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 then I have had many responses from readers who had similar problems. On my site I now share a selection of these comments. Many of them refer to products that either caused problems, or they mention products that were found to be safe.
It looks like different people have problems with different sunscreen products. Products that are safe to some people cause allergic reactions for others.
I have listed the following comments without the names of the authors, but in the heading of each comment I have included the sunscreen products or ingredients or any medicines that are mentioned in the comment.
Note that some of the comments were slightly edited, usually just shortened or I made a correction of typing errors.
These are some of the messages I received in 2010:
Olay face cream
1 December 2010
Hi, I have been experiencing all the same symptoms as you: the itchy red patches on all parts of my face, arms and legs. I get tiny blisters on the top of my wrists which don’t heal for weeks. I have been to a dermatologist and he said that I have Polymorphic light eruption but I think I have what you have: Photo-allergic eruption. I use Olay face cream with SPF 15 sunscreen and have used many types of sunscreens hoping that they would help. The only one that has helped ever so little is Ombrelle because it has a high Zinc level which blocks the UVA sunlight.
I apply a prescription Cortisone cream to help with the rashes. I also now try to stay out of the sunlight as much as possible. The other day I got a reaction just by sitting inside by a sunny window. I found a website called “Coolibar” which sells sun block clothing, hats, bathing suites etc. You can google it. They are a little expensive but they help a lot.
Thanks for your website information. I never considered that the chemicals in sunscreens could be reacting with the sunlight to give us such skin allergies but it makes perfect sense. I'm going to try to eliminate all sunscreen products for a while and see what happens.
5 October 2010/p>
Titanium dioxide **warning**. This sunscreen ingredient, although often recommended by Dermo Dr’s, can cause itchy red effect after using it. I avoid the direct sun AND suncreens. Also, avoid any product ending in ‘caine’ as Benzocaine in Lanacaine is known to cause red spots outbreak with itching in people of sensitive skin.
Tocopherol acetate Vitamin E
16 September 2010
I too self-diagnosed myself with photo-allergic eruption 5 years ago after my lips kept swelling up with teeny tiny blisters after only a small amount of time in the sun and ALWAYS with sunscreen lip balm on. My Dr even did a herpes test – no one could tell me what it was. But I felt tremendous relief when I started googling all my symptoms and found out about photo allergic eruption. The ingredient I think I react to is Tocopherol acetate Vitamin E. Especially if it’s been sitting around along time. I just stupidly put some around my eyes last night, as a night cream, and today my eyes are swollen and my face feels like fire. Rrrrr! Never learn. At least it isn’t on my lips this time. BTW — I swear by Badger for sunscreen. Totally non-toxic, and has never given me a rash.
Vitamin E tocopheryl acetate
10 August 2010
I am currently in the process of trying to find a sun lotion without vitamin E in it. I believe this is the culprit in my rash. The usual symptoms 2-3 days after sun exposure and will only be relieved with steroid cream. I also believe if I use any product, body wash, moisturizer with vitamin E tocopheryl acetate this will bring me out in a extremely itchy rash on fronts of legs and arms. The search continues.
Neutrogena pure and free Baby
9 August 2010
I found something that works perfectly for me: Neutrogena pure and free Baby. It’s Titanium Dioxide and Zinc based.
Neutrogena sensitive skin sunblock spf 60+
11 July 2010
After purchasing the Neutrogena sensitive skin sunblock spf 60+ I applied it to my face twice to spend an hour and a half in the pool. I applied a different (Neutrogena) spray on sunscreen to my body. Two hours later I began to develop an itchy rash. Over the next few days I developed painful hives all over my face which turned into scabby formations. My face also began to swell. I woke up five days after applying the sunscreen with not only a painful rash, but also extreme facial edema that forced me to go to the emergency room. My face was swollen beyond belief. I could barely open my eyes. Thank goodness I was out of work for my summer vacation, or I would have missed many days due to this.
Neutrogena for Sensitive Skin spf30
Neutrogena for Sensitive Skin spf60
10 July 2010
I live in Bermuda where it is very difficult to avoid the sun. So after having success with the Neutrogena for Sensitive Skin spf 30 sunblock, I wanted a sunblock with a higher spf, now that summer is here. Armed with the list of ingredients in sunblock that I should avoid, I visited a number of different stores looking for sunscreens which did not contain any of the offensive chemicals. I found that most of the sunblocks on the market actually contain at least one of chemicals which irritate some people’s skin. It took me quite awhile, but I finally found Neutrogena for Sensitive Skin spf 60 which appears to be new product. I have been using this product every day for over a month, even when I go out exercising in the heat and I have not had a bad reaction as yet. So the key seems to be identifying the problematic ingredients what can be used in sunblock (you can find this information out online) and then avoid those products which contain these ingredients.
