Sunscreen Use Can Cause Allergic Reaction

By Katherine Fritcke
Published: Monday, September 7, 2015 - 9:33am
Updated: Monday, September 7, 2015 - 11:33am
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Like the girl in the classic Coppertone commercial, Megan Shini spent a lot of time in the sun as a kid. Then her parents realized she was having an adverse reaction to her sunscreen.

“My mom was caking me with sunscreen and I was getting these really bad rashes. And I guess they thought it was coming from the chemicals in the pool," said Shini.

Except, that wasn’t the problem. She said she has had reactions to multiple sunscreen brands.

KJZZ reached out to several companies for comment on this story; none answered our request for an interview.

But, Megan’s story is not unusual.

Dr. Bart Leyko, an allergist and immunologist, said having a bad reaction to a sunscreen is another form of medical allergy or allergic contact dermatitis.

“It’s usually pretty easy to tell because the rash will occur in a distribution area that was dealing with sun exposure," saod Leyko.

As Dr. Leyko points out, it might not even be an immediate reaction.

“There’s a 48- to 72-hour delay between application, exposure to the chemicals, and the first offset to the rash," Leyko said.

The chemicals in sunscreen most likely to cause an allergic reaction are Oxybenzone and Avobenzone. They are the central active ingredients in most sunscreens and the key cause of contact dermatitis.

“Their role is to protect you from the sun, and they are activated by the sun. That’s definitely not a good formula," said Leyko.

The chemical reactions taking place on our skin are what cause the itchy, red irritation.

Dr. James Pehoushek, a dermatologist, said the body’s immune system can become sensitive to chemicals and develop a reaction — much like if we had been exposed to poison ivy.

“Some of these chemical reactions develop with sun exposure. So, the ultraviolet light seems to stimulate the chemical reaction that causes the allergic reaction," said Pehoushek.

As awareness has grown in cases of skin cancer and other sun and UV exposure related health issues, more people are likely to become aware of a sunscreen irritation.

“Particularly, the active ingredients that cause irritant or allergic reactions. I mean, they’re pretty much in all the make-ups these days. Lots of regular just moisturizers and lotions, especially if they’re for daily use," Pehoushek said. "It’s being put in for an extra bonus.”

As those “special bonuses” are being added, allergists and dermatologists like Dr. Pehosheck will keep seeing more patients with sunscreen-related irritations and reactions.

“I think we’re going to see what just the nature of these exposures that more and more people will probably develop more allergic reactions to these things," Pehosheck said.

For those looking to avoid chemical-based sunscreens, you may have to look around a bit. Megan Shini said getting a good mineral-based sunscreen that doesn’t cause her to break out can get expensive. But Dr. Leyko said you can find them.

“If you’re looking for specialty products, like online, some of them can get really expensive. But, if you look around, you can find some with prices compared to regular sunscreens," said Leyko.

Doctors recommend testing products on a small patch of skin before using it on your entire bod, or contact your dermatologist or allergist.

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