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)
- 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.