Richard Gillis sun creams
9 July 2010
Thank you for the information in your article. I have had similar allergic reactions to sunscreens and moisturizers with an SPF factor. By a process of elimination butylmethoxidibenzoylmethane seems to be the culprit. I have to be careful not to touch my grandchildren if they are using a sunscreen containing that chemical until it has been absorbed as I get a strong reaction. I have found P20 very good but now use Richard Gillis sun creams, which do not have that chemical in, which are available on the internet. I use the factor 25 for sensitive skins but there are other strengths etc. I am interested in the idea of having a Photoallergic eruption rather than just a reaction to the cream itself which seems likely in my case. I am about to have skin patch tests of sun creams but may well find that I do not react to just the cream itself. I have had this problem for about 20 years but now feel I am on top of it at long last!
Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Lotion SPF 60
6 July 2010
Thank you for the follow-up. I am beyond pleased to tell you that the Neutrogena “Pure & Free Baby Sunblock Lotion” SPF 60 (active ingredients titanium dioxide 4.9%, zinc oxide 4.7%) that I tried works for me with no reactions whatsoever. Your site has been very helpful, and I am sure that your collection of all this information will be of great help to others as well.
Caryl Baker foundation and moisturizer (with SPF)
Umbrell for face
5 July 2010
In case anyone is interested, I’ve been Caryl Baker foundation and moisturizer. During the winter or indoors the products work great for me, but I usually have the reaction when I am in the sun wearing these and they both contain SPF. I have also discovered that Ombrelle for face causes the reaction when worn with makeup and alone. When I went to my dermatologist he said that I am allergic to the sun, not the products and prescribed a corticosteroid. However, I really believe that it is caused by the sun reacting with chemicals in the creams on my face. Also, if anyone is using
corticosteroids to help with the itch, please be careful. I have read numerous articles that explain the harmful effects. The steroids can cause thinning of the skin making it more sensitive in the future. Also, the more you use the steroid the more your skin becomes unaffected by it, causing you to need a higher and higher dose and more frequent applications over time.
Ambre Solaire UV Sensitive
Biore skin preservation duel fusion
22 June 2010
First I would like to thank you so much for taking time to write your article, I have learnt more from you than all the medical websites I have visited. After reading about your experiences I now know I suffer from photoallergic eruption. I have only suffered from this for the last couple of years; creams that were fine for me no longer are. Last year I used P20 and was fine, but as this condition is getting worse I am afraid to use it and wondered if you had tried it? As I am writing this I am in so much discomfort as last week I used Ambre Solaire UV sensitive spf40, went in the sun for a couple of hours and my skin erupted. I wish I had read your article before last week. I wondered if you had any more info on the subject, have you ever had a skin allergy test? Have you tried P20? I have been using Biore skin preservation duel fusion SPF30 on my face and have no reaction to the sun, hope this helps its worth a try. GOOD LUCK.
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunblock Lotion
9 June 2010
I have broken out in a rash on my hands after using Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunblock Lotion SPF30. Top of my hand, and wrist. Many small bumps. I had no prior reactions in using this product. I thought it might be an expiration issue exp is 11/2010. I am not sure if this is the cause but I have been unable to isolate other factors- other than increased exposure to the sun and allergy season. It took about 2 days for the reaction to first appear. I thought it might be from the starch or cleaners used on my laundered shirts, but when I recently reapplied the sun block and was outside the bumps got larger and they are now in a red patchy area. Have taken Benadryl – some small relief bumps get smaller but no noticeable change. My areas do not itch. I have one scabbed over area as if I scraped my hand. I also take Claritin D-12 on a regular basis 3 to 4 times a week. More factors: I am male, age 55, dark skinned, life time of allergies to ragweed and pollens. If you get any confirming information on whether any ingredient is a cause of the rash let me know. I am off to see my dermatologist.
7 June 2010
For the last 5 years I have been getting a rash on my face after sun exposure. It usually only happens if I've been wearing sunscreen or makeup or both. I am wondering if I have the same condition as you and it is being caused by chemicals on my skin. The rash that I get usually shows up a day or two after being in the sun, even if I was only in the sun for a couple of hours. What does the rash you get look like? I get red bumps on my cheeks and chin and it's itchy. Within a few days it starts to go away and then my skin is just really dry for a bit and then it goes away. So Waterbabies work for you? Maybe I will try that.
6 June 2010
Hi, having read your articles re your allergy. My granddaughter suffers a severe reaction to every sunscreen that we use. This has included swelling of her face, leaving her skin rough and red, her body covered in itchy red rash and it's also very sore. I will now try and find the one you mentioned as we go on holiday in July. Have just tried Bergaderm and it caused it as well but not just as severe. Found your article very helpful.
