Am I suddenly allergic to sunscreen?
June 15, 2017 7:07 PM   Subscribe

Following Consumer Reports' advice, I bought some Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 and put it on my arms and neck before heading out for a walk. I showered that evening. The next day, after I'd sprinted down the block, I suddenly broke out in tiny, itchy hives on my arms in the areas I'd put the sunscreen (and nowhere else). Betrayed... by sunscreen? It seemed fine when I put it on.

I wear all kinds of sunscreen, including Coppertone, and have never had a reaction before. Is there something particularly evil about this flavor of Coppertone? Do I need to worry that I'm now allergic to all chemical sunscreens? I still look like I have goosepimples three days later -- should I be concerned, or is this the normal lifespan of an allergic reaction to sunscreen?

I'm allergic to nickel, but those rashes look different (and go away much faster), and mildly allergic to trees, grass, etc. That evening I had a gin and tonic, not realizing the tonic had stevia in it, and got a flush on my chest and face that was much redder than that flush usually is. I took some Benedryl and was fine in the morning.

I'm going to need sunscreen again this weekend. I have some Badger that hasn't betrayed me in the past, but I'm concerned about putting it on skin that's already acting up.
posted by The corpse in the library to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Until proven otherwise I would assume you are allergic to something in that sunscreen and not sunscreen in general. Do a patch test with the badger tonight - put it on a square inch of (not upset) skin, and see how it looks in 24 hours.
posted by brainmouse at 7:47 PM on June 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I work outdoors and use a lot of sunscreen.

Different types of Coppertone sunscreen have different ingredients. Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 contains oxybenzone. It is associated with allergic reactions.

I sometimes use varieties of Coppertone Sport that do not contain oxybenzone. I stay away from oxybenzone-containing sunscreens as a general practice because it has been shown to damage coral reefs. However, other sunscreen ingredients may also be harmful to coral as well, so an oxybenzone-free formulation doesn't necessarily mean you're coral-friendly.

I like the way Coppertone Sport goes on when I'm clean-shaven. When I have facial hair, it likes to gunk up in my beard and appear as crusty white stuff. Banana Boat sunscreen seems greasier/more liquid when I apply it, but I don't have the same problem with white beard gunk.
posted by compartment at 8:06 PM on June 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

It could be the oxybenzone, it could be the octocrylene (causes photosensitivity in some people).

Either way, I'd also advise not putting that Badger balm on compromised skin. All of those essential oils are not what you need. That's a good way to become sensitive to some of those ingredients, or it might just burn like all hell in the moment.

May I suggest this. I am sensitive to practically everything and can safely wear this. Or get something fragrance free with physical block locally. Vanicream has a sunblock. Very sticky, but it does work.
posted by monopas at 9:00 PM on June 15, 2017

I became extremely photosensitive when I switched to Elta MD sunscreen/face lotion (a recommendation from my dermatologist actually). When I went back to good old Oil Of Olay, I was fine.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:14 PM on June 15, 2017

So sunscreen was on your neck and arms, but you only got hives on your arms? A few weeks ago, I had the opposite issue: a very hot, itchy rash on my neck, but not my arms or face, even though all areas had sunscreen on them. It took more than a day to resolve. The probable culprit was Octocrylene (and/or a combo of ingredients, because I probably put two different brands on my neck that day), and I haven't used any sunscreen with that ingredient on my neck since, although I have used it on my face with no ill effects.

I'd suggest that you wait until your arm skin calms down entirely before you put on any sunscreen. Wear long sleeves to protect your arms if necessary.

I'd also recommend a patch test in two stages: 1) 24 hours with no sun exposure, then 2) Apply the sunscreen, then expose yourself to sun, because some ingredients won't aggravate you until they're activated by sunlight.
posted by maudlin at 9:17 PM on June 15, 2017

... I bought some Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 and put it on my arms and neck before heading out for a walk. I showered that evening. The next day, after I'd sprinted down the block, I suddenly broke out in tiny, itchy hives on my arms in the areas I'd put the sunscreen (and nowhere else).

My guess is that, in spite of your shower, the Ultraguard was still blocking your sweat glands a bit and interfered with the excretion of perspiration, causing your skin to react to retained sweat when you sprinted down the block.

I'm not clear when you had the gin and tonic plus stevia in relation to your sprint, but if the drink came before, I'd bet you were reacting to something in the drink that was being excreted in your sweat, such as the quinine.
posted by jamjam at 9:21 PM on June 15, 2017

@WalkerWestridge, the Elta MD I linked to is one of two of that brand that does not contain Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, which is the ingredient that may have caused your issue. I had a similar problem with one of the other Elta MD products, and other products that contain Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate.

It is a preservative increasingly used in place of parabens.
posted by monopas at 10:47 PM on June 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I became extremely photosensitive when I switched to Elta MD sunscreen

Interesting- I've been using this for a while and I seem to be getting more photosensitive too. I thought it couldn't be the sunscreen as it's so well regarded for sensitive skin.

The color and coverage were so good! Shoot. Back to the drawing board I guess.
posted by fshgrl at 11:08 PM on June 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't know if you're allergic, but if you are, try a mineral sunblock with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. I'm prone to skin allergies and have a pasty white complexion and that stuff has never done me wrong.
posted by noxperpetua at 11:17 PM on June 15, 2017

Seconding noxperpetua. I had a sudden reaction similar to yours after decades of wearing any sunscreen I liked. It happened with a second brand too. I chalked it up to a new allergy (my doc says it's common to develop new allergies as adults) and switched to physical sunscreens only. Haven't had the problem since.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:36 PM on June 15, 2017

Response by poster: My neck is a little bumpy but not as bad, or as itchy, as my arms. The gin and tonic was on Day 2 (I had the rash when I drank it).

This is some very helpful information, thanks -- especially for the shortcut to what the offending ingredient probably is.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:22 AM on June 16, 2017

Similar experience about fifteen years ago - my Achilles heel was Noxema brand - I never really sorted out what ingredient specifically did me in but I found using my kids' or 'sensitive skin' sun-creams presents no problems for me.

Also, using less and relying on hats and or long-sleeves shirts also helps.
posted by From Bklyn at 11:19 PM on June 16, 2017

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