisters. Last time they took several weeks to go down fully. This time it has been a week and I have a steroid cream and antihistamine from the doctors and these have helped although it is still evident. I had thought that my reaction is to oxybenzone/ benzophenones or possibly cinnamates. I don't think it is the butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane because I have successfully used some suncreams with this in e.g. Ambre Solaire Clear Protect. I think I will just have to stick with that but since this recent reaction, I am scared to use any suncream as it is so itchy and such an eyesore and it lasts for so long. I have been checking any cosmetic products for benzophenones as you find that one in all kinds such as some shampoos, hand washes, any product that might deteriorate in sunlight. Hope you have some luck in finding a suncream that you can use. I find it annoying that many companies do not list their ingredients online and that they are often not on the bottle but on a box that the product originally came in.
Hi, sorry to email again but I have been surfing for suncreams I would be prepared to try and have come across two products by
dermalogica that might be good for you:
super sensitive face block and ultra sensitive face block. They are designed for people who cannot tolerate sunscreen chemicals and don't contain the three things that you listed that may be the cause of your allergy. Hope that helps.
27 May 2008
Hi, I read your article about your sun screen allergy. I have been battling the same problem for about 10 years. I finally had the courage to do a test and lay out in the sun at my moms pool. I tried the water babies and it gave me a rash the tiny, itchy, blisters. However, I also used a product called Blue Lizard and it is chemical free. I did not have a reaction on the area that I applied it. I just thought you may want to try it, you can order it online. Like you it took me several visits to the Dr. and Allergist for me to figure out on my own that I am allergic to chemicals in sunscreen. If I am planning a vacation I have to take zyrtec and prednizone with me incase I get a reaction from even using a pool float that someone with sunscreen was using. Now, I don't even use a float and I limit my time in the sun. But now I can use Blue Lizard. Check it out I know you can buy it in various online stores.
Vichy Capital Soleil 50+ Intolerant skin anti-reaction sunscreen milk
20 May 2008
My sun aged 9 has had problems with sun products for the last 6 years. At the moment he is using Vichy Capital Soleil 50+ Intolerant skin anti-reaction sunscreen milk. This has a lovely texture and so far he has not had any problems.
Coppertone dry oil spray, spf 10
Hawaiian Tropic spf 10 carrot tanning lotion
Hawaiian Tropic dry oil spray
20 May 2008
Hi, I've had similar issues with Coppertone dry oil spray, spf 10. I had used Hawaiian Tropic spf 10 carrot tanning lotion for years, but it was discontinued last summer. I switched to the spray for convenience and coverage issues. I used it a lot last summer without any issues. However, on a cruise to the Caribbean last November, I noticed on the last day of the cruise as we were packing up the car that both of my shins had a red, rash with little bumps and dark red splotches. The rash was on the front of my shins from just under my knees to just above my ankles. I made a visit to the dermatologist who could not explain the rash- at first I thought I might have been exposed to bed bugs on the cruise! She confirmed that was not the case, and that it was an allergic rash but I couldn't narrow it down. I haven't been sunbathing since November until 2 weeks ago and I decided to use a new Hawaiian Tropic dry oil spray. I had no problem and was out in the sun all day. However, last weekend I was at the beach and decided to use the rest of the Coppertone dry oil spray- same stuff I used in November. I developed the same mysterious red blotchy rash on my right shin, but even worse than back in November. The only reason I can think that my left shin did not get affected is because I sprayed the Hawaiian Tropic when we first got the beach on my left shin only to show a friend how greasy it was. I've compared ingredients and it seems that Coppertone products use copolymer. This is not present in Hawaiian Tropic products. I'm not certain this is the culprit ingredient, but over the holiday weekend this weekend I will be using Hawaiian Tropic lotion only. I don't know if shaving my legs immediately prior to applying the Coppertone spray sunscreen could be an issue either. It usually takes about a week for the rash to completely go away. Hope this helps!
Pizbuin sun allery factor 30
Boots own allergy factor 30
18 May 2008
THANK YOU SOOOOOO MUCH!!! Your article was very helpful! The past 3 years I have developed this rash, each year getting worse! I only get it on vacation, I am from Wisconsin and at home never use sunscreen. We travel once a year to the Caribbean where I must use a screen or block. I never linked the sun creams to this condition, until a woman I met from Germany on our last trip to Dominican Republic, told me of her experience. She must only use allergy sensitive, oil free, fragrance free lotions. I just always use regular lotions whatever is the cheapest or smells the best. Thank you for sharing that it's not the just sun or just the lotion BUT the combination of the two, this really sounds like my problem. I was very angry that this rash virtually ruined my last vacation. We had 13 days and on the 2nd day I started getting this rash. It lasted about 8 days. Very embarrassing, and uncomfortable! Finally when I was dark enough I just stopped using the lotions, after meeting the German lady who warned me it was the lotion, It pretty much cleared up. Your research is priceless – I wish I could kiss you! Thank you for this insight!!!
17 May 2008
I'm wondering if you could give me some advice please. For the last 5 years every year on holiday abroad I erupt in water blisters all over my arms and shoulders, sometimes a few on my chest. The suntan cream I use is Pizbuin sun allery factor 30, and once I tried Boots own allergy factor 30. I do reapply it very regular but I still get the blisters. I must admit I love the sun and do spend a lot of time in it, but so does everyone else and it doesn't happen to them. I don't usually burn or go red, I tan quite nicely but with the addition of these awful blisters, which look a mess every year. Can you give me some advise as to how I can stop this happening, or a better lotion to try.