Dove face cream
Clarins sun screen
2 June 2010
I have had the same problem but it only started last year. My face swells up so that my eyes are sunken back with the swelling, and the first time I had blisters around my mouth. After 3 attacks I worked out that it was the sun screen. I used a Dove face cream for 6 months and all was well. When it ran out I bought a new one and my face came up. On checking I found that they had added SPF 15 and this was causing the problem. Next I used my Clarins sun screen with the same results. It also has SPF 15. Like you I am now looking for something safe to use.
26 May 2010
Over the last few years I have sometimes had symptoms similar to yourself. 2 years ago used Avon suncream and had a fairly bad reaction, but did not know the cause. Last year, just by chance, and thinking nothing of it, used a different sun cream Nivea and was ok. Moved house and this year used the Avon sun cream that was in the cupboard; have had a really bad reaction, as described by yourself also with a swollen face, neck and eyes. Visited Doctor who said what it was and said it may have been caused by "old" suncream, as when it breaks down there are some nasty chemicals released which then re-act with the sun. I had never heard of it before and so went onto the net to look it up. I found your article very interesting and this is obviously what I do have. I am using Piriton 4-6 hourly from the Doctor but he said to put nothing on my skin until the spots go, however my skin felt so tight, itchy and uncomfortable that I felt I needed to use something. I am using Derma Guard from Lakeland retailing at £5.99. I am finding it helps quite a lot, certainly doing no more harm, and seems to relax the skin making it more bearable.
Moisturiser with spf 30
Piz Buin spf 35
25 May 2010
Hi there, I have read your article and found that I am suffering from the same symptoms. For me it started when I went to Australia 2 years ago. It started off with a blister on my lips and then turned into a small tiny itchy blisters all over my lips and area around it. At the time I was using moisturiser with spf 30 and Piz Buin spf 35. It was only affected my face at that time so I stop using any products with spf or any sunscreen on my face. Then last year I went to Thailand for 2 weeks and noticed that both of my arms are reacting to something and concluded that it was just prickly heat (heat rash). However, two days ago I went sunbathing. I put on organic sunscreen that I ordered from USA. It took about 10 hours from being in the sun with the sunscreen on before my arms starting to react with rashes and small irritated blisters. I have avoided using the sunscreen since, but it seems the rashes and blisters has now reached my legs and my lower back, even the back of my hands. My doctor said that I am only reacting to intense heat and prescribed antihistamine for me to stop the itching. I have tried to soothe the itch and to calm the rash with cool shower and aloe gel. Is there any other tips you know that would help of getting rid of this faster? Also should I avoid all kind of moisturiser while I have these rash? Many thanks.
Ambre Solaire hypo allergenic
Piz Buin Allergy
Clarins UV PLus Ecran Jour haute Protection
24 May 2010
I was very heartened to read of your experiences because they seem to match exactly and explain what I have been experiencing. Before 2008 I was a huge fan of Piz Buin and had used it for years with no problems. In 2008 I went to Vancouver and sunbathed and broke out in the most awful itchy rash, all over areas which had been exposed and had sun cream applied and also areas that had not been exposed. Like you I have come to the conclusion that the problem migrates through the skin, especially at times where it is really flaring up and itchy. It ruined the end of my holiday and I did not get relief from antihistamines. Had to wait till I returned home and got corticosteroids from the GP. In 2009 I went to France and was wary. Steered clear of Piz Buin and tried an Ambre Solaire hypo allergenic brand. Warily tried a little bit of sun and could see the problem was beginning to flare up again. Mostly avoided the sun thereafter. This year in Egypt also avoided sun most of the time but the one time I did venture out a small area in centre of my back flared up. I think this got the most exposure while I was snorkeling. Was using the Ambre Solaire at this time. This year last Friday I slapped on some Piz Buin Allergy on my arms and did some gardening. Then on Saturday was out in hot sun at school sports day with no cream. Later that day my arms started the whole flaring itchy red bumps thing again. So like you, I find it has a delayed reaction. And its still here today, Monday. My skin resembles that of a toad. Lumpy and horrid and when I scratch it weeps. Ugh. Notably, my chest area décolletage got very reddened with the sports day exposure during which I had no suncreen on at all. But significantly it has NOT developed the rash, which convinces me, like you, that it is not just heat/sun I am allergic to, but the sunscreen, coupled with sun exposure, that actually causes the problem. Lots of friends have tried to tell me its just prickly heat but this convinces me it's not. I know it's not. I also have found the rash has migrated up the sides of my neck. I did not apply the cream there but I think the problem has crept up from my upper arms which are the worst affected. Now one product that definitely is OK for me is Clarins UV PLus Ecran Jour haute Protection. I have been using this for 3 years now, mainly on my face. And thankfully I have never had the rash on my face. Unfortunately it is really only for the face. I used it on my face and décolletage. The bottle is small 30ml and a bit expensive so its not suitable as an all-over product. I desperately need to find a product that I can use all over. I don't want to hide from the sun on every family holiday. Or burn.
