Do You Have a Sunscreen Allergy?

Sunscreen is meant to protect your skin, but in some cases, it can do more harm than good. In today’s modern world, we have developed ways and tests to check whether our skin responds abnormally to sunscreen.

Sunscreen allergies tend to be uncommon but for some people applying certain types of sunscreen can lead to allergic reactions such as rashes.

An easy way to test yourself is by doing a patch test and notice if your skin develops allergic reactions within 48 hours of applying the sunscreen.

It’s possible that allergic rashes occur due to improper application of sunscreen such as not applying the right SPF suited for your daily activity or not reapplying sunscreen throughout the day. 

What are the Differences Between Allergy and Sunburn? 

sunburn or allergy

Sunburn and Symptoms

Sunburn Is a condition in which direct burning occurs on the skin due to UV rays exposure from the sun.

The severity depends on how strong the sun is at the time, the characteristics of your skin, and the amount of time spent in the sun.

Some people may start to develop symptoms after being in the sun for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. 


  • Redness may become a blister in severe cases. Symptoms will start to appear within 2 – 6 hours after sun exposure and the peak of symptoms will show up during 12 – 24 hours after sun exposure. 
  • Peeling of the skin after 4 – 7 days of sun exposure (happens earlier for some people).
  • Serious Symptoms such as chills, fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, dehydration, and in very severe cases of skin burning can cause a shock and even death. 

Sunscreen Allergy and Symptoms

Red rashes and clear blisters are common signs. Sunscreen allergies are often found around areas where sunscreen has been applied or areas that have been exposed to the sun namely the neck, back, hands, and arms.

Sunscreen allergy can lead to the development of 2 diseases: 

  1. Allergic Contact Dermatitis is a red and itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or ingredient in the sunscreen. This can occur without the direct effects of the sun. 
  2. Photoallergic Contact Dermatitis occurs when an allergen causes a reaction only after being exposed to the sun. This often happens as a result of a reaction to the fragrances or preservatives in the sunscreen. 

Sunscreen allergies are more common among people who do regular outdoor activities, those who apply sunscreen on burned skin and those with chronic dermatitis such as atopic dermatitis (a condition that makes your skin red and itchy).

This is found more in women than in men as women use cosmetic products with SPF protection. 

To sum up, the difference between sunburn and sunscreen allergy is that sunburn will have characteristics such as skin peeling, soreness, and redness.

On the other hand, sunscreen allergy will have symptoms such as rash, redness, itchiness, and inflammation that may occur leading to clear blisters to develop. 

Skin Type and Sunscreen Allergy

sunscreen allergy symptom

The characteristics of your skin is another factor determining sunscreen allergy. People with sensitive skin are especially more prone to external environments and irritants causing the skin to become dry, red, and itchy.

The skin usually develops signs of allergic reactions when changing skincare products or when in contact with certain clothes.

Skincare products that contain perfume such as cosmetics, treatment creams including sunscreen that often include preservatives and fragrances have been found to provoke allergic reactions.

Keep in mind that the sensitivity of the skin will be different for each person. 

How is Sensitive Skin Different From Allergies? 

Sensitive skin often reacts with redness, itchiness, and irritation when in contact with irritating products such as perfume and sunscreen. The itchiness and irritation that occurs on people with sensitive skin are not always as a result of an allergy.

In contrast, allergic symptoms are caused by the build-up of the body’s immune system to defend the body against foreign invaders. It is expressed in various symptoms such as the runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and rash. 

How Long Does it Take for An Allergic Reaction to Occur? 

This can be tested by applying sunscreen under the arm for about 15 minutes and then noticing whether swelling or redness develops.

If there are signs of symptoms then you are likely to be allergic to a chemical or ingredient that has been mixed into the sunscreen.

However, some people have delayed sensitivity and allergic reactions may not show until 24 hours to 72 hours after application. 

Sunscreen Allergies Signs 

For some people, allergy signs are very mild while for others reactions and signs are quite serious to the point that medical attention is needed promptly.

Allergic reactions vary depending on the area where the allergy occurs and not everyone shows all signs and symptoms.

For instance, some people may develop mild symptoms of dryness, itchiness but no rash. Whereas, others may develop severe symptoms such as blisters. 


Hives are characterized by red patches that appear on the skin that look like small bumps. The rash is usually very itchy and leaves no marks once it disappears.

Plus, hives usually do not last for more than 24 hours, and sometimes swelling can be associated with allergic reactions caused by chemicals. 

Redness and Raised Bumps

Redness and raised bumps are common in people who have a history of allergic reactions.

Once exposed to heat, sunlight, emotional changes, or drinking these symptoms can reoccur easily. More commonly found in people with white skin. 


Swelling and blisters are likely to develop if you continue to use the same product that causes allergic reactions to your skin. Refrain from scratching as this will only cause more inflammation. 


