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Why Do Some Sunscreens Cause My Eczema To Flare?

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Why do some sunscreens cause my eczema to flare? Are there certain chemicals I should avoid?

There are two common types of reactions to sunscreens:

Irritant sunscreen reactions are the most common. They typically happen immediately. They cause stinging and burning. It is usually caused by a high alcohol content in the sunscreen. Review the sunscreen ingredient label. This can be useful to find one without irritants such as alcohol.

An allergic reaction to sunscreen happens slowly (e.g., a few hours to days after use). There is itching and flaring. It is typically caused by an ingredient that takes longer for the skin to absorb. The allergens are usually inactive ingredients (e.g., fragrances, preservatives).

Ingredients in chemical sunscreens that commonly cause reactions are:

  • Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3)
  • Dibenzoylmethanes
  • Cinnamates
  • Benzophenones
  • PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid)

If you suspect you are having an allergic reaction, see an allergist. After a detailed history of the reaction, allergy testing can be done. This can include patch skin testing. A positive test result can help identify ingredients to avoid. Alternative sunscreen products can be recommended.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema), Symptoms
Answered by

John M. James, MD, is a board-certified allergist. He is also President of Food Allergy Consulting and Education Services, LLC. He has worked as a medical specialist in the field of allergy, asthma, and immunology for over 30 years. Dr. James received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Tennessee. He is board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

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@Pamela Peterson, that's a great question! Allergic Living released a list of top allergy-friendly sunscreens. It includes:

  • Alba Botanica: Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 33
  • All Good Sport: SPF 30 Sport Mineral Sunscreen Spray
  • Attitude: Sensitive Skin Moisturizer Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
  • Bare Republic: Mineral SPF 50 Baby Sunscreen Face & Body Lotion
  • Blue Lizard: Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+
  • California Baby: Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum SPF 30+ Sunscreen Lotion
  • Coola: Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion Sheet Matte SPF 30
  • Earth Mama Organics: Kids Uber-Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 40
  • Goddess Garden Organics: Sport SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
  • KINeSYS: SPF 50 Fragrance Free Spray Sunscreen
  • Raw Elements: Face + Body SPF 30
  • Sunny Skin: Super Sun SPF 50
  • Sunumbra: Daily SPF 15
  • Vanicream: Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+
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