Uvistat sun cream
Boots Soltan Sensitive
16 May 2010
I have had reactions to the "sun" since I was 13 now 50 and I have discovered that it is the perfume in sun lotion that affects me. I now wash with unperfumed soap before exposure to the sun, do not use perfume whilst in the sun. Uvistat sun cream is excellent if you can get it. I use a factor 8/10 when abroad when I can get it Boots Soltan Sensitive, although I think the lowest is now factor 15 hope this helps.
Piz Buin Anti Allergy
19 April 2010
Hi, I have the same problem, but my rash only appears on the parts of my body that's not been exposed to the sun, I've just been to the lake district and it was only 12 degrees but I was burning so put Piz Buin Anti Allergy on and within a couple of hours was itching; my doctor prescribes me with steroids if I'm going abroad, I've never had the rash in England because I usually don't use suntan cream, but it must be something to do with the cream as I used it last week and got the same rash.
Aveeno spf 70
Neutrogena Sunscreen Sensitive Skin spf 30
29 March 2010
It was nice to read a story about someone who was having a similar allergic reaction to sunscreen like I have been having over the last year. I have been having these allergic reactions were my face turns red, it tingles and swells a lot, particularly under my eyes. The interesting thing is that the symptoms tend to last an entire week and over-the-counter allergy medications have NO affect on my symptoms. Although I have had numerous allergy tests, I had a feeling that my allergic reactions had something to do with wearing sunblock and excersing in the sun. I even took various sunblocks to my allergy clinic so that I could have them patch tested but none of them reacted to the patch testing.Now after reading various articles and your specific experience I FINALLY realized that in most cases my allergic reaction tends to show up a couple of hours after I have applied suncreen and then gone out IN THE SUN. So now that I have figured this out my next step is to try! and find a sunscreen that does cause this reaction.
Continued 5 April 2010
After reading your article I did a bit more research on sunscreen allergies and I found a whole list of ingredients that can be used in sunscreens which are likely to cause allergic reactions when a person is exposed to the sun while wearing them. When I checked the list of ingredients in the last sunscreen that I had used, which caused a reaction, it contained 3 of these ingredients. So I know that I will not be using that particular sunscreen (Aveeno spf 70) again, even though it is a brand new tube. It appears that sunscreens which create physical barriers tend not to produce allergic reactions. And these are the ones that are more likely to leave a white pasty look on your skin (wonderful!). If you have not done so already, I suggest that you go online and look for the ingredients that you should try to avoid in your sunscreens and also those that are probably the least likely to cause a reactions.
NOTE: I also read that some makeups which have spf protection in them may also be the culprit behind sunscreen/sun related allergic
reactions because they contain some of the same problematic ingredients that are in sunscreen.
If I could avoid using sunscreen altogether I would because I have been having these allergic reactions far too frequently lately (every other week to 1 per month). However, I have darkened area of skin underneath my nose, on my upper lip from a condition called Melasma which I have to protect from the sun in order to prevent if from getting darker. Right now I am using Neutrogena’s suncreen for Sensitive Skin spf 30 and I am crossing my fingers.
I wish you luck in your sunscreen search.
13 February 2010
Yes, I had unfortunately the same problem for so many years. I have tried so many sunscreen products, nothing help. I went to Hawaii last year and had the worse skin reaction using sunblock. When I red about your experience, I went to the chemist and talked about everything you have mentioned. Because in Australia I was not able to purchase Water Babies, so he suggested Hamilton Toddler for young delicate skin. It was amazing. I have been three times so far in the sun using this cream, and not one single pimple or rash.
Banana Boat SPF 40 waterproof
12 February 2010
I had a horrible reaction from Banana Boat SPF 40 waterproof sunscreen. I didn' t get just a small, blistery rash, I had large fluid filled blisters that burned. I had to keep a cold washcloth on both my arms. My face also was swollen but didn't get the blisters. I ended up on steroids for 6 days. It's been over 3 weeks and I'm still working on getting it cleared up. I would like to sue the company because I think their product needs a better warning on this horrible side effect.
ROC Calming creme for sensitive skin
31 January 2010
I have had the same problem for years and years. I am in my 60's and every vacation or time spent in the sun causes me to look like the elephant man. I swell up and itch no matter what I use. I've spent tons and tons of money on products to no avail. I will now try the Water Babies. Thanks for the info. PS I bought a calming crème from ROC that I am able to tolerate after I get the burning and swelling but it can only be bought out of the US it's called ROC Calming creme for sensitive skin.