There are two main types of blisters: 

Blisters that are filled with fluid and sometimes pustule may even break out with yellow or brown flakes inside. This often occurs on the face. 

Blisters that are not filled with a fluid such as rash, blisters and redness often appear on the skin due to scratching. Unlikely to feel pain in the wound but it is usually itchy. Scratching or touching the wound may lead it to spread quickly to other areas. 

Dry Skin and Bleeding

Certain skin care products may contain substances and chemicals that cause the skin to become overly dry. When this happens, the skin’s natural barrier is destroyed and the skin loses its moisture.

As a result, the allergen can penetrate into the skin more easily than with normal skin. This means that the risks of irritation and severe allergic reactions are higher when the skin is dry.

Symptoms include redness, dryness, itchiness until the skin is peeled off and bleeds. Refrain from scratching the areas where the symptoms are, as it may cause infection due to dermatitis and increases the chances of developing chronic diseases as well. 

Skin Peeling

Fragrances and other chemicals in skincare products can lead to allergies. When this happens the skin loses elasticity and becomes dehydrated and unsmoothed.

As a result, the skin becomes dry making it easier for irritants to enter into the skin. When the skin begins to peel, it is a sign that your body is trying to get rid of damaged cells. 

Pain and Swellings Around Areas of Allergies 

Allergic reactions that are caused by contact with irritants or chemicals lead to itchiness, skin tightening, rashes, redness, and swelling. Mild symptoms may be one swollen eye.

However, sometimes allergic reactions can be more severe leading to more rash and swellings to occur around the face. Allergic reactions may result in symptoms in other areas of the body even to the point of chest tightness and suffocation. 

How to know if allergic to Sun

Tips to Protecting Your Skin From Sunlight 

The first and most important step to protect your skin is to apply sunscreen daily. We recommend going for an SPF that is no less than 30 before heading out in the sun for at least half an hour.

For ultimate protection, reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours even when the sun is not out. Keep in mind that the most suitable type of sunscreen and SPF also depends on the activities during the day

Choose the Type of Sunscreen that Suits Your Skin

When it comes to choosing a sunscreen, previous experiences, and satisfaction from the actual use can help.

Think about factors such as stickiness, ease to blend into the skin, and oiliness before you pick your next sunscreen. You should stop using the sunscreen immediately when you start noticing negative effects.

A tip is to always look out for sunscreens that do not cause acne, clogged pores, or are mixed with perfume or preservatives. These are ingredients known to cause skin irritation.

Those with sensitive skin should go for sunscreens that are also not mixed with alcohol as it has been linked to causing dry skin 

The Best SPF for Your Skin

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is followed by a value that ranges from 15 onwards. Simply put, SPF refers to the ability of a sunscreen to protect the skin from UV rays.

The higher the SPF value the longer it can protect your skin from the sun. For instance, SPF 40 can protect your skin for longer than SPF 15. However, a high SPF value does not solve all problems. In tropical countries, SPF 30 or higher is recommended for those who are outdoors regularly.

Whereas, SPF 15 is sufficient for those spending most of the time indoors. Aside from the SPF value your skin protection also depends on the characteristics of your skin and lifestyles. A rule of thumb for protection is to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours throughout the day. 

Do you have sunscreen allergy

Avoiding Direct Sunlight

Yes, applying sunscreen is extremely important but it is not the only way to protect your skin from sunlight.

Let’s get creative and take a look at other ways to protect your skin efficiently in your daily lives. 

  • Wear a Protective Hat: Whether you are on a beach or walking around in the city, wearing a hat helps to protect against the sun that can damage your facial skin. From caps to wide-brimmed hats, you can protect your skin at the same time as rocking your style. 
  • The Shadow Rule: According to the shadow rule you can protect your skin by avoiding sunlight up until the shadow is longer than your own. The morning hours that are before 11 AM and the afternoon hours after 2 PM are the safe periods as there are fewer UVB rays. 
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Long-sleeved clothing can protect about 90% of all types of light. Currently, certain brands are designing clothes to have a certain level of sun protection. 
  • Umbrellas: the fabrics used in most umbrellas protect sunlight up to 80% – 90%. The effectiveness of the umbrella in protecting against the sun depends on the position of the sun and the distance of the umbrella from the user. The best protection is when both the umbrella and the sun’s position are directly above the head. However, this is not possible at all times as the world is moving and the sun is not always in the same position. 

Aside from choosing the sunscreen that best matches your skin you should also be looking out for any allergic reactions that may be caused by the chemicals or ingredients.

We hope a takeaway from this article is that there are many practices to protect yourself from the sun and avoid sunburn in the first place.

As we have mentioned, applying sunscreen daily is great protection for your skin but the best protection would be to also integrate other preventive measures into your daily routines and lifestyles. 

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