Sensitive skin is a blanket term for skin that is more prone to inflammation. Those with sensitive skin may be allergic to an array of different skincare products. Does this apply to sunscreen as well?
First of all, it's important to know that sunscreen allergies aren’t common, occurring in less than 1% of people According to Cancer Council Australia. When they do happen, they are usually reactions to specific preservatives, fragrances or active ingredients in the product and are more likely to happen to people with eczema, psoriasis or similar skin conditions.
Reactions to sunscreen can come in the form of irritant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, or photocontact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis mostly happens to people with eczema or sensitive skin and causes stinging and/or redness.
Allergic contact dermatitis comes in the form of an itchy rash and is caused by an allergy to a fragrance or preservative in the product. Since allergies can develop over time, this type of reaction can happen after years of using the same sunscreen.
Photocontact dermatitis is the rarest. It looks like a harsh sunburn and is usually a reaction to the sunscreen’s active ingredients combined with UV light.
If you’ve experienced any form of contact dermatitis with a different skincare product, your chances of reacting to sunscreen are slightly higher.
The best way to see if you’re allergic to sunscreen without causing a mass flare-up on your body is to do a patch test. Apply a small amount of sunscreen to a small area of the skin and wait at least two days to see if any reactions occur. While some reactions may occur immediately, some may take longer to become noticeable.
If you are allergic to a sunscreen product, there's no need to worry. There is an array of sunscreens with different ingredients that you can try, several being made specifically for sensitive skin. Mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally recommended.